The Good Place: Everything is Bonzer! (Part One)

“It’s not about who you know. Enlightenment comes from within. The Dalai Lama texted me that.”

Before The Good Place premiered, creator Michael Schur explained that his show was partially inspired by Lost. That’s why he consulted with Damon Lindelof about how to avoid the hazards of a mythology-dense, serialized premise. Of course, one of the biggest pitfalls of Lost was the boring misery of the early third season, when the showrunners felt so trapped in their premise that they just locked a bunch of characters in cages to symbolize their feelings.

Throughout the first part of “Everything is Bonzer!” (aka “Chapter 27”), I kept thinking about how Schur avoids Lost’s mid-series slump. Instead of feeling trapped, he built himself a variety of trapdoors (and at least one magical portal to Earth). Instead of locking his characters in cages, he set them loose in the…wait for it…real world!

The openness of that premise is a departure for Schur, who cut his teeth on The Office and filed them into razor-sharp incisors of wit on Parks and Rec. But both of those shows were almost as self-contained as the Lost island. The Good Place’s willingness to tread new ground is a cool, and delightful, departure.

That new openness also allows Chapter 27 to highlight the talents of the actors. Although this show is always hilarious, this episode gave everyone more breathing room to really let loose: Chidi wandering out of frame after admitting that blueberry muffins made him want to cry, then wandering back into frame with a decisive “Ahhhhh!," not to mention his similar mourn when he learned about the peril of blueberries while visiting his hospitalized friend. Tahani in Bar-the-lona. Jason proposing to K. Ramirez so she can’t arrest him. It was zonkatronic, as a Kardashian might say.

But the freedom to enjoy the humor as we get settled in this new, real world is a result of the separation induced by Michael’s plan to drop our heroes back in their mortal lives, before they met each other. Since the back half of the second season was focused on high-concept hijinks, most of the screen time was devoted to plot developments and character interactions: there wasn't as much time to devote to pure comedy. So while I definitely think some isolated comic interludes are fun and necessary here, I nevertheless found myself wanting Team Cockroach to reunite sooner rather than later.

For now, though, it’s just Chidi and Eleanor, who are still at the What? Huh? Burrito? stage of learning philosophy. Both have backslid—Chidi into a blueberry-induced indecision, Eleanor into the default mode of Arizona trashbag—but both still have unique insights into how the other works. A natural repartee. A certain chemistry. I’d resent Simone’s incursion into their blossoming romance if Simone and Chidi weren’t so adorable together, too. As Janet said, “Aw! Cuuuuuute.”

It’s a fun wrinkle—and an interesting twist in a show that allows romance to blossom without turning into a rom-com—and I’m more than a little curious to see how Team Cockroach will unite, how Chidi's date with Simone goes, and how much trouble Sean will cause for them on Earth.

After all, the Dalai Lama was wrong: it is who you know who makes you better. At least on this show, and definitely if they’re in Australia.

We Crumb from a Land Down Under:

• I love so much about this show, but I think my favorite bit of this episode was the tiny, tiny glimpse we got of Ted Danson’s costume when rescuing Tahani from death-by-statue: a blazer, a pair of sunglasses, and a gray ponytail.

• Judge Gen is binging NCIS while Michael and Janet break various rules. These, my friends, are the cosmic powers governing our eternal fates.

• Wondering why Chidi has an American accent in the real world? The show gave us a nice explanation: he went to American schools in Senegal.

• Wondering why Chidi describes himself as a professor even though he hasn’t finished his “thesis” yet? Yeah, me too. Why can’t Hollywood types ever understand how graduate school works? It’s really not that hard.

• Janet is starting to think of Judge Gen as her mother and Michael as her father. Janet’s going to need therapy at some point, won’t she?

Three out of four nice, hot cups of antimatter.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I spent a lot of this one wondering if there really is a pastry cart in Australia named "We Crumb From a Land Down Under." And the doorman from Glee with his decaf antimatter habit? Where do they come up with this stuff?

Anonymous said...

Thesis can mean a general academic paper. I don't think they were implying that he was still working on his doctoral thesis.