‘The Good Place’ Crew Starts To Feel The Heat

Will ‘A Girl From Arizona Pt 1’ break apart the group chemistry we all love?

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The Good Place is a show that’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t seen it. The premise is that a dead woman named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) accidentally winds up in the good part of the afterlife after a lifetime of being an awful human being. She has to learn how to not be a garbage person by secretly taking ethics classes from her alleged soul mate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) while pretending to be a “good person.” Other series regulars include the hilarious Floridian Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) and posh braggart Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil). The show has plenty of gags and funny one-liners. Still, more than a slapdash sitcom, it’s also a serious examination of modern philosophy which questions the ethical foundations of our current society.

Since you clicked on a review of season four, I’m assuming that you are up to speed with the fact that Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani were actually in the bad place as part of a Sartrean experiment to see if they could torture themselves for all eternity. The experiment failed. The crew ran away, and now they have teamed up with reformed demon Michael (Ted Danson) and not human Janet (D’Arcy Carden) to create an experiment to prove to the forces behind the good and bad places that humans can learn to be good after all.

A Girl From Arizona Pt 1 picks up where the season three finale ended. Eleanor has stepped up as the leader of the experiment, which involves four recently dead human beings going through the same sort of conditions that the crew did in season one. These humans are contractually meant to be equally as awful as the OG crew was in the first season.

The Bad Place, which is the supplier of these new test subjects, has worked extra hard to make sure these new candidates fork with Eleanor & company on an emotional level as well. Candidate number one is a gay, trashy celebrity blogger named John Wheaton (Brandon Scott Jones) who is probably Tahani’s worst nightmare. Number two is Chidi’s season three love interest Simone Garnett (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). You will recall that her presence prompted Chidi to erase his memory during the season three finale because he feared he would be unable to lie to her. Candidate number three is a politically incorrect boomer, Brent Norwalk (Benjamin Koldyke), that both Janet and Elanor hate. Lastly, we have a quiet older woman named Linda Johansson (Rachel Winfree) who doesn’t want anything at all.

In typical Good Place fashion, a lot is going on, and this understandably creates tensions among the original crew. Eleanor feels herself floundering as the new team leader as she struggles to understand what makes these new candidates tick. Like every previous relationship I have ever had, she also has to deal with the fact that Chidi, the man she loves, has no memory of her.

The biggest dilemma for Eleanor, surprisingly, turns out to be fan-favorite Simone, who like any smart neuroscientist, has concluded that she is in a coma and that the entire Good Place experiment is a product of her decaying mind. She is throwing people into pools, knocking over food platters, and wearing a mismatched outfit that involves baggy pants, a cheese hat, and a stylish cardigan.

As my grandmother said, it’s always the smart ones who are the most drama.

Tension is also building with Janet, the cosmic intelligence that created (and is currently operating) the Good Place experiment. She is under a lot of stress trying to ensure that the test runs smoothly. She casually remarks in one scene that if she loses concentration for even one billionth of a second, everything will implode.

“So you know, typical women-in-the-office drama,” as Brent would say.

Janet has been popping in and out of existence to satisfy the whims of our main cast for seasons now, but we are only now starting to empathize with the cost of that function. Brent, whose misogyny prompts him to see Janet as his secretary (or his “Vice President of Helping”) is particularly getting on her nerves. He asks Janet to satisfy every asine whim of his such as making him a BLT.

Yes, he asks Janet, a God, to make him a sandwich, which does not make me feel particularly good about the stability of this pocket dimension.

Finally, there is also Jason, who has languished for seasons as the funny, stupid person with nothing to do. He is also starting to feel the heat as his romantic relationship with Janet is being challenged by one of her creations, Derek Hoffstetler (Jason Mantzoukas) — yes, Janet can create life. Derek is aggressively trying to muscle-in (or Derek-in) on the relationship, and Jason childishly kills him at one point in the episode, which is not as big of a deal as it sounds in a TV universe where everyone is already dead.

These tensions are going to create rifts among the crew. Eleanor is one stressor away from having an “Am I a good enough leader” existential crisis. Janet is one misogynistic comment away from ending all life. Jason is one turn away from having some mildly exciting character development. The only question is how fast those rifts will expand. The Good Place is notoriously quick on its feet, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next episode started with Janet taking a much needed V-Kay for one or two quick thousand years.

The episode ends with the revelation that Linda was a Bad Place mole (or demon) in a human suit played by not actor Chris Baker (Luke Guldan). The Good Place’s Judge (Maya Rudolph) rules that Chidi will take the fourth slot because his memory has already been wiped. She also worries that finding a new candidate will take time from her binging the entirety of TV Show Deadwood (I’m not joking).

We know where the show wants to take us. The Good Place has been quite clear, especially in season three, that it thinks individual morality is heavily impacted by societal systems (i.e., our environments constrain our behaviors). The inevitable moral reformation of Chidi and Simone will not be a surprise. Chidi has demonstrated that he can change. Simone is a badass already.

The show, however, has thrown itself a curveball with John and Brent. It’s not just tackling saving humanity, in general, but attempting to change the most powerful among us: white, males.

The elderly manbaby Brent is a particularly challenging case. ‘How to make Boomer men less awful?’ is the philosophical dilemma of our time.

I’m forkin’ excited to see what strategies the show has for unpacking whitemaledom, especially given that they are the ones primarily in charge of the societal systems that make being ethical so tricky in the first place.

Worst case scenario: The Good Place can scrap everything and start again.

Stray Notes:

  1. Of course, “The Kars 4 Kids” theme song was created by demons.
  2. I didn’t know I needed an elephant of pure light telling me that “Shirley Temple killed JFK” until it happened.
  3. Brent comparing Captain Marvel to a secretary, reminded me of every Internet conversation I have ever had.
  4. When Derek said, he is such “a proud Daddy Derek,” I had flashbacks to my last one-night stand.
  5. It violates The Good Place’s no cursing rule, but Eleanor calling Michael a “Stupid, Good-Hearing, Reformed Demon” is hilarious.
  6. I love Mindy. Her calling the accountant’s weird cubical “Darth Vader’s Turd” is the realness I crave.

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I write about pop culture, politics, and every in between.

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