The Good Place
We have an early candidate for 2017’s sweetest TV love story: the whirlwind romance between a near-omnipotent supercomputer and “a professional amateur DJ.” Let’s all offer our congratulations to Jason (a.k.a Jianyu, a.k.a. Fake ACIDCAT) and the digital entity known as Good Janet, who quickly get engaged and married in this week’s The Good Place.
In a way, their union makes a lot of sense: Janet exists to give the residents of the Good Place any information, object, or foodstuff they desire, and Jason is an oblivious man-child who couldn’t get by in any universe if other people didn’t cater to his every whim. He appreciates her; she accommodates him. Yet despite their oddball dynamic, it’s genuinely sweet when Janet asks at the altar if anyone objects to their union. Eleanor and Tahani shout, “Of course!” and she beatifically replies, “Overruled.”
The Good Place ended last fall on a mini-cliffhanger, with Eleanor (or shall we call her “Fake Eleanor?”) awaiting the arrival of a cosmic judge named Shawn to determine whether she’ll be allowed to stay in paradise. It’s a bit of a surprise that the show returns with an episode largely unrelated to its primary plot arc, but “Chidi’s Choice” is a nice little half-hour regardless, with enough funny lines and warm one-on-one interactions to make up for the fact that not much happens.
The main purpose of “Chidi’s Choice” — beyond reminding fans that The Good Place was one of last year’s most original and charming new sitcoms — is to clarify the status of various romantic subplots. Throughout the first nine episodes, the writers dropped not-so-subtle hints that Fake Eleanor was legitimately falling for her supposed afterlife “soulmate” Chidi. Here, she realizes the truth herself, after Real Eleanor points out that she can’t stop talking about him while they work together to prepare her defense for Shawn. (Fake Eleanor even coos about how Chidi “always twitches his eyebrows when he says ‘absolutism.’”) She decides to declare herself to her friend, by sheepishly admitting that, “Love has made me a nerd.”
There are just two problems with this. For one, at the same time that Eleanor has started to figure out how she feels, Tahani has suddenly discovered that all the times she thought “Jianyu” was being kind to her, it was secretly Chidi helping out behind the scenes. So she confronts him, doing her best impression of Notting Hill by saying, “I’m just a girl, towering over a boy, asking him to admit that he loves me.”
The bigger issue with both Eleanor and Tahani’s big speeches has to do with the dude at the other end. “Chidi’s Choice” is a flashback episode for the title character, digging into his long history of indecision. As a boy, he’d spend an entire recess selecting just one player for his soccer team. As an adult, he couldn’t order at a restaurant because he dithered over “the ethical ramifications of various soups.” Even in the Good Place, Chidi drives Michael to distraction with his inability to choose between pen and paper or dry-erase marker. (He’d love to work through the pros and cons of each, of course, but he’d need to pick a writing implement in order to pick the writing implement.)
So there’s actually a theme working throughout this episode: the differences between “sweat every detail” people like Chidi and Tahani and “go with the flow” folks like Jason and Fake Eleanor (and, apparently, Janet). A lot of what The Good Place has been about so far — on a more philosophical level, anyway — is how we forge our own hells and heavens based on our behavior. Eleanor has made a lot of mistakes in her life, but her redeeming asset in the Good Place is that she finds it very easy to be herself, which ultimately disarms her new friends and neighbors. For all the concern over Chidi’s choice in “Chidi’s Choice,” it’s ultimately more heartening to see Eleanor put her romantic rivalry with Tahani aside to spend the day doing gal-pal stuff like watching Britcoms and doing hair weaves. (She tells Tahani that her extensions make her look like “a sexy, tan Rapunzel,” then warns her, “You’re gonna wanna stay away from open flames and altercations at outlet malls.”)
Meanwhile, Jason may be a dope (okay, strike the “may be”), but he’s smart enough to see that a woman who brings him his favorite buffalo wings is a woman to cherish … even if she’s not actually a woman. There’s something to be said for seeing what’s right in front of you rather than fretting over what it all means. When Jason shouts, “Let’s get ready to married!” over a PA before his ceremony with Janet begins, his grammar is atrocious, but his enthusiasm is inspiring.
- The best way to get to know Jason is to understand how he ranks the different Fast & Furious movies. No. 5 is No. 1.
- Fake Eleanor briefly wonders if Jason might be her soul mate, since both of them love to dance, both of them were banned from public-transit systems, and like her, he’s “a hot dummy.” (“I once watched him eat electrical tape right off the roll,” she says. “He thought it was a Fruit by the Foot that had gone bad.”)
- Fake Eleanor’s confession of love includes an admission that, back on Earth, she would always bail on all her annoying, needy boyfriends. (They’d call her up out of the blue “just to check in,” or to ask if she’d taken money out of their wallets.) Chidi understands immediately why she bounced on them. “Gotta go spend that money you stole,” he nods. Anyone looking for proof that he’s her actual soulmate should consider this Exhibit A.
- Stealth MVP of this episode? Perhaps Bambadjan, the kindly attorney who helps Real Eleanor with Fake Eleanor’s case and keeps smiling at the latter while she hisses things like, “Nobody asked you, Bambadjan!”
- Michael tries to get Chidi — a man who struggles with rock-paper-scissors because “there are too many variables” — to choose his soulmate using an old psychologist’s trick, saddling him with an immediate and seemingly random outcome so that he can recognize what he really wants. Most people do this with a coin flip, operating under the theory that while the coin’s in midair, a wishy-washy person will begin rooting for either heads or tails and will realize his true preference. However, Michael takes advantage of the resources at hand in the Good Place: frozen yogurts. The result is that when Chidi sees Real Eleanor, Fake Eleanor, and Tahani in the same room, he mutters,”Hey, it’s my … three favorite yogurts.”