What’s your favorite version of Michael’s Bad Place? Do you like his third attempt, which ends on Day 128 with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason struggling to decide which of them should climb into a teleportation obelisk? How about Attempt No. 11, which Eleanor realizes is really Hell when her “soul mate” Sebastian urges her to sit through his three-hour spoken-word jazz-opera? (“That was a real trip for biscuits and now we’re all wet, Daddy-o,” Michael gripes.) Maybe you liked Attempt No. 333, when Eleanor’s soulmate in a golden retriever … or the one where the countryside is overrun with giant bugs … or the one where Eleanor figures out Michael’s gambit while holding balloons in a field of cacti.
There is no shortage of Bad Places in this week’s The Good Place. The brilliant two-part season-two premiere “Everything Is Great!” defied audience expectations by burning through Michael’s first rebooted Neighborhood in under an hour. The equally delightful third episode “Dance Dance Resolution” (credited to writer Megan Amram and director Drew Goddard) is even bolder, revealing dozens of variations of this show that we could have been watching this season, if creator Michael Schur had chosen to repeat himself.
Watching this episode, I was reminded of Groundhog Day — and not just because this episode is about Eleanor & Co. living through the same afterlife over and over. What I’ve always loved about Groundhog Day is that it doesn’t waste a lot of time on It’s a Wonderful Life–style denialism, where the hero has to be reminded over and over about the premise of the fantasy world he’s fallen into. Instead, Bill Murray’s Phil Connors gets up to speed quickly, which frees up the filmmakers to have some fun exploring all the ways that a person might deal with restarting the same day repeatedly.
Similarly, this episode hits the fast-forward button, giving us brief snippets from the hundreds of times Michael has tried and failed to keep his “make the Bad Place seem like the Good Place” plan going — sometimes for several months, sometimes for just a few minutes. It’s a rocket-paced and hilarious half-hour, with an impressive amount of costume changes and special effects, sometimes for the sake of gags that are come and gone in seconds. Monk robes, pig farms, creepy clown factories: “Dance Dance Resolution” throws all that into the mix and more.
But there’s a point to the barrage of jokes, and it’s mainly this: No matter how much Michael tweaks the fine details, the same broad patterns emerge. Eleanor always develops a “frenemy” relationship with the humble-bragging Tahani — whom she casually insults at one point as a “mean giraffe.” Eleanor also always seeks out Chidi for advice on how to be a good person, and then unexpectedly develops feelings for him. (In a visit with “Medium Place” denizen Mindy St. Claire, the coke-addicted lawyer says that Eleanor has visited her 15 times across the various reboots, and during eight of her trips she’s had sex with Chidi.) Finally, Eleanor realizes that she’s in the Bad Place and forces Michael to try another restart — except for the one time Jason cracked the case, figuring out that he couldn’t be in paradise because his soul mate “doesn’t even know who Blake Bortles is.”
As was the case with “Everything Is Great!,” The Good Place season two continues to suggest that it’ll be all about Michael’s lies and desperation, not Eleanor’s. Ted Danson gets to bring his full range of comic prowess to this episode, in snippets that show Michael bouncing from malicious glee to slovenly despair to weary resignation. He goes into the project expecting to end up in the torture hall of fame, “right next to the guy who invented bees with teeth.” But by Attempt No. 108, he’s gotten so punchy that as soon as Eleanor shows up in his office, she overhears him recording a journal entry about his plan.
Making matters worse, Michael faces a full-scale revolt from his Bad Place Players, led by Vicki (a.k.a. “Real Eleanor”), whose frustration over a string of bad roles in Michael’s various Neighborhoods has led her to compile both a blackmail folder and a list of ideas for how this experiment should be run. The episode ends in the middle of Attempt No. 802, with Eleanor and Chidi having just found out they’re in the Bad Place thanks to some disgruntled, loose-lipped employees, while Michael weighs whether to acquiesce to Vicki’s demands — some of which involve Australian accents — for an Attempt No. 803.
It takes an inane personal anecdote to get Michael back on track. Although he’s certain that Jason has nothing to teach him because “I know everything that happened in your life and it was all stupid,” the architect’s mind gets changed when the Jacksonville DJ describes the time his dance troupe bud Donkey Doug split off to form a new crew, #DougLife. Jason responded by rallying his remaining dancers to slash their rival’s tires. (“It was dope. The end. By Jason Mendoza.”)
Here’s where we are now: Michael wants to form a metaphorical “dance crew” with Eleanor and the rest of the humans, in order to fool Shawn and keep Vicki at bay. How nifty is that? Among hundreds of possible Good Place scenarios, the writers picked what should be the thorniest, most farcical, and most entertaining one.
In the Neighborhood
• I tried to keep track of all the different Neighborhood restaurants over the course of Michael’s many reboots, but there were just so many! Favorites include Hokey Gnocchi, Knish From a Rose, and Sushi and the Banshees. The soup-crazed Neighborhood from Attempt No. 802 (with Chicken Soup for the Mouth!) is clearly the best one, because it brings us Eleanor’s scathing reviews of the local clam-chowder fountain: “Basically a savory latte with bugs in it,” and “hot ocean milk with dead animal croutons.”
• It’s good to know that Chidi will remain Chidi in every iteration of Michael’s experiment. Even in Attempt No. 802, he’s still sure that he was condemned to the Bad Place because he liked to drink environmentally unsustainable almond milk. “It coats my mouth with a weird film!” he enthuses.
• There’s a lot that Eleanor isn’t mature enough to comprehend about her affection for Chidi, given that she’s only ever said, “I love you” to two people: “Stone Cold Steve Austin, and a guy in a dark club who I mistook for Stone Cold Steve Austin.”
• This episode combines two things we know about Mindy St. Claire: that her house is filled with mediocre entertainment, and that she uses those items to make her own pornography. Here, she tapes over her copy of Cannonball Run 2 with voyeur footage of Eleanor and Chidi having sex. (She says she filmed them through her “lookin’ hole.”)
• More pervy Mindy shenanigans: She tells Eleanor that their encounters always end awkwardly, because “Sometimes you walk in on me while I’m masturbating, sometime I walk in on you while I’m masturbating.”