The Good Place
“If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day? You’re the asshole.” —Raylan Givens
The above quote comes from the Dixie-fried crime series Justified, a favorite of The Good Place’s Gen the judge, who has the hots for its star, Timothy Olyphant. This is maybe Justified’s most famous line, because it says so much about Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens’s own particular brand of orneriness (even though he’s directing it at somebody else), and also because it so perfectly describes so many “difficult” people who seem to spend their entire lives feeling frustrated and victimized.
But during the past two seasons of The Good Place, four dead humans and a reformed demon — accompanied by a not-female not-robot — have been trying to persuade the judge that society on Earth has evolved over eons to a point where everybody is now an asshole. We all tend to behave like selfish, shortsighted jerks these days, largely in reaction to the procession of selfish, shortsighted jerks we meet every day. It’s a self-perpetuating and steadily worsening cycle.
The big question posed in the latest episode is: What are we going to do about it?
When we last saw our heroes, right before the midseason hiatus, an impatient Gen had decided that the only solution was a complete do-over: Delete humanity, reboot the Earth, and let all life and culture re-evolve. But Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason are still attached to their old world, as flawed as it may be. So in this week’s “You’ve Changed, Man,” they hurriedly throw together a few different proposals, hoping to win the approval of Gen and Shawn … and, um, Timothy Olyphant.
“You’ve Changed, Man” will likely be remembered as “the Timothy Olyphant episode,” because the actor’s surprise appearance in the episode’s final third is both funny and wondrous. Unable to hold Gen’s attention as the judge heads into Janet’s void in search of her Earth-destroying remote-clicker thingy, the gang has Janet conjure up the Justified star to keep her placated while they explain their third and final Grand Plan.
The first plan they come up with — after Chidi orders up some warm pretzels and a copy of Judith N. Shklar’s essay collection Ordinary Vices — is an expansion of Mindy St. Claire’s Medium Place, to keep the afterlife from being such a strict pass-fail proposition. Because it’s excessively cruel to condemn those who don’t deserve paradise to eternal torture, Eleanor suggests that the just-okay folks should spend eternity in “their own personal Cincinnati.”
When Shawn nixes this, Eleanor counters with proposal No. 2: The Bad Place can take her and her friends, to torture forever, in exchange for giving the Medium Place plan a chance. When Shawn passes on this as well, Chidi comes up with what should be a winner: What if humans spend their time in the afterlife the way he did, learning through a series of trials what they did wrong on Earth, before being sent back to take another crack at being a good person?
Unexpectedly — and hilariously — Timothy Olyphant plays devil’s advocate throughout this pitch. He keeps asking for a detailed walk-through of the logistics. (“Yeah, we’re gonna, man, just chill,” Eleanor snaps.) And he seconds Shawn’s incredulity when the demon learns that he and his kind will no longer be flattening penises … or, indeed, interfering with the humans’ penises in any way.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter what the humans suggest; Shawn remains determined to deny Michael any kind of “win,” even if it means everybody loses. And here’s where the episode gets a little meta. Michael forces Shawn to admit that he enjoys their adversarial relationship, and that he’ll miss it when it ends. Then Michael adds, “One way or another, this is over.” And I don’t think he’s talking about the current version of the afterlife.
My main knock against “You’ve Changed, Man” is that it feels a little rushed, almost as though the writers themselves are suddenly aware of the finish line, and are straining to get there as fast as possible. Like Chidi, they seem to have chosen not to be overanalytical about their ending. They’re going to lean hard into it — even though the “new” afterlife plan sounds a little like a warmed-over hash of Albert Brooks’s movie Defending Your Life mixed with traditional Eastern religious notions of reincarnation mixed with the experimental version of the Neighborhood from earlier this season.
Still, this show tends to find a way to make old ideas feel new, so I trust the last three episodes will use Chidi’s scheme as a springboard for something sweet and funny and moving — y’know, typical Good Place stuff. In the meantime, for fans of this series, hearing Michael talk about the end of everything, and seeing Gen marble-ize so many Janets (including Neutral Janet, whose last words are, “These are my last words … end of words”), lend some poignancy to this episode. It’s enough to make a person want to savor every last one of Jason’s “This is messed up, even for Florida” stories, and all of Tahani’s anecdotes about wild weekends spent with LeBron James, Bruno Mars, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Because here’s one thing even the persnickety Gen would admit: Humans, in all our awfulness, are good at making TV shows. Maybe that simple fact will be the key to our salvation. Maybe our existence — when all is said and done — is Justified.
The End Times
• With only a few episodes left, the Good Place writers seemed extra eager this week to empty their Notes apps of all their remaining Neighborhood restaurant and shop puns. Some of this week’s best (all new, I think) include: Joanie Loves Tchotchkes, Ponzu Scheme and Foot Lager.
• My favorite visual gag in this episode is barely a gag at all, but it still made me laugh out loud: It’s the way that Chidi, in his blackboard outline of Shklar’s theories about cruelty, takes the time to include the years of her birth and death (“Judith Shklar (1928–1992)”), as any professor would.
• I’m starting to think the Good Place creator Michael Schur considers his show’s true villains to be the ineffectual Good Place representatives, who never fight for what they believe in but instead concede everything to the Bad Place side, in a vain hope that they’ll make the Bad folks “happy.” I perceive some not so subtle political commentary there — and perhaps a larger explanation for how the Earth became Planet of the Assholes.