Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Good Place. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 1.
In its location-hopping third season, The Good Place continues to be one of the most inventive, sharply written shows on TV. Season 2 ended with Michael (Ted Danson) getting permission from the Eternal Judge (Maya Rudolph) to conduct a new experiment. Consequently, he travelled to Earth and prevented the deaths of Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto), giving them a second chance at life to see if they could become better people without any otherworldly interference.
The finale already gave us a glimpse of Eleanor’s path in this new timeline, showing us that although her near-death experience initially prompted her to make some good changes in her life, she soon returned to her old ways, frustrated with the fact that being good is hard work and you don’t often get rewarded for it. Michael broke the Judge’s rules in order to step in, disguised as a bartender, and offer Eleanor some guidance, which led her to pay Chidi a visit at St John’s University, Sydney.
In the opening episode of Season 3, we see the other three humans take similar paths to Eleanor after cheating death. Chidi becomes fleetingly decisive, but reverts after his new ‘seize the day’ attitude lands a friend in hospital; Tahani spends some time in a Tibetan monastery to get out of the spotlight, but it isn’t long before she’s flogging books and giving high-profile talks about her experience; and Jason resolves to avoid crime and put all of his energy into dance, but his enthusiasm starts to wane when his group keeps losing competitions.
Convinced that the humans are failing because they aren’t together, Michael makes more unauthorised trips to Earth to interfere – taking on the guise of a wise Aussie librarian to help Chidi, as well as new age scammer ‘Gordon Indigo’ and talent scout ‘Zack Pizazz’ to get Tahani and Jason involved in Chidi’s study of people who’ve had near-death experiences. Michael has a penchant for assuming fake identities with ridiculous names this season, from caterer ‘Nathaniel Cookswell’ and FBI agent ‘Rick Justice’ to (not his best effort) reporter ‘Michael Scoop’.
Once the gang are back together, along with new addition Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who’s a neurology professor and also Chidi’s girlfriend in this timeline, Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) think they can finally sit back and let things unfold naturally… that is, until Trevor (Adam Scott) the demon shows up in Sydney, intent on destroying the academic study (and therefore the experiment) by, among other things, overwhelming Eleanor with “dank memes” and friendship sweatshirts.
In its second season, The Good Place frequently shook up its premise with unexpected twists and turns, and Season 3 is no different. In any other show, the Earth experiment (and the Bad Place’s attempts to thwart it) could have feasibly lasted for a whole season, but after just two episodes, it’s over due to the Judge discovering just how much Michael has been meddling with the humans’ progress. She is furious – apparently all of these unsanctioned trips to Earth have led to Brexit and the success of The Greatest Showman – so Michael and Janet strand themselves on Earth to escape punishment. As things spiral even further out of his control, with the group of humans seemingly about to disband, Michael wonders whether he could sneak into the Judge’s chambers and somehow initiate another reboot… but at this point, the show cleverly pulls the rug from under our feet yet again. The humans catch sight of a portal to the afterlife, so Michael and Janet decide to come clean and tell them everything.
The middle portion of the season sees the group visit relatives in Budapest, Florida and Nevada in an attempt to save their souls, before a brief trip to Canada, so that Michael and Janet can meet ‘model human’ Doug Forcett (an entertaining guest appearance from Michael McKean), a man who’s become so scared of upsetting others that he refuses to name his pet snails “in case they already have a name they prefer”. Of course, we ultimately end up back in the afterlife, where Michael discovers from the accounting department that nobody has earned enough points to get into the Good Place in over 500 years, and then realises while in the Good Place itself (or rather the Good Place’s mailroom) why this has happened. To quote the Judge, “Earth is a mess y’all” and life has become so complicated that even the most well-intentioned actions have unintended negative consequences.
Season 3’s finale indicates that next season could be more of a return to the show’s roots, as the Judge has allowed Michael to begin another experiment, investigating whether a new batch of humans can become better people, in a fake Good Place neighbourhood very similar to the original one where we spent Season 1 and most of Season 2. As is to be expected, though, the situation is far from straightforward. Eleanor finds herself having to pose as the neighbourhood’s architect, when Michael suffers a sudden crisis of confidence, and it’s revealed that the Bad Place has purposefully selected awkward subjects for the experiment – the two we see in the finale are a gossip blogger who tormented Tahani on Earth and Chidi’s ex, Simone. The tragic conclusion is that it won’t be enough to just erase Simone’s memory; Chidi must be rebooted too, otherwise he could endanger the whole experiment and condemn all humans to be tortured in the Bad Place for eternity.
The writers have a lot of fun with Chidi throughout this season, putting him through a complete breakdown when he learns all about the afterlife (William Jackson Harper’s delivery of the words “I’m done”, upon learning that the afterlife’s timeline resembles the words ‘Jeremy Bearimy’, is masterful) and a virtual reality experience to try out different ways of breaking up with Simone. He also undergoes some big changes later on, as he visibly becomes happier and more confident after getting together with Eleanor. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when he ends the season with no recollection of Eleanor and their relationship whatsoever, and it will certainly be interesting to see the direction his character takes in Season 4.
Eleanor also shows emotional growth this season, starting with the discovery that the mum she previously thought was dead is actually living a new life in Nevada, where she has a stepdaughter to whom she is a better mother than she ever was to Eleanor. Although she’s initially certain that her mum is going to “rip this guy off and disappear like Keyser Söze, right after he admitted to groping all those people”, it becomes clear that Donna Shellstrop really has changed and Eleanor must accept that someone else now has the attentive, responsible mum she always wanted. We get to see more of this vulnerable side to Eleanor as she becomes closer to Chidi and ultimately realises she will lose him.
Perhaps this season’s most memorable performance, however, comes from D’Arcy Carden in the episode ‘Janet(s)’. After spending several episodes on Earth without any of her usual powers – unable to teleport or summon things, she moans “Humans only live 80 years and they spend so much of it just waiting for things to be over” – Janet has the chance to show off some skills by almost single-handedly fighting off a horde of demons and then saving the humans by taking them into her void, which temporarily transforms them all into Janets. Within one episode, Carden gets to play an Eleanor-Janet, a Chidi-Janet, a Tahani-Janet and a Jason-Janet, and at one point even an Eleanor-Janet pretending to be a Jason-Janet and vice versa. And if that weren’t enough, in the same episode, she also plays a fantastically bland Neutral Janet in the afterlife’s accounting department.
As well as the previously mentioned Michael McKean, Season 3 of The Good Place includes fun guest appearances from Nicole Byer as a cheery Good Place postal worker, Stephen Merchant as the head of afterlife accounting and a perfectly cast Mitch Narito as Jason’s dim-witted dad, Donkey Doug. We also get a welcome return from Marc Evan Jackson as the diabolical Shawn, whose villainy often gives rise to some of the show’s best lines, such as when he’s interrupted in the middle of “torturing William Shakespeare by describing the plot of the Entourage movie”. (Incidentally, Marc Evan Jackson also hosts The Good Place: The Podcast, which has become an essential companion to the show for fans who want to know how it all gets made. Guests on the podcast have included everyone from the cast and the writers to the people behind the show’s visual effects, set design, stunts and more.)
With engaging characters, an endlessly malleable premise and consistently high stakes (which may have just got even higher), The Good Place is showing no signs of running out of steam. It takes such unpredictable twists and turns that it’s almost impossible to guess where it will go next, but we can’t wait to find out.
The Good Place is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.