The Good Place season 3 review – a fiendishly smart sitcom salvation

Ted Danson leads the gang into an unwitting experiment as the wonderfully elaborate show keeps up its staggering gag count

The Good Place has returned – *pauses to gaze around at the dauntingly hellish nature of the real world* – not a moment too soon.

At the end of the second series about Eleanor Shellstrop who finds herself wrongly allocated to an idyllic afterlife that is never quite called heaven and which is gradually revealed to be anything but, our quartet of oddballs had just been saved from banishment to the real Bad Place by capricious judge Gen (Maya Rudolph) thanks to demon-naif Michael (Ted Danson, whose career renaissance since Damages has been a joy to witness and will doubtless, thanks to syndication, remain a joy forever).

We open with Michael heading down to Earth (“Oh Janet!” he cries on his return, “I saw this place that was a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell! The mind reels!”) and saving Team Cockroach – trashbag Eleanor, neurotic Chidi, egocentric Tahani and simpleton Jason – from the accidents that killed them first time round. Alas, this fails to bring about the self-reflection and better living he had counted on, so he has to keep returning until his flock is safely gathered together – as the subjects of an experiment run by Chidi and neuroscientist Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), his almost-girlfriend – so that they can unwittingly reproduce the group dynamic that helped them become better people while they were in the Good (Bad) Place.

From the off, it is full of the ethical conundrums; philosophical points and counterpoints; nimble leaps in time, narrative and dimensions; and, above all, jokes. Visual, verbal, one-liners, standalones or purely character-driven, intra-show gags for devotees only, there is never a moment wasted. From Tahani’s interview with International Sophisticate Magazine for their “582 Questions” feature – later nominated for a Bafta – to Jason’s wrestling with basic human constructs (“I’ve had a bad year. It started about a year ago”) to Eleanor’s conviction that Aristotle is pronounced the same way as Chipotle, they come at a rate that can only belong to the age of instant pause and rewind. I’d say four full viewings will be needed to catch all of them.

Beyond all else, creator Michael Schur and his writing team display a consummate mastery of detail. The absurdity of the celeb interview is nailed with Tahini’s insistence – expected from all modern female stars – that she was “such a tomboy!” growing up, just as they pass a picture of her holding a basketball and beaming, in full floral summer dress and straw hat. The blurbs on the back of her bestselling self-help book are from Malcolm Gladwell – “I’ve decided to quit writing. I’ll never top it” – and Cormac McCarthy: “Ditto.” In episodes to come there is a running gag about a fourth Hemsworth brother that I won’t spoil. It’s precision engineering all the way.

The ensemble playing remains flawless and Howell-Baptiste with her immaculate delivery (glimpsed in Killing Eve, here given full rein) only adds to the fun. How you slot so seamlessly into such an off-kilter, idiosyncratic show will remain a thing of wonder to me – I am in awe even as I bark with laughter.

And then in the closing scenes, glory of glories – Trevor turns up! There may be people who can have enough Adam Scott in their lives, but I am not one of them. Trevor inveigles his way into the experimental cohort and looks set to wreak his customary form of devilish havoc.

The only slight worry was that there wasn’t quite enough of ambulant database Janet (the majestic D’Arcy Carden, whose performance is sui generis), but I’ve looked ahead and order is restored soon. In the meantime, enjoy being back in The Good Place. It is the Best Time.

Contributor

Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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