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.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Good Place: how a sitcom made philosophy seem cool
Never studied philosophy? No worries! Here’s a beginner’s guide to the concepts that make the gags in The Good Place so, well, good

Andrew P Street

29, Jan, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Whisper it … The Good Place might need divine intervention
Season one of The Good Place was fantastic, season two was awe-inspiring. How could season three top it? Short answer: it hasn’t

Stuart Heritage

16, Oct, 2018 @10:01 AM

Article image
Sex Education season two review – fast, funny and still not for the faint-hearted
The teenagers’ sexual escapades continue apace, bringing constant laughs in this rare, magnificent comedy that is good for both the heart and the soul

Lucy Mangan

17, Jan, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
Lunatics review – thankfully no blackface, but still painfully unfunny
Chris Lilley’s latest comedy lacks the offensiveness of his past work. But a sigh of relief is still some distance from laughter

Lucy Mangan

19, Apr, 2019 @11:01 AM

Article image
BoJack Horseman review – what will we do without him?
From alcoholism to miscarriage, Netflix’s hit animation has tackled the toughest of subjects with a side of animal magic. As it ends, it remains both wise and poignant

Stuart Jeffries

31, Jan, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Living With Yourself review – are two Paul Rudds better than one?
Rudd is doubly charming in this cloning comedy-drama on Netflix, which riffs on identity, self-sabotage and the lives we wish we were leading

Lucy Mangan

18, Oct, 2019 @5:01 AM

Article image
The Politician review – Ryan Murphy's student politics show is a born winner
Murphy’s dazzling Netflix series plays gloriously with the inauthenticity that has become standard in the corridors of power

Lucy Mangan

27, Sep, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Good Place: a heavenly show about death and morality
Ted Danson and Kristen Bell star in a glitzy sitcom that turns out to be studded with surprising moments of erudite observation

Kate Leaver

24, Nov, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Russian Doll review – layer upon layer of dead-good TV comedy
Natasha Lyonne is magnificent as a woman reliving her last 24 hours, Groundhog Day-style, in this endlessly impressive and idiosyncratic show

Lucy Mangan

01, Feb, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Cuckoo season four review – the further flights of fancy of Ken and Dale
Having killed off its title character three seasons ago, this perky comedy revels in an anything-can-happen perversity

Tim Dowling

04, Aug, 2018 @5:30 AM