Before he created The Good Place, Michael Schur was the showrunner for Parks and Recreation. That series was renowned for its strong, always-expanding ensemble cast. Amy Poehler was the anchor, but the show was stacked with great characters played by talented comic actors in a way that allowed the world of Pawnee to keep getting bigger and richer every season.
Given Schur's ensemble comedy history — before Parks, he wrote for The Office, and 0n both of those shows he learned from Greg Daniels, who wrote for The Simpsons at its peak — it's no surprise that The Good Place is starting to develop a similarly strong roster of characters, some of whom bear resemblance to Parks characters. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) looks a lot like Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), and shares a mischievous streak, though she obviously lacks Knope's goodness. Her relationship to her mentor/enemy Michael (Ted Danson) is kind of like Knope's with her boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Chidi (William Jackson Harper) is uptight like Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott). The Good Place is basically populated by 300 or so Chris Traegers (Rob Lowe). And an excellent new one, Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), emerged in his eponymous episode, and he's reminiscent of one of Parks and Recreation's greatest creations, Tom Haverford.
Tom "Tommy Fresh" Haverford — not to mention the actor who played him, Aziz Ansari — was the breakout character of Parks' early seasons. Haverford was a douche with a heart of gold. His cocky, self-absorbed behavior covered up a wounded soul that just wanted to be loved. But a lot of the time, when he wasn't being vulnerable, he was just annoying. He was vain and narcissistic and obsessed with "swag," which led to his failed ventures in obnoxiousness like Entertainment 720 and his foul-smelling fragrance. He shamelessly flirted with every attractive woman he came in contact with. And he was just generally, you know, douchey. He judged a beauty contest. One of his idols was Tiger Woods. His best friend was the incorrigible Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz).
And we loved him for it. He was so funny and such a fan favorite that someone made a website based on his creative names for foods.
But his douchiness has nothing on The Good Place's Jason Mendoza. Last week, Jianyu, the silent, noble Buddhist monk, revealed to Eleanor that he was not supposed to be in the Good Place, either, and had kept up Jianyu's vow of silence to avoid revealing himself as a fraud. This week, we learned that he's actually Jason Mendoza, an amateur DJ from Jacksonville, Fla., and he sucks.
Mendoza, when he was alive, was an even worse person than Eleanor. He was an amateur hip-hop dancer, an amateur EDM DJ (the worst genre of music) who went by the name Mr. Music the DJ, and a professional dealer of fake drugs, a job he has in common with Eleanor. He's vapid, unimaginative, and woefully, painfully, heartbreakingly dumb. Worst of all, he has no desire to better himself. He wants to stay the same small-minded, self-absorbed clod he was back in Jacksonville.
This is where he differs from Eleanor, who's really trying to become a better person, and Tom Haverford, who evolved into a more mature, less obnoxious person as the series progressed. And Haverford's arc could serve as a template for Mendoza's path forward: the douchebag grows up.
Mendoza, as played by relative newcomer Manny Jacinto, could be a Haverford-like breakout. Jacinto was silent for almost all of the first three episodes, but he finally gets to be hilarious here, delivering lines like "I came up with hundreds of plans in my life, and only one of them got me killed" with an irresistible dopiness.
So far, The Good Place is not that much like Parks and Rec. It's much more tightly-plotted and much less improvisational, which are assets. But it's retaining Parks' eye for character detail and essential good-heartedness. On both shows, even the biggest douche in the neighborhood has a shot at redemption.
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30/7c on NBC.