The Good Place returned for its third season Thursday night with an entirely new wrinkle, something we've come to expect from the series. The core four humans whose morality was in question in the afterlife had their deaths reversed to see if they could pull off character changes back when they were alive. Even though we assumed this would happen since the Season 2 finale (and had it confirmed over the summer), it's still a shock to see Eleanor (Kristen Bell) not be assaulted by endless froyo or giant shrimp. Even more shocking — though it shouldn't be based on the first two seasons — I have no forking clue where The Good Place is going in Season 3.
And that's exactly how it should be. There's a reason that NBC's The Good Place has been repeatedly called the best comedy on television (or flat-out the best show period by a bunch of really smart people), and it's not because it's really funny (though it is). Or that it has a stellar cast (which it does). Or that it features TV's best culinary-inspired puns (Knish from a Rose, come on!).
No, the thing that makes The Good Place stand out is the fact that it demolishes the mold of what we think a sitcom should be through its storytelling. The traditional idea of sitcoms is that after the 30 minutes are up, everything is put back in its starting place so that we can do it all over again next week, and if you missed the episode, big deal! It's an idea that's still alive in many sitcoms, particularly multi-cams on networks like CBS and Fox.
But that idea worked in the days before DVRs (VCRs, even), when you either watched the show when it aired or you never watched it at all. Streaming has changed everything, and nowadays, most comedies have serialized elements to them thanks to also having new lives on Netflix, Hulu, etc., which make bingeing a comedy a long journey rather than a series of small steps.
Still, The Good Place takes things even further than that. Whereas most comedies have a clear goal, watching The Good Place is like riding shotgun with Hunter S. Thompson; the destination isn't always clear, but you know you're going somewhere. In Season 1, The Good Place employed a show-shattering twist that upended everything we had watched (they're in the BAD PLACE!). In Season 2, the show stayed ahead of the audience (which was expecting a major twist again) and things were as far from a straight line as possible, with each episode moving in a different direction than what you expected. We didn't know where it was going, but we at least had theories even if they were wrong.
Season 3 is diving into the unknown even more. The two-episode premiere was little more than giving the newly un-dead Eleanor, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) a reason to get back together, with no hint of what Season 3 was really doing. We can't even make bad guesses about what comes next. We're just as perplexed figuring out the show's future as Michael (Ted Danson) is when seeing a single restaurant that serves both a Famous Bowl and a Crunch Wrap Supreme.
This would normally sound alarm bells — The Good Place has peaked! It's spinning its wheels! — but it's probably exactly where it should be. The Good Place thrives in the unknown, and this is the most unknownest it's been yet.
In fact, the show, which was once reliant on the whimsy of the afterlife, has (seemingly) lopped off one of its greatest assets and thumped back into reality now that Michael and Janet (D'arcy Carden) are powerless on Earth. That should make it even easier to guess where the season is going, since it's almost backed into a corner. The stakes appear to be higher now that Eleanor and company pretty much have to do things on their own, the fate of their eternal souls still undecided, and if Trevor's (Adam Scott) surprise return is any indication, the battle for their souls will be waged on Earth between Michael, Trevor and any others who come down to Earth. It's a small glimpse of what might happen, and the only thing I can think of to guess where it's going. But I will be wrong, and that's exactly how it should be.
The Good Place airs Thursday nights at 8/7c on NBC.