It’s hard to overstate the brilliance of the climactic twist at the end of the first season of The Good Place. In an era of constant fan-theorizing, it’s the rare twist that caught pretty much everybody off guard. It re-contextualized the entire first season without violating anything that came before. As a bonus, it birthed a meme that you can use to complain about pretty much everything that has happened in 2018.
But as brilliant as the twist at the end of The Good Place’s first season turned out to be, it also left Season Two with a unique challenge: If this show isn’t actually about a fraud named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) as she bumbles her way through heaven… well, what is it about?
Rethinking an entire TV show after a single season must have been a challenge—but it’s one that The Good Place managed to pass with flying colors, establishing itself as the best comedy on television. And now that the entire second season is on Netflix, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you binge-watch it before Season Three premieres on September 27. (Or, if you’ve already seen it, re-binge-watch Season Two. Trust us: You’ll catch some stuff you missed the first time around.)
So how did an excellent sitcom reinvent itself into a totally different, but somehow even more excellent sitcom? It started, appropriately enough, with a series of twists—each subtler than the mind-blower that capped off Season One, but no less potent. The ending of the Season One finale seemed to set the stakes for Season Two: a reset back to the very beginning of the show, in which the four humans being tortured in the “Good Place” would have their minds reset, with some tweaks to account for the mistakes of their first go-around. But within the first two episodes, The Good Place blew up that idea with a crazy-ambitious episode that explored literally hundreds of failed variations on the “Good Place” experiment.
By the time the series finally settled back into a single narrative timeline, the show’s goals and stakes had changed. You might think that a TV series about people who are tricked into eternal torture would be a sneering, cynical, and ultimately pessimistic take on the human race.
But The Good Place, having exhausted an entire season’s worth of ideas in 22 minutes, pivoted once again. In Season Two, The Good Place quickly turned into a balm for the soul: a deeply felt, deeply human series that ultimately argues for the value of goodness in a way that never tips into outright preachiness. The Good Place’s deep vein of optimistic empathy is rooted in intellect and realism. We know the world sucks, it seems to say. Be good anyway.
I’m not sure if The Good Place the best show on television right now, but it’s unquestionably the show that has improved my life the most. Every few years, I’ll love a TV episode so much that I’ll watch it whenever the mood strikes—the way you’d put a favorite song on repeat. This year, it’s been The Good Place’s Season Two finale, which honestly grapples with the frustration of trying to live a good life when your instincts—and the world around you—offers no clear motivation for doing it. And while The Good Place doesn’t claim to have all the answers, the impassioned, compassionate case it makes for goodness always leaves me feeling a little more hopeful by the time the credits roll.
I won’t spoil how Season Two ends—but if you’ve been paying attention so far, you won’t be surprised to learn that the finale introduces yet another fascinating narrative pivot, which has made the wait for Season Three feel like a Bad Place-style torture by a particularly malevolent demon. But a world where the first two seasons of The Good Place are available to stream whenever you like… well, that’s a Medium Place, at least.