The Good Place—a heartfelt yet cleverly snarky look at the afterlife and the ethics of what it means to be a truly good person—returns for its much-anticipated third season tonight on NBC. Are you up to date on all the show’s twists and references? We’ve got all you need to get back up to speed.
What it’s about
In the first episode of season one, it’s established that the human characters are all recently deceased and living in the “Good Place,” a spin on the traditional concept of Heaven that’s set up like a squeaky-clean small town (albeit one with a very high number of frozen-yogurt stands). Everyone there is paired with a perfectly compatible soul mate to spend eternity with, and there’s no cursing allowed. Michael (Ted Danson), the celestial being who designed the neighborhood, makes sure things are running smoothly with the help of Janet (D’Arcy Carden), the resident AI/search engine/all-knowing computer who can be summoned just by saying her name.
Most of season one follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell)—who was not an especially nice person when she was alive, something made clear in numerous hilarious, yet cringe-worthy, flashbacks—trying to hide the fact that her classification in the Good Place is an obvious mistake. She enlists her assigned soul mate, ethics scholar Chidi (William Jackson Harper), to help her become a better person, a scheme that eventually involves Jason (Manny Jacinto), another not-so-good person who’s seemingly there by mistake, and Jason’s purported soul mate, Tahani (Jameela Jamil). Eventually, though, Eleanor realizes that the bickering quartet has really been in the Bad Place the entire time, and that Michael is actually a demon who’s been testing a new form of torture on them. Everyone else in the neighborhood is also secretly a demon, and they’ve all been helping with Michael’s plan.
In the very last moments of season one, Michael “reboots” the entire reality and memory-wipes the minds of the four humans, hoping to figure out a way to keep Eleanor from discovering his ruse a second time. Instead, season two is filled with a series of reboots, as the humans figure out the truth over and over again no matter what Michael attempts to throw at them. At a certain point, he actually starts siding with the humans, first in the interest of self-preservation—he’s on very thin ice with his Bad Place supervisor, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who’s more of an old-school torture guy. But after he joins Chidi’s ethics study group, he genuinely starts to care about the humans (rather than merely thinking of them as “cockroaches”). At the end of season two, he helps them escape their neighborhood and navigate the Bad Place headquarters. There, they manage to land a meeting with Judge Gen (Maya Rudolph), who will have the ultimate ruling on everyone’s fate.
Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) An Arizona native whose life on Earth consisted mostly of being selfish and committing acts of petty cruelty, Eleanor died in a freak accident involving a row of runaway supermarket shopping carts. In the afterlife, she realizes that becoming a good person is preferable to an eternity of torture—and despite the occasional mistake, she makes amazing progress once she decides to change. In at least one of the season-two reboots, she falls in love with Chidi, but their relationship is generally platonic—though they both question their true feelings on occasion.
Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) Born in Nigeria, and raised in Senegal, Chidi went on to teach in Paris and Australia. He’s a philosophy professor who specializes in ethics, which makes him the perfect teacher to help Eleanor leave her garbage-person ways behind. His biggest flaw is an absolute inability to make decisions (he’s so terrified of commitment, he once tried to rent a pair of socks); it’s a huge source of personal anxiety and frustrating as hell for everyone around him. He died after being clobbered by an air conditioner that fell out of a window, shortly after being relieved of his Best Man duties by a friend who was exasperated by his inability to stop dithering.
Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) A glamorous British socialite who spent her time on Earth hobnobbing with celebrities and royals while raising money for various charities, Tahani loves hosting parties almost as much as she loves name-dropping. While her philanthropy did help people, she didn’t really do it out of the kindness of her heart. Rather, she was trying to escape the shadow of her irritatingly talented sister, a world-famous artist on top of being her parents’ favorite child. (In season two, we learn that Tahani died while angrily trying to topple a statue of her sister.) Though she and Jason have nothing in common, their relationship eventually blossoms beyond friendship—though a spontaneous decision to get hitched doesn’t end up working out.
Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) Endearing simpleton Jason—former breakdancer, failed EDM DJ, and world’s biggest Jacksonville Jaguars fan—was first introduced as “Jianyu,” a Buddhist monk who had very conveniently taken a vow of silence. He revealed his true identity to Eleanor early in season one, realizing that she was a fellow Good Place misfit. Jason died as stupidly as he lived, suffocating in a safe during a bungled attempt at robbing a fast-food restaurant. During one of the season two reboots, he married Janet, only to forget all about his feelings for her when Michael re-erased his memory. That’s why he and Tahani didn’t make it down the aisle...and it’s also why Jason, Janet, and Tahani have the world’s weirdest “two dead people, one AI” love triangle ever.
Michael (Ted Danson) A demon whose innovative idea to create a fake Good Place to torture a select group of unsuspecting humans helps him move up the Bad Place corporate ladder, Michael was secretly the bad guy throughout season one, despite his unvarnished delight in silly human stuff like bow ties, car keys, paperclips, suspenders, and the phrase “Take it sleazy!” In season two, he has a change of heart and decides to help the humans, risking his own neck in the process—even though demons can’t be killed, they can be “retired,” which means an eternity of torture so awful it’s referred to as “the eternal shriek.”
Janet (D’Arcy Carden) The chipper, all-knowing, primly-dressed AI (“not a robot”) is actually a Good Place Janet—stolen from the Janet warehouse by Michael to make his neighborhood experiment more authentic. With every reboot, Janet evolves and gains more abilities, which is why she falls for Jason at a certain point. When the gang has to infiltrate the real Bad Place at the end of season two, Janet disguises herself as a Bad Janet—her bad-attitude counterpart that’s forever engrossed in her phone and is way too fond of fat jokes, farts, and the song “She Hates Me” by Puddle of Mudd. Janets can’t be killed, but they can be “marbleized”—literally, shut down and trapped inside a marble forever.
Other key characters: Judge Hydrogen (Maya Rudolph), or “Gen” for short; she’s the ancient being who rules on disputes involving the Good Place and the Bad Place, and is also obsessed with burritos and NCIS. Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) is Michael’s sinister boss at the Bad Place; he loves traditional torture and is fond of sealing underlings who’ve displeased him into giant, gooey cocoons. Trevor (Adam Scott) is a smarmy demon who shows up in season one, giving us our first glimpse of what the real Bad Place will be like if Eleanor and company are ever sent there. Vicky (Tiya Sircar) is the ambitious demon who pretends to be “the real Eleanor” in season one, a do-gooder who was accidentally sent to the Bad Place in Eleanor’s stead; in season two, she’s Michael’s professional rival and threatens to expose his failures to Shawn every chance she gets. Derek (Jason Mantzoukas) is the rebound boyfriend that Janet creates for herself to help get over Jason; he’s also the only character who might actually be dumber than Jason, and he has wind chimes for genitals. And Mindy St. Clair (Maribeth Monroe) is a human who dwells in the “Medium Place,” since she died while she was in the middle of a complete life change from bad to good. That said, she is still obsessed with cocaine.
Where things stand
At the end of Michael’s experiment, the neighborhood was dissolved and Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, Tahani, Michael, and Janet escaped into the only place they could: the real Bad Place, though everyone but Michael had to don ridiculous disguises to pass through undetected. After some frantic wrangling and playacting (with Tahani’s fake identity, American-accented hot dog torturer Rhonda Mumps, being a particular standout), the four humans were able to zip through portals to meet Judge Gen—Eleanor escaping only because of Michael’s self-sacrifice. Though the Judge agrees to hear their case, she ends up ruling to send them to the Bad Place anyway.
But! Michael manages to evade Shawn’s worse-than-“retirement” plan of eternal torture (locking Michael in a room with a stack of New Yorker magazines that just...keep...coming) with Janet’s help, and he convinces the Judge to try a new plan: “a push in the right direction.” He’s convinced that the humans can become good people, even in a context where they have no idea what reward awaits them. Echoing season one’s sudden snap into a reboot of the neighborhood, season two’s final episode sees Eleanor suddenly back on Earth, reliving the moment of her death—except this time, a mysterious passer-by (guess who?) saves her at the last second. So instead of waking up in the fake Good Place, Eleanor goes home to her vapid roommates, inspired by her near-death experience to try to be a better person.
It works—for a while, as Janet and Michael watch from their celestial accounting office with delight. But when Eleanor starts to revert back to her old ways, Michael materializes as a friendly bartender (in an amazing Cheers homage) to give Eleanor another “push,” this time in Chidi’s direction.
(Also, before the humans return to Earth...Janet admitted to Jason that she loves him, and he kinda said it back, and Chidi kissed Eleanor. Of course, none of the humans will remember any of this, but still: hot diggity dog!)
Why you should watch
At the beginning of this article, we described The Good Place as a show about the afterlife, as well as what it means to be a truly good person. Now that the human characters are all alive again, the afterlife part of the plot has dropped away. It’s rare that any show—much less an NBC sitcom—is able to continually reinvent itself season to season without diminishing in quality, but not only has The Good Place been able to do that, it’s also remained consistently funny—its pop culture references and particular brand of observational humor are both exquisitely fine-tuned. The ensemble cast is perfect, and the guest stars are always top-notch. Also, this is a half-hour comedy that contains surprisingly intellectual discussions of philosophy and fart jokes. You can’t go wrong, man.
The Good Place returns to NBC tonight with a special one-hour double episode.