Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: The Good Place "Tahani Al-Jamil"

“You don’t know what it feels like to be in paradise and feel like there is so much that’s not quite right” - Tahani Al-Jamil

            After last week’s two-parter, “Tahani Al-Jamil” continues to reveal cracks in The Good Place facade. These manifest humorously throughout the episode, like with Michael repeatedly trying to reprogram Janet, the omniscient information assistant of The Good Place. Played with aplomb by D'Arcy Carden whom I neglected to mention last week, the shifting nature of Janet is a consistently funny gag throughout the episode. In particular, Carden’s “Fun Fact” about all the Portland Trailblazers going to The Bad Place, had me laughing out loud. 

            We also learn that Michael is not omniscient and that Jahani is having trouble connecting to her soulmate, Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a silent Buddhist monk, which leads to the above line.

            Of course, these difficulties pale in comparison to the bombshell dropped by Jianyu at the end of the episode. Turns out that Jianyu isn’t silent after all, and he knows that Eleanor doesn’t belong in The Good Place. The kicker? He knows that he doesn’t belong either.

            We’ll circle back to all of that later. Let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to start). Shur and company quickly set up a couple different storylines. In the A-plot, we have Eleanor trying to prove that Tahani is just as terrible as she is. Filled with funny lines, there wasn’t much forward momentum here.

            Much the same as last week, Eleanor starts out skeptical that anyone is truly good and ends up showing just a little bit of humanity when she comforts and hugs Tahani. As I mentioned last week, this is a very tricky line to walk. Eleanor has to get better every week, but she also can’t seem too eager as that would defeat the premise of the show.

            I think that this episode mostly pulls it off, in large part due to the humor, but there were quite a few moments that felt untrue and treacly. In particular, Eleanor’s flashbacks felt very out-of-place and didn’t do much to contribute to the storyline. Tying in with that, Eleanor’s, “When I’m around someone better than me I try to drag them down to my level,” to Chidi felt unearned. We saw Bell candid and vulnerable last week after getting drunk, but returning to that same well is a case of diminishing returns.

            Over in the B-plot, Michael is trying to get Chidi to pick up a new hobby. This was pretty fun as well, with Chidi getting in some great lines (“I have what doctors call directional insanity”), but once again not too much character progression. We learn that Chidi’s life’s work on ethics is far from the masterpiece Chidi believed it to be, but this doesn’t add too much. After all, this show is essentially about how difficult it is to define “good” so the revelation that Chidi doesn’t have all the answers is obvious. He still knows more than Eleanor, and that’s all we really need.

            To me, this felt a bit like a table-setting episode. The decision to have Eleanor become Michael’s lead investigator is a smart bit of plotting. Similarly, as mentioned before, Jianyu’s revelation that he is pretending to be a silent monk to avoid detection is a great reveal. Manny Jacinto’s bug-eyed “I’m freakin’ out, homie,” to Bell was a thing of beauty.

            However, both of these twists come at the end of a very generic sitcom episode. The jokes were funny enough to carry the two plots, but there are only so many times that Eleanor can learn her lesson and stay unchanged. With all the pieces in place, perhaps The Good Place can take it’s storytelling to the next level. I have quite a few theories on what The Good Place really is and I can’t wait for the show to get around to answering them.

Grade: B

Memorable Moments

   Who died and left Aristotle in charge of ethics?” Plato.

   “You want to tell me about that rock bottom you probably hit?” - Eleanor fishing for dirt on Tahani’s modeling career.

   Chidi never got around to naming his dog and when it runs away he puts up posters saying that it “responds to long pauses.”

   “First of all, throwing sand is an excellent way to put out a vodka fire” “How do you even know that?!”

   I laughed way too hard at the plant bursting into flames after Eleanor lays into Tahani. Just the perfect touch of silliness.

    Tahani’s stylish diary has a foreword written by Malala Yousafza and Kylie Minogue.

Photo Credit: NBC

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