Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: The Good Place "Most Improved Player'

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you. - Matthew 7:1

“Most Improved Player” wastes no time in setup. Picking up almost directly after last week, this entire episode is devoted to a single purpose: judging Eleanor Shellstrop. Bell and Danson are fantastic as Eleanor’s ultimate fate is decided.

This episode was funny, clever, and the cliffhanger left plenty of space for new stories. The twists were well-timed, the guest star casting of Adam Scott (channeling his character from Step Brothers) was spot-on, and the flashback was surprisingly good. But despite all of that, I didn’t find myself really loving “Most Improved Player”. 

As a reviewer, sometimes it is difficult to separate what you wanted from an episode and the merit of what you were shown. As I said above, this episode had intelligent plotting and there were some hilarious exchanges —  Janet repeatedly assuring Michael that she had Eleanor’s file only to hand him a cactus was a perfectly executed classic bit. But what this episode wasn’t (and I think this was a big missed opportunity) was a more serious indictment of the utilitarian morality displayed in the show. 

In the words of Eleanor herself, “I want to say… this whole good-bad system is bullshirt.” And that really is the crux of this episode: it is not easy to judge. People are endlessly complicated and they can learn, change, grow, improve. This episode pays lip service to that idea, but refuses to really engage with it in a meaningful way. 

The Good Place wants us to believe that the Good-Bad system makes some kind of sense. And on many levels, it does. Perhaps Eleanor and others should be judged by what they did during their lifetime. This is the tenant of several major religions and makes instinctive sense to us. Bad actions should receive justice, and good actions should be rewarded. The entire premise of the show hinges on this and a large chunk of this episode is dedicated to Eleanor’s flashback. While the dress stuff is funny, it’s also useful, underlining that Eleanor was a Bad Person. 

The show has also been clear in the past that there are flaws in that system. Eleanor may have been a Bad Person in her lifetime, but in this episode we see her show genuine remorse for her past actions. She also refuses to give up Chidi or Jason to Michael. She even thanks Tahani for her friendship! By and large, this is also in keeping with what we know. Justice should be tempered with mercy, trusting people with second chances can be rewarding, comprise isn't inherently bad. Eleanor's actions help muddy the waters, introducing a lot of grey area into the overly simplistic Good-Bad framework. 

Where this episode missteps, in my mind, is that it treats all of this as too much of a joke. It wants us to be seriously invested in Eleanor’s moral improvement and the overall system of Good vs. Bad, but it also wants to make jokes about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Bachelor. The Good Place wants to have it’s cake and eat it too — have us believe that Eleanor should be judged by Michael, but also show his judgement to be pretty worthless (through silly jokes and throwaway lines). 

This balance has worked in the other episodes, but it felt off to me here because of how serious the situation was. At it’s heart, “Most Improved Player” was an Old-Testament style judgement and that just doesn’t gel with a bunch of jokes about churro dogs and cacti. 

That being said, this is a sitcom, and while I would have liked something a little different, “Most Improved Player” was very good at what it set out to do. There was a lot of good lines (see below) and Adam Scott was great as Trevor, head of The Bad Place. The cliffhanger was also fantastic (although I don’t see why they can’t just keep both Eleanors). Overall, another good episode from Michael Schur and company. 

Grade: B+

  • Tahani is hilariously terrible throughout “Most Improved Player”. Calling Eleanor an “imposter who soiled our paradise with her moral turpitude,” implying that she would be generous with Eleanor, but the inferior (angelic) Michael should probably send Eleanor to hell, and name-dropping countless celebrities. 
  • “You’re a giant chunk of spinach in the teeth of the universe” 
  • Jason backs Eleanor up when she says that snitches get stitches: “That is true. I read that once on the back of my boy Peanut’s tricep.”
  • After Jason’s interview, you can spot him using the fountain to water his new cactus. 
  • “Well that’s the risk you take when you keep your clothes clean” 

  • Love The Bad Place people. One has a selfie stick, another has a Bluetooth headset, all have huge obnoxious sunglasses. They’re not so much evil as extraordinary annoying and juvenile.  
Photo Credit: NBC

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