Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: The Good Place "... Someone Like Me As A Member"

I'm not going to lie, this review was pretty close to just being quotes from Adam Scott's Trevor. The writing team has a lot of fun giving him the worst possible words and language. He consistently refers to Eleanor as “trashbag” and casually swears to Bieber. He refers to his toenails as “dudes”, asks Chidi if he went to “pound town” and uses the words “horndogs”, “vibing” and “mofos” all in one sentence. Also, I laughed so hard that I had to pause the episode after Scott just nonchalantly let food fall out of his mouth at dinner. A more obnoxious person than Trevor can't be imagined, and I can't wait for him to come back to The Good Place.

The other major new arrival, Real Eleanor (Tiya Sircar), is not nearly as funny, but is nevertheless a welcome addition. Her doe-eyed empathy is played straight, providing a true counterpoint to Kristen Bell's Eleanor. She could have easily came off as sickly sweet, but Sircar gives her a warm, humble air. Also, her wish for a clown nook (and recognition of college improv as the worst hell imaginable) instantly grounds her and endears her to us at home. Real Eleanor also does a good job of making Fake Eleanor look like the fake she really is, lending real stakes to the plot.

The title of this episode refers to an old quote attributed to Groucho Marx: “I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member”. And that's what the plot is really about: Fake Eleanor finally choosing to belong. This hasn't been a issue in the other episodes, but “... Someone Like Me As A Member” does a good job setting up the dilemma as a real choice.

The trouble starts after the break, when Michael tells Fake Eleanor: “I truly believe The Good Place is where you belong. You're part of our team”. This leads to some well-deployed flashbacks that aren't particularly funny, but establish that Fake Eleanor has always been “solo” to use her (and Jason Derulo's) preferred term. Fake Eleanor being a loner makes intrinsic sense, and Bell does a good job showing that Eleanor's awfulness is both a cause and a result of being alone her whole life. Real Eleanor hilariously undercuts Bell's reasoning for why she turned out that way (“Anyways, orphanage burned down – yadda yadda yadda...”), but that doesn't lessen the emotional impact that The Good Place has generated for Bell through the flashbacks.

It also creates real stakes when Trevor shifts from obnoxious douchebag to true devil's advocate, telling Fake Eleanor that she doesn't belong in The Good Place. The battle for Fake Eleanor's soul thus comes down to Fake Eleanor's choices and that is a marvelous bit of plotting and storytelling. All this allows it to feel like a real victory when Eleanor finally chooses to believe in herself, perhaps for the first time. Harper and Bell really sell the journey from reluctant co-conspirators to true friends this season, with Chidi willing to stick with her even after Real Eleanor has shown up.

In the B-plot, Michael has to learn how to deal with the other denizens of The Bad Place. This is funny, but his big cathartic speech at the end of the episode, telling them to “get the fork out of his neighborhood” rang a little hollow. We don't truly understand the relationship between The Good Place, The Bad Place, and, of course, Shawn (“Wise, eternal judge who sits on high – Shawn”). It follows that it's hard to generate any emotion for Michael here because we don't know what his stand has cost him (if it cost him anything at all). Something can't truly be a victory if there are no obstacles to overcome or consequences to follow. However, the whole plot line was hilarious and that's all I really need. The Bad Place people lip syncing along to the Nixon tapes (as opposed to the Mel Gibson rant or Mussolini speeches) had me cackling uncontrollably.

Following up with the mythology behind the show, this episode seemed to imply that the confusion between the Eleanors was a one time deal due to special circumstances. However, that doesn't account for Jason's entry into The Good Place (unless the Eleanors broke the system for everyone). With this week's cliffhanger, I'm sure this will be explored in more detail in the next episode.

“... Someone Like Me As A Member” didn't didn't leave me with too much to talk about, but that's not a criticism. This week, The Good Place satisfied the first (and most difficult) rule of being a sitcom: be funny. Hope everyone else is enjoying this show as much as I am and I'll see all you ding-dongs in January when The Good Place picks back up.

Grade: A-

  • Jason has a bittersweet little moment with Janet that I neglected to mention. It doesn't really have an impact anywhere in the plot, but it does tie in with the themes of not belonging. This show is so good at making sure we understand the deeper feelings that belie the bright surface of The Good Place.
  • Trevor on being gifted a unicorn: “Might be fun to – skin it alive, eat it's raw flesh. Maybe break off the horn, grind it up, snort it.”
  • Loved the childlike delight that D'arcy Carden evinced when clapping along with the Bad Placers who called her an idiot. I'd watch a spinoff with just her and Jason.
  • I know what I have to do. I just have to be more accommodating. Offer them everything they want, give in to all their demands and then they'll have to respect me”
  • How do you guys eat without listening to hardcore porn?
Photo Credit: NBC

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