This review contains spoilers up to episode nine of The Good Place season three.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that The Good Place was in a good place. The first two seasons were generally met with positive reviews, and this quirky little comedy felt original and bizarrely compelling. I was first introduced to it when a housemate was watching it in the living room and I was quickly drawn in by the colourful characters and the cliff-hangers which always left you wanting to watch one more episode.
But as I watched a poorly choreographed ‘bar fight with demons’ in the latest instalment of the show’s third season, I found myself questioning what on earth has happened. Unlike what came before it, the third season hasn’t left me wanting more, and each episode has felt tedious and unengaging. So, what exactly has gone wrong to have made this show lose its charm?
The Good Place is simply too cartoonish to successfully portray Earth
Setting the third season predominantly on Earth (so far at least) has easily been the biggest change to the formula. The decision to change up the setting makes sense and seems like a decent way to make this third season continue to feel fresh and innovative, however in practice this hasn’t quite worked out. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that The Good Place is simply too cartoonish to successfully portray Earth. In the previous seasons, the fact that we were in a fantasy setting meant that they could better get away with the cartoonish vibe, but now that we’re on Earth it is somewhat destroying my ability to believe in this universe.
Above all, the side characters in this series (Simone aside) have been so cartoonish that it has been impossible to really care about them. And yet, sadly, that is exactly what this season is encouraging us to do, as the main cast go about attempting to ‘save’ their relatives from ending up in the Bad Place. The idea on paper seems like a decent new direction to take the show, with plenty more discussions of moral philosophy along the way. However, the show succeeds far better when slowly developing characters over several episodes, such that the episodic stories in this season have felt at best under-cooked and at worst tiresomely preachy.
This season, it’s felt like the show has been stuck in a rut
One of the strengths of this show in the past is that it has often been a few steps ahead of its viewers, catching them by surprise with twists or sudden changes in narrative direction. Yet this season, it’s felt like the show has been stuck in a rut, dawdling too long on uninspiring ideas and failing to move the narrative at its usual pace. The lack of any real threat has certainly contributed to this. The other demons, for example, seem to keep appearing in the narrative only to be quite easily thwarted, while the Judge was similarly sidestepped without much difficulty.
There are four episodes left to air, and the return to the afterlife might provide the narrative with the shake-up that it needs. However, I don’t hold out much hope. The characters’ plan to change the current point system is a plot idea that feels too wrapped up in the show’s own mythology to have much resonance in the real world – things were far better when there was more mystery and unknowns surrounding the workings of this afterlife. Sadly, I think that this show – like its protagonists – is now beyond redemption.