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The Scent of Pretzels, Bortles, and Nihilism: The Worst Person of the Week on ‘The Good Place’

While the gang is sequestered in heaven’s mailroom, Michael meets the Good Place committee—and uncovers deep systemic issues

NBC/Ringer illustration

Fork yeah: The Good Place is back. This season, as we follow the show that is so devoted to understanding what it means to be good and bad, we will be applying the NBC comedy’s own standards and practices in determining the Worst Person of the Week. The weekly winner — well, “loser” is probably more accurate — will be judged by their ethical choices rather than any subjective measures. Think of us as another Shawn, only less into encasing traitors in slimy cocoons. At the end of this ethical exercise, we’ll also hand out episodic awards for more frivolous things. Let’s break down Thursday night’s episode, “The Book of Dougs.”


So, remember how The Good Place ended its final episode of 2018 by actually—finally—having its characters make it to the real Good Place? Well, the jokes on us—and them. Technically, our quartet of humans (plus Janet and Michael) are on hallowed Good Place grounds; the catch though is that they’ve only entered heaven’s mailroom. The divine estate has certain Good Place quirks—for instance, everyone is able to smell the thing that makes them happiest. Chidi smells absolute moral truth, which is weirdly reminiscent to the scent of warm pretzels, while Jason can somehow smell Blake Bortles accepting a Super Bowl MVP trophy. And also weed, because it’s Jason.

The problem is they have no way of getting out of the confines of the mailroom. The nearest human entrance to the Good Place is 500 trillion miles away—and despite the fact that there’s a door that leads straight to salvation at the front of the building, it’s not human-accessible for vaguely, mostly unexplained reasons. (How convenient!) Good Place creator Mike Schur is not a benevolent god.

But while Eleanor and Chidi dillydally (read: flirt and eventually have sex in a closet, which hey, more power to them and their rights to celestial boning), Michael tries to come up with a solution to humanity’s problems and the potentially tainted ethical points system by taking these complaints up to a Good Place committee. This is, of course, the first opportunity to know what Good Place characters—by all accounts, the closest approximation to an angel—actually look like. And here we are:

Ted Danson as Michael talking to a group of six people in the Good Place committee All screen shots via NBC

So they’re … half of my neighbors in Brooklyn? The tote bag, beard, and man-bun game is very strong.

But don’t let these genial exteriors fool you. Unfortunately, it’s these angelic Good Place committee members who are the Worst People of the Week. Michael raises his compelling evidence to the group—led by comedian Paul Scheer as Chuck—that the Bad Place demons have tainted the points system, which would explain why there have been no new human inhabitants in the Good Place in 521 years. “There have been dips before,” Chuck retorts. “Remember, like, 200,000 years ago when they invented stabbing and they’re all just like stabbing each other?”

But even after Michael convinces them otherwise, a quick solution isn’t on the cards. They need to form an investigative team to look into the matter—a process that’ll be fast-tracked and completed in … 400 years. Then they have to cross-examine themselves to make sure these are no investigative team biases, which will take another 1,000 years. By the time anything comes to pass, billions of humans will be eternally tortured in the Bad Place. Michael sums it up best: “The Titanic is sinking and they’re writing a strongly worded letter to the iceberg.”

It’s a familiar “when they go low, we go high” approach to handling eternal damnation—something that should be handled with a lot more urgency. That is the core of the frustrations with the Good Place committee, though it might not even be the Bad Place’s fault for the humans’ diminished standings in the points system. Michael goes through a quick points system experiment for a dude named Doug—not the same one with a lentil obsession played by Michael McKean—who bought his grandmother roses. Sure, he gets some positive points for the wholesome gift—but then look at what happens:

GIF of a computer system scrolling through point additions and subtractions for a man getting his grandmother 12 roses

It’s hard to argue with the ethical dilemmas this process breaks down—workers shouldn’t be overworked and underpaid, toxic pesticides are indeed bad for the environment, and humans should do more to reduce our carbon footprint—but that means any kind gesture can have myriad negative effects most people aren’t even capable of thinking about. Maybe, The Good Place posits through this depressing exercise, the way humans live in the present is uniquely designed to make us all terrible people.

Yeah, that’s some heavy shit. But it’s probably not Schur’s thesis statement for this show: If there is a unifying theme to his work (which also includes Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) it’s that he likes to spotlight the good in all kinds of people from very different backgrounds. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson couldn’t be farther apart, but they became best friends—and by knowing one another, better people. Nihilism isn’t his thing, so this definitely isn’t The Good Place’s endgame, but it is a searing indictment of what’s wrong with the world on a macro level. (As Jason, of all people, says earlier in the episode after suggesting they ask for Good Place asylum, in perhaps the show’s most transparently political dig: “What kind of messed-up place would turn away refugees?”)

So while the Good Place committee members are just a small piece of a larger problem and shouldn’t have all the blame fall on them, they still aren’t helping matters—and they’re supposed to be the good guys here. Again, Michael is the one shouldering the load, as “The Book of Dougs” ends with him presenting some new terms to the Judge at IHOP (Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes). It remains to be seen what fate awaits our humans next, and if they’ll get any closer to the actual, non-mailroom Good Place. But they’re heading in a more promising direction—as is The Good Place on the whole. Now, time for our weekly awards.

Most On-Brand Good Place Smell:

GIF of Tahani telling Jason, “Ah, this truly is the Good Place. To me it smells like a curtain closing between first class and economy.”

Hopefully on domestic flights that don’t offer the luxury, business class is an acceptable compromise.

Most Brooklyn Thing the Good Place Committee Does:

Figuring out what to bring in their tote bags.

GIF of Good Place committee members telling a third, Kellen, to pick up peaches from the farmer’s market, but he’s arguing pluots are in season, so they tell him to get as many as can fit in a tote bag

Can anything be in season in a place that doesn’t adhere to any constructs of space and time? Whatever; pluots are dope.

Best Aesthetic Choice:

Eleanor looking at Chidi wearing a tight mailman outfit

We’ve got Chidi in a tight-fitted mailroom outfit—which he’s confirmed to be wearing next week when they visit IHOP. Congratulations to all of us, especially Thirsty Chidi Twitter.

Most Iconic Chidi Quote I’ll Be GIF-ing on Repeat for the Rest of My Life:

GIF of Chidi telling Eleanor, who’s holding a bottle of champagne, to “Pop that bench.”

Pop that bench.