The Good Place Season 3, Episode 4 (“The Snowplow”)

NBC

Oct 11, 2018 Web Exclusive
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"The Snowplow," the fourth episode of The Good Place's third season, is an early contender for funniest episode of the season. It's also guilty of greatly accelerating the season's narrative in ways that are simultaneously unnatural, predictable, and thrilling.

The jokes in "The Snowplow" are just insane. Here's one: Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D'Arcy Carden) decide to fully settle into Earth after narrowly escaping Judge Gen's (Maya Rudolph) brutal punishment. Now on the other side of The Doorway, Michael and Janet hold none of their afterlife powers, so they can only monitor the four humansEleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto)via good ol' cameras and microphones. Their observance room is in a secluded part of the university where Chidi and Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) are conducting their research study. "The whole floor is abandoned," Michael says. "No," replies Janet, "This is the journalism department."

It just keeps going from there. Michael is way too proud of the letter he forged as the now-departed Trevor (Adam Scott), which says that the latter's reason for leaving the study is that he's "too ugly and stupid" to be in it. Eleanor says that she tries to "avoid pointless group activities like office Christmas parties or jury duty," leading to a classic Chidi facial expression of disbelief and incredulousness. Jason lands another handful of laugh-out-loud Jaguars references ("Jaguars rule!" during a group chant of an entirely different phrase; a seven-word Jaguars chant that he's concerned Tahani won't be able to learn by the weekend) and describes the time difference between Sydney and Jacksonville as "a different clock land" after first landing on "a different zone of time...no, that sounds stupid." These jokes all depend on well-established character traits and callbacks to land, and they all do so terrifically.

The writing behind Tahani and Janet's jokes on "The Snowplow" deserves extra praise. "The Snowplow" is really the first episode so far this season to absolutely luxuriate in Tahani's comically exaggerated name-dropping tendencies and wealthy origins. Upon Eleanor finding an $18,000 lottery ticketnot buying one; Michael again interferes with fate by leaving the ticket, which the now-only-semi-omniscient Janet finds at "good ol' lucky number 186 from the bottom" in a cafe's stackeveryone congratulates her, except Tahani, who instead says, "Better luck next time." Her delivery just after everyone else's cheers magnifies the sheer absurdity of her character's background, and her follow-up apologies make great reminders of how socially awkward she can be. Afterwards, she attempts to clarify another mention of her famous friends and, later, an innuendo; Eleanor's response ("We got it. We always get it") is incredible.

And then, of course, there's Janet, so far the season's comedic MVP. Janet still knows everything that happened on Earth before she arrived there, but her social skills are still limited despite thousands of reboots, so she lets terrifyingly personal, straight-up creepy details about ordinary people leak in conversations to them. When she picks out Eleanor's lottery ticket, she tells the barista who gets it for her the location of a bathroom key he lost nine months ago and that his aunt is actually his mother. When she poses as a bartender to keep an eye on Tahani's newly flourishing romance with Larry Hemsworth (an absolutely gorgeous man whose self-esteem is utterly crushed under the weight of his brothers Liam and Chris' fame, played by Ben Lawson), an actual bartender asks who she is. Her response: His wife still loves him, she just doesn't know how to say it. "Go to her!" she beckons.

As hilarious as this moment is, Janet's semi-omniscience peaks in humor when she and Michael try to convince Larry not to leave Australia with Tahani. According to her, Sydney is a great city that Hemsworth has "only seen 4.8 percent of." It's worth noting that this happens at Tahani's going-away party at an AirBNBscratch that, an HeirBNB, an app on which heirs and heiresses swap mansions, islands, and blimp hangars.

Were this review to list every top-tier joke that "The Snowplow" makes, it would run far too long without discussing how much the narrative acceleration detracts from The Good Place's believability. (That said, Janet wanting to buy Jason jean shorts "with the frayed edges where you can see the pockets coming out the bottom" and Jason wearing such shorts in the "Six Months Later" transition card is an amazing visual gag). "The Brainy Bunch," the episode that preceded "The Snowplow," was similarly joke-packed, which made the chaos and imperfection of its endingTrevor, Michael, and Janet are summarily made to appear before Judge Gen in the afterlife; Gen has figured out that Michael and Janet are interfering in the humans' lives; Michael and Janet narrowly escape retirement and marbleization, respectivelyeasy to overlook.

"The Snowplow" crams the events of a year into 22 minutes, and this sounds like something The Good Place could pull off; hell, it managed to cover nearly one thousand attempts at Michael's fake Good Place torture experiment in second-season masterpiece "Dance Dance Resolution." That episode's structure worked because, in theory, nothing would change between new attempts, but something always went wrong in ways that were both fitting and no less hilarious for it. "The Snowplow" moves at such a breakneck speed that the plot is left with little room to naturally expand, and the characters' growth-a major Good Place theme-isn't as visible in this setup.

And then there's, of course, the ending. In our review of the third season premiere, we noted that anyone even remotely familiar with The Good Place's first season could pick out the premiere's foreshadowing with absolutely no effort. Specifically, that episode made it quite apparent that the humans would eventually figure out that Michael and Janet are afterlife beings who saved them from embarrassing, character-fitting deaths and brought them all together so they could go to heaven when they later died more dignified deaths. To build on that tension and keep the audience invested, The Good Place might think to write this key moment into the season's sixth or seventh, maybe even eighth, episode. Instead, it happens at the end of the fourth episode.

Michael and Janet get careless. They summon The Door into the afterlife right in the middle of the HeirBNB's wine cellar. The humans happen to be heading down there-Simone has left, and the timing of her departure for the night just before the other humans agree to a toast is actually an expertly subtle plot detail-and, of course, they see Michael and Janet, both familiar faces to all at this point, heading into the door.

It seems like The Good Place's writers weren't quite sure of what to do with the humans and the afterlife beings on Earth rather than in their bounds-free afterlife, so they accelerated the timeline rapidly to delineate a path back to the mystical world in which The Good Place originated, where infinite possibilities make for brilliant comedy and moving, empathetic stories. Plotwise, this comes off tiring and underthought. To be perfectly sure, thinking out a 12-to-13-episode narrative arc is beyond challenging; it's safe to say that many TV critics don't themselves have experience doing this. But The Good Place's season three plot has just not been believable thus far, and the entire narrative of "The Snowplow" cements this after "The Brainy Bunch" managed to sweep this concern under the rug a bit. It might be unfair to castigate the writers' room for this discrepancy, but it is their job to build a TV show that's both funny and narratively sound. At least they got the former 110% correct. (www.nbc.com/the-good-place)

Author rating: 7/10

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