‘The Good Place’ Hits the Reset Button for Ambitious Season 2 Premiere

After just a few episodes into its first season, it felt like NBC’s “The Good Place” had laid all its cards on the table, proudly flying the flag of a quirky comedy about not fitting in (not even in the afterlife) with some razor-sharp dialogue to boot. So when the season finale brought with it a jarring twist and up-ended everything viewers thought they knew about the show, it left everyone wondering just what the “fork” the show’s second season could do to top itself. Actually an employee of The Bad Place, formerly friendly architect Michael (Ted Danson) revealed that Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) were all pawns in an experiment masquerading as The Good Place, when in reality the quartet were doomed to torture one another for an eternity in this supposed paradise. It was a swerve that left fans reeling.

Still, when Michael even less predictably had the group’s memories wiped clean, there was a real danger that the second season could plunge off the rails in a fantastically bad way. The worrying was all for naught, as “The Good Place’s” second season premiere looks to smooth out some of the potential wrinkles, giving the show a refreshing sense of urgency while retaining its stellar sharpness. The show most assuredly finds itself tumbling off the rails, but in the funniest way possible.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s Michael’s mantra as he reboots his failed experiment, with each of his evil actors playing entirely new roles, and not everyone is onboard with their part. But Michael has the benefit of familiarity on his side this time, crafting even more personalized torture scenarios for each of the four main characters: an inattentive soulmate for Eleanor, two potential soulmates for poor, indecisive Chidi, a short soulmate for statuesque Tahani, and a real-life buddhist monk for Jason, who first entered The Good Place by impersonating a Buddhist monk himself. Plus, the only coffee comes from “those little pods.” It’s all very ironic and very, very agonizing. Score one for The Bad Place.

Even though Michael’s clearly the villain this time around, it’s still easy to root for him, especially when his boss raises the stakes, promising that this is Michael’s final chance to create a truly terrifying torture-trap. If he fails, he faces early retirement, something far less fun than it sounds. That’s why one can sympathize with him when his plan starts unraveling from the get-go. Eleanor and Chidi manage to re-connect, although it takes some time for the memories to come wafting back. In the meantime, it’s the formerly graceful Tahani getting sloshed and wrecking the welcome party with Eleanor, and Janet and Jason are somehow making the romance thing work again.

But even though Michael has a second chance to work his evil architect magic, he and his crew are just too inexperienced to pull it off. Some act out because they’re not happy with their parts, while others fail to do theirs successfully. Eventually the plan goes up in smoke in just a day instead of the centuries that Michael had been counting on, and his precious one and only second chance is totally and utterly ruined. But leave it to Michael to try and pull the wool over brass’s eyes, once again wiping everyone’s memories and hoping that the third time’s the charm for this devious scheme. It probably won’t be.

It looks like Michael’s plans are going to unfurl faster and faster with every attempt, likely with more and more comedy thrown in each time. Michael’s newfound brazenness in hiding this second failure from his superior and instead pushing forward for a third time adds yet another wrinkle into the story, ensuring things stay fresh and don’t leave viewers at home scratching their heads. Its Michael’s dual personalities — a dastardly villain when among his minions but a lovable saint when among the humans — that really powers this show forward and gives it an even more endearing charm. Things are certainly ramping up in “The Good Place,” whether its inhabitants remember or not. Either way, everything’s fine.

The Good Place” season 2 premiered Sept. 20 and airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.