Searching for “The Good Place”

The second season of the innovative comedy concludes Thursday amid expectations for another twist in the characters’ afterlife odyssey.

The first season of "The Good Place" ended – spoiler alert – with a twist that upended the show's title and raised the high-concept sitcom to a new level of existential comedy.

Season 2 hurtles to a conclusion Thursday with only one thing for certain: Like life, the afterlife doesn't always turn out as you expect.

NBC took a cosmic roll of the dice by green-lighting the oddball sitcom about four walking-dead characters in search of a place – preferably one without torture-happy demons.

The show traces the shared post-life journey of Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a foul-mouthed scam artist; Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a self-absorbed British socialite; Jason (Manny Jacinto), an aggressively dimwitted Jacksonville Jaguars fan; and Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosophy professor cursed with the inability to make a choice.

They found themselves in a pleasant, if painfully bland town where smiles and frozen yogurt flow. But amid conflicts and other disturbances, they finally figured out in the Season 1 finale that the Good Place is, as Eleanor might put it, a bunch of “bullshirt.”

They’re actually mired in a Bad Place stand-in, devised by a bored demon named Michael (Ted Danson) who wanted to turn the humans against one another. 

The season and the revelation played like Sartre and Beckett went to Hollywood and teamed with Norman Lear and the Monty Python crew.

Disparate influences brim from Michael Schur's surreal effort, which never shirks on the laughs even as it name-checks the likes of Immanuel Kant in an exploration of the meaning of the afterlife.

Season 2 brought new twists as the humans uncovered the Good Place’s secret in reboot after reboot of Michael’s scheme. Meanwhile, their intelligence – emotional and otherwise – evolved and their bond strengthened as their sympathetic backstories dripped out.

The same could be said for Michael and his AI sidekick, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), who become, if not human, then selfless advocates for people.

Schur, previously of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” doesn't directly touch religion. But he's peddling an essentially positive view of human potential in his show, which, if only in an accident of fate, arrived last year as many began questioning earthly institutions as they hadn't before. 

The timing only added to the impact of a unique sitcom that finds intelligent and whimsical humor in our greatest mystery.

Plenty of mystery looms as Michael prepares in Thursday’s season finale to argue the four humans' case before the Good Place judge (Maya Rudolph as a burrito-loving St. Peter stand-in, clad in magistrate's robes instead of angel's gown).

Will they stay or will they go? And where are they, really? Are we in for another yanking of the existential rug?

Only eternity will tell.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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