In addition to being one of the best shows on TV, The Good Place is a dense knot of running jokes, visual humor, references to dense philosophy tomes, and breadcrumbs for later episodes. In order to help you keep it all straight, The A.V. Club will be annotating the show’s third season. Catch something that we didn’t? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read our recap of “Janet(s).”
Amy Berg didn’t let the meaning of Doug Forcett’s morning reading pass her by: “In your annotation for The Good Place episode ‘Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By,’ you caught the shot of Peter Singer’s book The Most Good You Can Do. But the allusion is even deeper than your caption points out. Singer is probably the most famous living utilitarian—that’s the moral theory that the episode is using Doug Forcett to skewer. I’m a philosophy professor, and I’m always impressed by just how well this show has thought out even the offhand philosophy references.”
Everything D’Arcy Carden does while playing Eleanor-Janet, Chidi-Janet, Tahani-Janet, and Jason-Janet
D’Arcy Carden delivers the performance(s) of a lifetime(s) in “Janet(s),” a tour de force that tasks her with not only playing the all-powerful, all-knowing afterlife assistant she plays in every other episode of The Good Place (along with one of her “neutral” counterparts), but also stepping into the shoes of the show’s four human protagonists. It’s a gamble that pays off because there’s such a game, versatile performer rolling the dice, but the episode has the built-in advantage of dropping her into characters with 36 episodes and 300-some years of history behind them. “Janet(s)” impresses when, say, Carden adopts Jason’s tendency to drape himself over furniture or when she does practically anything as Eleanor-Janet (seriously, you can almost trick your mind into thinking that she, and not Kristen Bell, has been the Arizona trashbag this whole time). But because this is The Good Place, where a primer on how we see our selves from a philosophical standpoint can sit side by side with a good burp joke, the cast of Cardens also amuses in ways that require less heavy lifting, like when the actor tries William Jackson Harper’s “WHAT?!” on for size, then grabs her stomach. There’s much fun to be had from the physicalities and verbal tics—Eleanor’s “dude”s, Tahani’s “darling”s, Jason’s “Oh dips”s—she mimics; they’re the sprinkles atop a particularly rich and satisfying cup of thespian frozen yogurt.
The other side of that coin: While Chidi-Janet is going through his own mini-identity crisis, he prompts the other Janets to express a sentiment that Carden has had plenty of other opportunities to express—but never in this many voices or dialects.
Stored within Janet’s database—the text interface for which is exactly like interacting with the physical Janet—are mementos of her unauthorized nuptials with Jason, as seen in “Chidi’s Choice.” The wedding album even includes a helpful illustration of where on the Bearimy timeline the ceremony took place.
Jason’s last words before being sucked up into the tube that leads to the Good Place post office—though, since it’s a tube and not an air-tight Swanson safe, they’re not famous last words.
Eleanor experiences again, for the first time, the language-limiting powers of the afterlife’s eternal rewards. It’s the subtlest joke from “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, And Trent” mixed with a nearly complete recitation of the “eureka” moment in “Michael’s Gambit”—perhaps, in her wonder and glee, she forgot to include the “mother.”
The cubicles go on and on and on, and they’re numbered in ways we humans can’t grasp, but when “Janet(s)” returns from commercial break, we get to see placards for three of the infinite human behaviors tracked and analyzed by The Accountants: “Borrowing: Money,” “Impressions (Borat),” “Songs With Specific Dance Instructions.” Surely I have doomed myself on the basis of the second one alone.
Supervisors in the afterlife sure do like decorating their offices with monuments to human achievement: Where Michael chose to honor Doug Forcett’s mushroom epiphany, Neil (Stephen Merchant) goes with a painting of humanity’s first altruistic act—followed immediately by an inevitable, point-siphoning act of violence made possible by that altruism. (Try sorting out that moral chili, Professor Anagonye.)
Moving around in an infinite void can be tricky business—for the people the void engulfs as well as those making a sitcom episode set in the void. But this is Janet’s infinite void we’re talking about, so built-in navigational assistance comes standard: When Tahani-Janet and Jason-Janet stray from their comrades, their paths are traced by Family Circus-style dotted lines. There’s some helpful signage that springs up, too, rendered in a Looney Tunes style that suits Jason’s search for cartoons.
There exists a version of Janet’s Auto-Tuned indigestion that uses D’Arcy Carden’s voice instead of the Mamma Mia: Here I Go Again star’s, but it was apparently cheaper to go with the studio version of “Believe.”
A wink to Stephen Merchant and Michael Schur’s shared TV background: Merchant co-created The Office with Ricky Gervais, and Schur was a writer and bearded weirdo cousin on the American adaptation. As mentioned on the latest episode of The Good Place: The Podcast, the crew fabricated a version of Michael Scott’s signature drinkware for Neil, but its slogan had to be re-applied in post-production, because Merchant held the mug in his left hand.
Look, I’m not typically the one who brings any sort of philosophy expertise to these columns, so I’ll have to take Chidi at his word about John Locke, Derek Parfit, and David Hume. I will say, though, as someone who’s felt like the educational content of season three has been a little heavy handed at times, I do enjoy how “Janet(s)” wraps a dilemma about identity around an episode where one actor had to depart so thoroughly from herself, tamping down any sense of personality as Neutral Janet and sometimes layering multiple identities on top of one another.
Now this I know: The Apple campaign that introduced John Hodgman to the world beyond the publishing industry and comedy-nerd circles also depicted two corporeal computers existing within a vast, blank expanse.
In his wedding vows, Jason called Janet his “digital dream”; expanding on that declaration of love, Janet scored her Jason slide show to ’N Sync’s 2000 ode to sex of the phone and cyber varieties, “Digital Get Down.”
“Janet(s)” should earn D’Arcy Carden an armful of nominations and awards, and in the event that it does, hopefully they won’t be in any categories presented by John Travolta, because that apostrophe seems like it’s begging for a recreation of the former Sweathog’s infamous butchering of Idina Menzel’s name at the 86th Academy Awards. (There’s an allusion-within-the-allusion here, since Travolta was introducing the Oscars performance of “Let It Go” from Frozen, in which Menzel stars opposite Kristen Bell.)