All is not what it seems as 'The Good Place' returns

Posted 9/20/17

By Kevin McDonough

Now entering its second season, "The Good Place" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14) is so fraught with tricks and mind games that it's almost impossible to describe without giving too much away. Let's just say, all is not what it …

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All is not what it seems as 'The Good Place' returns

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Now entering its second season, "The Good Place" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14) is so fraught with tricks and mind games that it's almost impossible to describe without giving too much away. Let's just say, all is not what it seems.

Fans of the show know that Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) has arrived in the afterlife, a place that resembles some fantasy development set near or around a shopping mall. It's like dying and going to Starbucks.

It's not revealing too much to say that the ersatz nature of this final resting place is entirely intentional. Ted Danson plays Michael, who is supposed to be in charge, but is clearly in over his head.

Season two picks up after the great twist unveiled at the end of season one and takes that mind-bending premise for a roller-coaster ride. The result is a comedy that resembles "The Prisoner" fantasy as well as HBO's recent revival of "Westworld," a place where a puppet master-type allows characters to improvise within loosely scripted roles. While "Westworld" presents a tragic meditation on identity and fate, "The Good Place" offers a slapstick cosmic joke.

This is a show that dazzles with its cleverness, but it rarely makes me laugh. It's like watching somebody else having fun while playing with their Rubik's Cube.

It's difficult to warm up to characters who don't really matter much, particularly to themselves. Bell's breezy wiseacredom is at the center of the emotional chill. It doesn't help that she often sounds like she's doing an extended, note-for-note impersonation of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

• The logic of games, particularly video games, also informs "Channel Zero: No-End House" (10 p.m., Syfy, TV-14). Four friends enter a grim-looking house at the end of a rather bland street only to find that each successive room is filled with terrifying experiences personally tailored to each visitor. And worse, once you leave the house, everything in the "outside" world has been altered. Help yourself.

TONIGHT'S SEASON FINALES

• A winner walks out the front door on "Big Brother" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

• A winner emerges on "America's Got Talent" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

• Three vie for the title of "MasterChef" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Ingmar ponders a return to the old country on "Swedish Dicks" (8:30 p.m., Pop, TV-PG).

• On two helpings of "Wahlburgers" (A&E, TV-PG), just another day (9 p.m.), party planning (9:30 p.m.). The second episode is the season finale.

• Harris, Grace and Darius take on the imposter government on "Salvation" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• Cora learns her fate on "The Sinner" (10 p.m., USA, TV-14).

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• The entry of hundreds of thousands of American troops into the conflict is met with increasing resistance at home on "The Vietnam War" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-MA, check local listings).

• The documentary "Breaking2" (8 p.m., National Geographic, TV-PG) follows elite long-distance runners training to complete a marathon in less than two hours.

• Kirkman wants answers on "Designated Survivor" (10 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

• The contrived dating series "Are You the One?" (10 p.m., MTV, TV-14) enters its sixth season.

CULT CHOICE

A free-wheeling motorcyclist (Elvis Presley) joins a women's circus (run by Barbara Stanwyck!) in the 1964 musical "Roustabout" (10 p.m., TCM).

SERIES NOTES

Graduation day on "The Goldbergs" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Black Siren returns on "Arrow" (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-14) * Campfires on "Speechless" (8:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Manny and Luke graduate on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Sam and Dean against the (under)world on "Supernatural" (9 p.m., CW, r, TV-14) * Katy fibs on "American Housewife" (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

Ellen Pao appears on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) * Luke Wilson, Jeff Bauman and Atlas Genius are booked on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) * Expect Jeff Bridges, Pamela Adlon and Miguel on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Ben Stiller, Fred Armisen, Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves and Midland on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Anderson Cooper, Bobby Moynihan and Billie Jean King visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Sarah Paulson, Seth MacFarlane and Billie Eilish appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate