[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Good Place” Season 2, Episode 4, “Team Cockroach.”]
Years from now, if NBC programming decisions and our ability to stave off nuclear annhiliation cooperate, there’s a chance that we could look back on “Team Cockroach” as the moment that things started to look up for the core group on “The Good Place.” Michael being cooperative with no obvious unspoken ulterior motive, Eleanor asserting herself to her companions and her nemesis, and Jason finding a nice comfy spot on the couch. Everything is as it should be. Of course, this is also a comedy where nothing is ever really as it seems.
The best parts of “Team Cockroach” play out in the bottle episode confines of Eleanor’s sensible nightmare clown foyer, with Michael and the tortured quartet deciding how best to move forward to spare all of their eternal souls. Each side of the truce argues that they have the upper hand, with the humans declaring that they have no incentive to trust a being that’s been meticulously authoring their misery through 802 different failed attempts. Michael’s ultimate knowledge about all of their fates if they choose not to cooperate ends up swaying the group, but not after some thorough discussions about the terms of their truce.
By the end of the episode, after some clever misdirection to make sure that none of Vicky’s minions suspect that Michael and Eleanor might be in cahoots, they have the makings of a plan. After the end of Season 1 and last week’s bonkers “Good Place” omnibus, this show somehow still found another way to reboot itself and have it be entertaining.
It’s not necessarily a revelatory innovation, but working in the close of last week’s episode as the “Previously on” and segueing perfectly into the next installment is one of the strongest instances yet of “The Good Place” really leaning into the episodes-as-chapters framework of the show. After the visual wizardry of “Dance Dance Resolution,” it also helped to reframe this as more of a conversation showcase with room for even more Jacksonville jokes.
(Side note: This secretly has me rooting for the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl before the decade is out, just so that Michael laugh can get meme’d to high heaven.)
Once again, tiny details in this episode reign supreme: Michael’s peacock feather bowtie, Chidi once again described as a human article of clothing, the phrase “Iberian piglet.” But “Team Cockroach” also managed to slide in some musical jokes as well. As Eleanor slinks away with Mindy’s giant cocaine delivery, the tiptoe-y score cutting out right when Chidi finds her leaving is a subtle extra layer of laughs in an already dense tapestry. Also, that commercial break away from Vicky’s impromptu “I Will Survive” performance is just the right balance between cringing at it happening and preemptively ending it before it overstayed its welcome.
As much as the writers of “The Good Place” may enjoy making a disheveled, unshaven Ted Danson flap his legs together in self-disgust, it’s hard to imagine that making him say the word “testicles” with a supreme level of indignance doesn’t come in at a close second. The mini tête-à-têtes between Eleanor and Michael also gave Danson the chance to reprise his “I’m frustrated, but I’m also impressed” facial reaction combo he busted out when Eleanor stood up for the first time in the town square and admitted she didn’t belong.
Speaking of Eleanor, each episode of Season 2 has been deftly adding an extra layer to her web of victims, sight unseen. Neck tattoos aside, her use of her past spotty dating history has been a fascinating wrinkle in outwitting Michael at the last few turns. Through her savvy psychological outmaneuvering, Michael genuinely feels outmatched at various points in this episode, which helps make his agreement to be part of Chidi’s lessons make sense.
The one notable cutaway from the Good Place this episode, the Tahani flashback, is another intriguing return to the Season 1 roots. The absurdity of Tahani being crushed by a giant metallic statue of her sister makes for a good visual, but if this show has taught its viewers anything, it’s that Michael’s not the most trustworthy figure. That entire memory has a good shot at being a plant, just like the townsfolk were in Season 1.
Tahani’s probably been the trickiest of the four humans to come up with new methods of illustrating why she deserves unending punishment. Jameela Jamil has played both sides of the petty/virtuous divide well, so hopefully this latest revelation (whether real or fabricated) will springboard her into being an integral part of the Good Place salvation plan going forward.
The promise of the real Good Place is the juicy morsel that also may end up most pivotal in retrospect. Michael’s deal-sealing detail to get the rest of the team onboard teases the possibility that, by season’s end, we might get a peek at what’s really been up above all along. It may take a while to get there, but now we (and Team Cockroach, as a result) have a slightly better idea of the roadmap to get there.
“The Good Place” Season 2 airs Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.