With a twist: 'The Good Place' returns after last season's surprise ending

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell star in "The Good Place"

William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell star in "The Good Place"

Well done, Michael Schur. You know how to cap off a season. The creator of "The Good Place" -- and, of course, the fine cast and writing team -- delivered a critically acclaimed freshman season of the NBC comedy, but it was the final episode that really took things to another level.

The season wrapped with a jaw-dropping twist (which I will spoil ... you've been warned) and ensuing cliffhanger -- the sort of stuff that good TV is all about. Don't miss the return of "The Good Place" when the sophomore season debuts Wednesday, Sept. 20, on NBC.

The series stars Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars") as Eleanor Shellstrop, a not-great young woman who's sent to the Good Place (heaven, essentially) by mistake after being confused with an altruistic human rights lawyer with the same name. The excellent Ted Danson ("Cheers") plays Michael, the bow tie-wearing architect of the Good Place neighborhood where Eleanor and other deceased humans live.

He introduces Eleanor to her soulmate, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper, "Patterson," 2016), an ethics professor from Senegal. Eleanor confides the truth of her situation to Chidi, who agrees to provide ethics lessons to help her become a better person, and thus avoid detection, which would cause her to be sent to the Bad Place, where she really belongs.

With Chidi's help, Eleanor makes decent (if not stellar) progress in her self-improvement over the course of the season as she spends time with the other denizens of the Good Place, including neighbors Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil, "Koko Pop") and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto, "The Romeo Section"), the latter of whom has a secret similar to Eleanor's.

Astute viewers may have cottoned on to the fact that the Good Place, and some of its inhabitants, weren't as utopian and faultless as one might expect things to be in the supposed paradise of the righteous afterlife. It has frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. The residents still have to take care of mundane chores such as laundry and dishes. There's no less bickering going on between the inhabitants than you might expect to see in crummy old real life and, worst of all, in the second episode Michael kicks a dog into the sun (what could possibly be less good than kicking a dog?).

Well, here comes that twist: This isn't the Good Place at all. It's the Bad Place. The scheming (and as it turns out, evil) Michael cooked up the faux Good Place as an inspired new variety of torture for those sent to hell, i.e. the Bad Place: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason were put together to torment each other, bringing out one another's shortcomings and insecurities in the afterlife. As Vulture writer Allie Pape shrewdly points out, the show contains whispers of the Jean-Paul Sartre play "No Exit," the most famous line of which is "Hell is other people." As for all the other neighborhood inhabitants? They're all just Bad Place employees playing roles.

Ted Danson as seen in "The Good Place"

Ted Danson as seen in "The Good Place"

After Eleanor had her pivotal "ah-ha!" moment and Michael was found out, he wanted a do-over and wiped their memories blank with the intent of trying the whole scheme again with slightly different parameters. Just before she's rebooted, Eleanor writes a note to herself telling her to find Chidi. She reawakens with a hunky new soulmate and reads the note, though she has no idea what it means.

Bell and Danson were the only cast members who knew the whole story going into the season, so it came as just as big a surprise for their co-stars as it did for viewers. Schur revealed that he consulted with "Lost" showrunner Damon Lindelof when mapping out the show, which no doubt accounts for the artful twist ending.

So what's on deck for the upcoming season, now that the cat's out of the bag? Don't worry, it's not going to be just a slightly tweaked redo of season 1. Schur said in an interview with Indiewire that the season will be told from Michael's perspective a lot more -- something that wasn't possible last season, without letting the secret out.

"That's what you will get a lot of in season 2: to see the world from behind [Michael's] eyes and what pressures are on him and how he fits into the universe and what his goals are. ... We were sure to say [from] the beginning of the process, 'This is not going to be the same season.' We're telling different stories, and the easiest way to tell different stories is to switch the point of view to Michael's perspective."

With any luck, that means we'll get to see a lot more "bad Michael." His evil grin at the end of last season was an absolute delight, and Danson fans will no doubt love to see a broader range of the Emmy winner's acting chops. Catch him in the season 2 premiere of "The Good Place" when it airs Wednesday, Sept. 20, on NBC.