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The Good Place, annotated: “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug”

Jameela Jamil and Ted Danson in The Good Place
Photo: NBC

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 youforkingmissedit@avclub.com.

Read our recap of “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug

But first, let’s hear from you, the readers

Leah Cairns and Maya Meredith emailed to connect the dots between Michael and Janet’s manifesto and the recipe for “cinnamon rolls made with pizza dough” included within: It’s the same contrition-by-way-of-weird-ingredient-substitutions route taken by disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali. Apparently the recipe’s no good.

Screenshot: The Good Place

Looking back to a previous graphical representation of Michael’s experiment, Mike Cooper points out that we’ve long had a rough idea that the humans were in The Bad Place for 300 years: “The average attempt seems to have lasted between 4 months (267 years) and 5 months (334 years)—so if the reality was just under 300 years that works out perfectly.”

And Ashley Nicola picked this tidbit up off the sidewalk: “Eleanor’s story arc about returning the wallet seemed like a callback to the pilot episode where Eleanor told Chidi about a wallet she’d found outside IHOP—it showcases just how much Eleanor has grown, at least subconsciously.”


“Your moral code means you can’t lie, right?”

Chidi spent his previous time on Earth (sorry, I mean his only life on Earth—wait, what do you know?) suited in moral and ethical armor, but his unwavering commitment to honesty is his Achilles heel. He prefers to tell the truth in all matters, and when he can’t—like when he hates his friend’s new footwear, or when he’s dating someone and he knows there’s life after death and she doesn’t—his whole system gets thrown out of whack. The red-boots incident is introduced at a point in season one when the lies are absolutely piled on top of Chidi: He’s hiding the secret of Eleanor’s identity, Jason’s identity, and Janet’s murder. “The moral implications of everything that we’ve done are so complicated, that I may never untangle them,” he says in “The Eternal Shriek.” “But I hate lying. I always have.” Even in this life. (Just an expression!)


“I’m sorry—the man you call ‘Donkey Doug’ is your father?”

Surprise! Or not surprise, if you recall Jason and Donkey Doug’s exchange after the latter quits Dance Dance Resolution in “Everything Is Bonzer!

Donkey Doug: Yeah, okay. I’m out

Jason: What? C’mon Donkey Doug—after all we’ve been through?

Donkey Doug: Listen: You know you’re my boy, but this sounds like a lot of work. Good luck.


This also means that both Eleanor and Jason are the children of someone named Doug.

VR resets

Earlier in “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug,” Janet confesses to making her own “bings” while earthbound and incapable of teleporting. But another familiar afterlife sound still retains its power: In order to reset his simulated break-up conversations with Simone, Chidi snaps his fingers, just as Michael did to reset his neighborhood experiment in The Bad Place.


Rick Justice

Chidi wouldn’t remember that sound, but he can remember this: The half-assed FBI pseudonym Michael tries on, then discards before coming clean to the humans in “Jeremy Bearimy.”


Eleanor vs. jazz, round umpteen

Janet considers her VR simulation’s update, soprano-sax-heavy tones an improvement, but Eleanor would beg to differ—the face Kristen Bell makes upon inserting the earpieces pretty much says “Wrap it up, Elton John.”


“More guys should be bi. It’s 2018. It’s like ‘Get over yourselves.’”

The internet sees the spark between Tahani “Hot, Rich Fraud With Legs For Days” Al-Jamil and Eleanor “Side Note: I Might Legit Be Into Tahani” Shellstrop. (And did so way before those lines were ever uttered: The first Tahani/Eleanor story on the fanworks database Archive Of Our Own is dated October 15, 2016—less than a month after The Good Place debuted.) This summer, William Jackson Harper told Metro that Eleanor is “super bisexual,” and that it’s an understood part of the character. And now, “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug” drops the above line, before playing out a scenario where a friendly chat between Eleanor and Simone quickly accelerates into flirtation. “What… is haaaaaaaappening?” Eleanor asks, as another ’ship pulls out of the harbor.


“Please give us one second”

Classic, jerky literalism: Last week, it was Eleanor, responding to Rick Justice and Lisa “Frenchie/Janet/Double Nickname” Fuqua’s request for just one more second to get their act together. This week, it’s friendly neighborhood server Helmut, disrupting Chidi’s preferred environmental conditions for breaking up with Simone. One more of these and it’s a trend!


“Oh dip: You got religious and shiz?”

This question, from Donkey Doug to the character once known as Jianyu, is more apt than either of them can ever know.



To nobody’s surprise, unwavering devotion to the Jacksonville Jaguars and their star quarterback Blake Bortles runs in the Mendoza family. After doing the noble thing by taking full responsibility for the energy drink factory heist and turning himself into the police, Donkey Doug triumphantly shouts “BORTLES,” the rallying cry repeated by Jason whenever he’s chucking Molotov cocktails. Just don’t tell them how terribly the Jags are doing this season.


Visual gags

Randy “Macho Man” Savage Non-International Airport

Screenshot: The Good Place

Jacksonville staked its claim to the Randy “Macho Man” Savage legacy by naming a whole (non-international) airport after him, which is odd because Savage, whose real name is Randy Poffo, was born in Columbus, Ohio and died in Seminole, a city 250 miles south of Jacksonville.

Into The Den Of The Lions, again

Adam Scott in Parks And Recreation
Screenshot: Netflix

Eagle-eyed Parks And Recreation fans may find the advertisement on the back of Tahani’s Us Weekly (cover headline: “Larry Hemsworth blows it again / IT’S OVER / Tahani says “Ta ta”) familiar. Into The Den Of The Lions is the name of the book Ben was reading in the season four episode “The Comeback Kid.” It appears that author Gay Perello—in reality, props master for both The Good Place and Parks And Recreation—has written a sequel.

The Ballad Of Donkey Doug’s Apartment Complex’s Pool

Establishing shots are a static, reliable element of any TV show’s visual vocabulary. The view down Beacon Street in Boston gets us ready for a trip to a place where everybody knows your name; strange new worlds, new life, and new civilization are first glanced from behind the familiar shape of the Starship Enterprise. And in the space between Cheers and Star Trek, there’s The Good Place, which loves to play around within the confines of TV convention while continually rebuilding its own sandbox.


Which is all a highfalutin way of pointing out that one of the subtlest jokes “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug” tells is the silent movie playing out amid the trashed and the trash in one Jacksonville courtyard. In act one, we meet our heroes: A man on an inflatable float, a woman on a lounge chair, and a helpful alligator who carries provisions in its back. The debris strewn about and within the pool suggests this is the end of a long night; it is unclear if they’ve awoken in these positions, or if they were driven here by the cruel combo of sun and hangover.


Act two: Yeah, they’re hungover.


Act three: The man stirs, his scaly companion by his side as he fishes cans from the bottom of the pool. But who will return the shopping cart?

French Pressing Nemo

Screenshot: The Good Place

The skeleton of Pixar’s beloved clownfish once again makes an appearance, this time being crushed by a French press in the logo for the French Pressing Nemo Cafe. Also, bonus points for the Crocodile Dundee-riffing street names: Thatsnota Street, Thisisa Street.

Pillboi’s nametag says “Pillboi”


It’s his nickname and his occupation!

Kamilah: The Persistence Of Conception


Next time, on The Good Place: Part of the newly re-christened Soul Squad goes to Kamilah’s latest exhibition, the title of which is the perfect art-world combination of pretension and meaninglessness.



“The Ballad Of Donkey Doug” plays all of the Jaguar-fan hits: This chant, a reference to the Florida county that’s comprised almost entirely of Jacksonville, was popularized by local DJ Easy E and eventually adopted by supporters of its traditionally middling NFL franchise.


“My good friend and yoga pupil, Sting, no last initial”

Before she drops his name, Tahani drops a reference to Gordon Sumner’s debut solo single.


Counterfeit truck nuts

Giant, fuel-guzzling automobile failing to compensate for your masculine insecurities? Then do we have a product for you: truck nuts, the accessory that says “Look, my vehicle has testicles—and I guess the rest of the car is the dick?” For further reading on truck nuts, and the counterfeiting thereof, here’s a Vice article about the guys who’ve actually fought to be known as the inventor of fake pickup nards. And for more about truck nuts, Florida, and the law, read this Reuters report about lawmakers’ attempts to ban the balls from the road, featuring this Peak Florida sentence: “Republican Sen. Cary Baker, a gun shop owner from Eustis, Florida, called the adornments offensive and proposed the ban.”


Shark Tank

Surely there’s a longer cut of “The Ballad Of Donkey Doug” in which Doug and Pillboi detail their plan to take their body spray/energy drink hybrid, Double Trouble, on Shark Tank. But I prefer this version, in which Eugene Cordero, with no telegraphing, pivots into the mannered, over-rehearsed cadence of a Shark Tank entrepreneur. Because of course these bozos’ only frame of reference for legitimate business partners are the rich assholes who star in the best TV show to watch when you’re in a hotel.


“‘Reach for the stars,’ as I said to my good friend Elon Musk. And then he shot his car into space!”


While Tahani usually only has glowing things to say about the famous people she rubs shoulders with, hindsight isn’t so kind to Elon Musk. “What a weird creep,” Tahani says after name-dropping the Tesla CEO. “Why am I friends with him?”

“There’s a very specific Lenny Kravitz concert I want to be front row at”


Eleanor’s being coy, but it’s safe to assume she’s referring to this infamous incident, in which the “Fly Away” singer’s leather pants split, exposing his penis and accompanying pubic piercing to thousands of concert-going Swedes. Or maybe she just really wants to rock out to a particular rendition of “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” The world may never know.

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About the author

Baraka Kaseko

Web Producer, The A.V. Club

Caitlin PenzeyMoog

Caitlin is the managing editor of The A.V. Club.