The Good Place has already encountered one of the biggest problems with making jokes about sports in movies and television: things on the field can change very quickly. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the American adaptation of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. The About A Boy and High Fidelity author wrote that book about English soccer club Arsenal, who had a long history of being snake-bit on the pitch, but the Bobby and Peter Farrelly-directed movie of the same name was adapted from the memoir to be about the Boston Red Sox, who at the time were suffering through an 86-year pennant drought.
While Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon filmed that movie in 2004, however, the Red Sox finally won it all. The championship run included a historic playoff comeback that actually made those filming the American version of Fever Pitch change the script of the movie to include the happy ending that happened in real life.
The Good Place‘s issue is, of course, much smaller, and definitely funnier. Jason, the lovable but dreadfully thick Jacksonville native trapped in showrunner Mike Schur’s idea of purgatory, is a huge Jaguars fan, and his love of quarterback Blake Bortles is so pure and funny that many non-football fans didn’t even realize Bortles is a real person. He is! Plus part of the joke that is Jason’s love of Bortles is that, well, he isn’t very good.
It’s no surprise that Schur has slipped sports jokes into The Good Place — his Parks and Recreation has reoccurring sabermetrics jokes from his Fire Joe Morgan blogging days and DeflateGate references — but the difference here is that, while David Eckstein will always remain scrappy, the Jaguars could actually get it together and become a good football team.
And they did in 2017! After two seasons of jokes about Bortles and the Jaguars, Doug Marrone’s team went on one of the more improbable playoff runs in recent memory. Bortles, largely mediocre in his first three seasons, put together decent performances behind a stout defense to lead to a 10-6 record. He then out-dueled Tyrod Taylor in an anemic Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills, somehow beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was surprisingly close to beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to earn a Super Bowl appearance.
The Jaguars did not make the Super Bowl, but the run to the AFC Championship Game was enough for the Jaguars to sign Bortles to a 3-year contract extension, forgoing the fifth year of his rookie deal and giving him $54 million, $26.5 million of that guaranteed. One of the subplots to this strange development in professional football was just how The Good Place was going to handle Jason’s team actually being good. Surely they’d address it, and they did in the second episode of Season 3, entitled “The Brainy Bunch.”
In the episode, The Judge — who is not a burrito but actually Maya Rudolph — catches Michael and Janet tinkering with things on earth well after they were allowed to. On the catwalk that leads to the portal to Earth, she scolds Michael for what he’s unleashed on the living.
“Do you realize what you did?” she asked. “You meddled in human affairs! That ripples out, man!”
The Judge then explained some of the weird things that have happened in real life that are entirely Michael’s fault.
“Do you know how much weird stuff has happened because of your little experiment?” The Judge says. “England left Europe. That Hugh Jackman musical about P.T. Barnum? It made like $400 million dollars. Also, the Jacksonville Jaguars? Are good now!”
“Impossible!” Michael says, dumbfounded, as he had previously told Jason that, though he cannot predict the future, the Jaguars would never win the Super Bowl.
“I’m serious,” The Judge says. “They’re gonna make the playoffs. Blake Bortles is… kind of OK? Maybe, I don’t know… it’s being… debated amongst experts. It’s confusing. But whatever it is, it’s yo faaaauuulllt.”
It’s really great acting from Rudolph, though it’s no command to take a “bwubba bayyyyyyth” from her Hormone Monster on Big Mouth. Still, The Judge is right: The world is a mess and, at the end of the 2017 NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars totally do make the playoffs.
You have to give Schur credit, as he found a very funny way to address and quickly explain away the fact that Jacksonville got good. But something strange happened after Michael and Janet make a run for it back to earth after this and continue to meddle with things. As Andrew Gruttadaro pointed out after Jacksonville’s latest loss, they’ve been a mess since The Judge said they were good.
Jacksonville started the 2018 season 2-1 before “The Brainy Bunch” aired on Oct. 4, 2018. Since then, the Jaguars have been a complete mess. The Jags have lost seven straight games, fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and just generally look like the Jaguars of old. And, unfortunately for Jason’s favorite quarterback, he’s gone back to throwing footballs like this.
After losing to the equally-hapless Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Bortles was officially benched for Cody Kessler, who also sounds like a quarterback invented by the writer’s room of an an NBC comedy.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why the Jaguars have regressed to mediocrity or worse this season. Injuries to running back Leonard Fournette have certainly been a factor, and the shelf life of a good defense in this modern NFL is about as long as that black market unpasteurized milk you have in your fridge, you hipster. But consider, for a moment, that The Judge declaring the Jaguars “good” is responsible for messing all this up.
As we’ve learned, time can often move in a bit of a… Jeremy Bearimy kind of way. That episode airing in real life may have impacted the real-world ongoings of the actual Jacksonville Jaguars football team. Did Michael somehow spark a fight between Fournette and a Bills defender on Sunday, taking Jacksonville’s best offensive player off the field in an entirely winnable game? Probably!
Either way, Fournette is suspended now and Bortles is relegated to the bench. Jaguars fans are back to thinking about draft position rather than how they’ll snag Super Bowl tickets. Jason, in whatever timeline he exists, is lamenting his hero’s fate. All is right with the world, sort of. Unless Michael and Janet have more plans for our timeline. We should be wary of their effect on this universe, for time operates in ways we’re just beginning to understand.