Does a same-sex kiss on TV count as queer if it happens between two characters in an opposite-sex relationship, hiding in a metaphysical void beyond time and space, played by the same actor making out with herself?
We're not sure, but in this case it makes for downright amazing television.
NBC's hit comedy The Good Place set a new standard for innovative storytelling in its midseason finale Thursday night, in which actor D'Arcy Carden played five of the main characters in an Orphan Black-esque performance.
In the episode, citizens of the afterlife Michael (Ted Danson), Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) are on the run from demons from hell, aka The Bad Place. Janet (Carden), a Siri-like artificial being of the afterlife who has evolved human emotions from multiple "reboots" throughout the show, helps them escape by pulling them all into the boundless void where Janets live. But in order for the humans to exist there, they have to be turned into Janets, all played perfectly on-point by Carden.
At one point, Janet-Eleanor begins to lose her sense of self and threatens the very fabric of space-time within the void. To save her, their friends and the rest of the world, Janet-Chidi finally admits the feelings he has for her, a topic he's been painfully avoiding since the end of Season 2. The two characters kiss — again, both played by Carden, in a scene that turns definitions of gender identity upside-down.
The scene where she kisses herself as two different characters took a lot of maneuvering. "So there was a long pole with a literal pair of lips, plastic lips, exactly at my lip height and it was on a lazy susan that was controlled by some dude. It was a pole, it wasn't a body, so I had to hug at air and kiss these lips and we would start spinning and I couldn't smile or laugh.
"Then I had to kiss Kristen, but it had to match the exact head tilt. Every inch of us had to match. She was on a little box and we just had to press against each other in a not sexy way at all. It was just like a, 'Okay now move... oh your hair... and your mouth.' It was like surgery almost."
Carden's performance was an immediate hit with viewers on social media:
HOW. GOOD. IS. DARCY. FUCKING. CARDEN.
(That's it that's the tweet)
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) December 7, 2018
.@DarcyCarden is one of the best, funniest people I know. So getting to watch tonight's episode of "The Good Place" where she basically plays every character was a DREAM.
That's all. It was just very, very cool and I am proud of my friend. <3
— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) December 7, 2018
I have been madly in love with @DarcyCarden and in awe of her talent since the very first time I saw her on stage at UCB years ago. Add tonight’s episode to the list of 12 billion reasons why she’s the best. #sinceretweet #basta https://t.co/WiOwlU782N
— Jen Statsky (@jenstatsky) December 7, 2018
.@DarcyCarden just pulled off my favorite television performance I’ve seen in a long time. She is so funny, and more impressively she nails literally every character’s mannerism.
She deserves every glowing review she got for this episode. https://t.co/ByYCfJIElg
— Travis Helwig (@travishelwig) December 7, 2018
The Good Place quickly became a favorite among LGBTQ viewers, not just for the way it toys with ideas of morality and the afterlife, but for its allusions to queer identities. Janet, who recently developed the ability to fall in love with humans and often cheerfully reminds people that "I'm not a girl" despite her ultra-feminine appearance, has become an avatar of sorts for gender-nonconforming fans.
The main protagonist Eleanor has also referenced her sexuality, admitting "I might be legit into Tahani" in Season 1 and continuing to have chemistry with her throughout the show, even as Eleanor and Chidi are set up as love interests.
Actor William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi, confirmed that Eleanor is bisexual in a recent interview with Metro UK.
"Eleanor is super bisexual and it's not something that we just focus on," he said. "It's not the reason for the show and it's not a thing that is harped on, it's just who she is."
The Good Place, which has been renewed for a fourth season, airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.