The Good Place is a comedy by NBC about the afterlife. It’s on my local Netflix and I binge watched the first two seasons recently. Let’s have a look.
Eleanor Shellstrop — played by Kristen Bell — opens her eyes to find herself in a waiting room in a strange place. She doesn’t remember how she got there or what is going on. Michael, played by Ted Danson, tells her that she’s dead and made it into ‘the Good Place’. Michael is the one in charge of the Good Place neighborhood that Eleanor will live in.
During a person’s life they earn a number of points for good deeds, or negative points for bad ones, that determine where they’ll end up: the Good Place or the Bad Place. Eleanor has racked up enough points in her life to go to the Good Place.
The only thing is… she was a bitch most of her life and the things that she’s told about her good deeds are wrong. Michael apparently made a mistake. Things escalate from there.
Eleanor is one of those rare characters that are really not nice, but quickly grow on you and then become your series favorites. The first character like this I encountered was Malta Vestrit in the Liveship Traders books. Creating a character like that is hard, because you run the risk of making them too unlikable, but the writers did a good job of pulling it off in the Good Place.
Michael is the one in charge of the Good Place Neighborhood Eleanor is in. He explains this is his first neighborhood and you quickly start to feel sorry for this slightly goofy supernatural being.
Chidi — played by William Jackson Harper — is a dead moral philosophy professor who is supposedly Eleanor’s soulmate. She reveals the truth about the mixup to him and he starts teaching her morals to fit in.
Then there’s Tahani, a philanthropist, who raised tremendous amounts of money for good causes to end up in the Good Place. Eleanor is instantly jealous of her.
To round out the bunch there’s the Buddhist monk Jianyu. He has taken an oath of silence. We quickly learn… no, let’s not spoil things. I’ll only say Manny Jacinto is a very good actor.
Comedy or not
I have a hard time positioning the Good Place. The show hardly ever made me laugh out loud, merely elicited some mild grins. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show, but it’s somewhere between a character drama and a comedy. It has a clear plot and both ups and downs in the character arcs leading to a finally at the end of the season with a brilliant plot twist.
I was reminded of Arrested Development. Although Arrested Development did make me laugh a lot, and the Good Place is a far stretch from Arrested Development, both shows are based on an larger story in comedy form. The stories are set up to lead to absurd and funny situations. Where Arrested Development has very clever setups, spanning multiple episodes, the Good Place bases episodes on philosophical quandaries and theories. Both are more intellectual and sometimes high-brow.
All in all, I can say I really like the Good Place, and I’m quickly moving into season 3, which will run until around mid-november. I can honestly say the end of season one is utterly brilliant.
Of course, if you can’t stand complicated humor and just want clever one-liners or only love sitcoms, then this show might not be for you. Or if you hate comedies in general.