There is too much television. Not just that, there’s too much good television. So I know, up front, you do not need to read an impassioned essay about another TV show that you should watch. And yet, here I am, writing an impassioned plea for you to watch another TV show. But NBC’s The Good Place, a half-hour comedy set in the afterlife, is special. It’s a series with the narrative complexity of a prestige cable show, the moral insight of an HBO drama, and the laugh-out-loud comedy of a classic NBC sitcom. The first two seasons are available to stream on Netflix right now, Season 3 premieres this week, and I’m here to make the case for why this is one show worth catching up on.
The basic premise of The Good Place is simple: Kristen Bell plays a pretty terrible, garbage human named Eleanor who dies and is accidentally sent to Heaven—or, “The Good Place.” Ted Danson is Michael, the being in charge of creating and overseeing her “neighborhood,” where she’s matched up with her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosophy professor who quite literally died due to his inability to make a decision. There’s also Janet (D’Arcy Carden), an artificial being meant to help Good Place inhabitants (like an interactive, anthropomorphic Google), a wealthy philanthropist named Tahani (Jameela Jamil) who namedrops like no other, and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), an amateur DJ who has also come to the Good Place by accident and is using his identity as a Buddhist monk as cover.
The first few episodes of the series find Eleanor working to keep her secret hidden from Michael. She confesses the mix-up to Chidi, who decides to use his background in moral philosophy to help teach her how to be a good person so that maybe she can earn her place. But things keep going wrong, and shocking reveals—like Jason’s secret—cap the end of every single episode, which continue to twist the narrative in surprising directions.
It’s no coincidence that The Cabin in the Woods filmmaker Drew Goddard directed the pilot, or that creator/showrunner Michael Schur—who ran Parks and Recreation and wrote a bunch of The Office episodes—reached out to Damon Lindelof for advice while developing the series. Again, The Good Place is not your average network sitcom. Narratively, it’s packed with the kind of mythology and reveals that you’d expect to see on a J.J. Abrams-produced HBO series. Watching The Good Place expand from what appears to be a pretty simple sitcom into one of the most mythologically engaging shows on TV is one of the many delights of the 13-episode first season.
And yes, I did say 13 episodes. I’m aware that in the age of #PeakTV, watching anything is an investment. But not only is The Good Place a show that hits the ground running, it tells a tight, terrifically well-paced story in 13 episodes. The second season also consists of 13 episodes, but building off of a major twist in the Season 1 finale, it’s a very different viewing experience. I’m hesitant to get too deep into it because part of the fun of The Good Place is experiencing that reveal as it happens, but suffice it to say it is the very definition of a game-changer. And if for some reason you know the twist and are worried it’ll spoil the experience, fear not. This show is so intricately plotted that you’ll delight in watching the various clues hidden along the way.
If The Good Place was just a sci-fi show filled with twists, surprises, and jokes it would be pretty appealing. But what pushes this show to must-watch status is the compassion and thought behind the moral quandaries it presents. At heart, The Good Place is an examination of what it means to be a good person. Does the act of doing good deeds make you a good person, or does the motivation behind those deeds make a difference? Can a bad person genuinely change and become good? Can change be permanent, or are we destined to snap back to our old ways?
In the context of The Good Place these questions provide for some incredibly compelling and thought-provoking drama, as well as more than a few moments of heightened emotion. The secret to Schur’s characters on Parks and Recreation was that they carried a tremendous sense of compassion and empathy. The comedy was never mean-spirited, and through the course of that show’s run it was abundantly clear that these characters genuinely, truly cared about one another.
The same is true of The Good Place. While some of these beings may be “bad” people, there’s great care taken to paint them as empathetic individuals capable of compassion. And the jokes—of which there are many, pun-based and otherwise—are hilarious and guffaw-inducing without ever crossing the line into mean or gross territory.
I’m tempted to say networks don’t make shows like The Good Place anymore, but I’m not sure if they ever did. After Parks and Recreation, Schur could have gone to Netlfix or Amazon and crafted an ad-free series of his choosing (to be fair, he is an EP on Netflix’s Master of None). The winds are changing. Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, and Kenya Barris have all jumped ship to Netflix. But instead, Schur brought this streaming-ready premise to NBC, the network that birthed Friends and Seinfeld. He’s working within the system to create something that bridges the gap between traditional, tired sitcoms and the boundary-pushing fare happening elsewhere (see: Atlanta). And in the process, he’s created one of the best shows on TV, full-stop.
So if you’ve heard people raving about The Good Place and have yet to take a dive, here’s your push. The first 26 episodes are on Netflix right now. They’re an incredibly easy watch, and you won’t be disappointed. Moreover, they’re genuinely joyful, and the world could use a little more joy at the moment.
At that point, you’ll be primed and ready to enjoy the third season as it airs on NBC, starting with the premiere on September 27th. So do it. Watching The Good Place is the right thing to do.