In the age of Prestige TV, network sitcoms may seem like a dying breed. There are still traditional comedies that fare quite well, like black-ish or The Big Bang Theory, but if you’re a regular viewer of more boundary-pushing shows like Rick and Morty or Atlanta, you may feel like network comedies just don’t have anything to offer on that same level. Enter The Good Place. The NBC comedy starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson looked simple enough—a show about a pretty garbage woman who dies and accidentally ends up in “The Good Place,” (presumably a kind of heaven) and then tries to keep the mistake a secret. But very quickly the series started subverting expectations, resulting in a massive twist in the Season 1 finale.
If you don’t want to know any more, stop here. Beyond this point, spoilers will be discussed. I’ll just say if you haven’t given The Good Place a chance yet, do so now! Season 1 is on Netflix. If you like sci-fi, smart comedy, puns, and compassion in your characters, you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re still unconvinced, how about this (spoiler, but a good one): In the Season 1 finale, we learn that Bell’s character Eleanor isn’t in The Good Place—she’s in The Bad Place. The twist recontextualizes all that’s come before, as it’s revealed that Ted Danson’s administrator is not a bumbling Good Place architect, but instead a demon enacting an experiment of his own. As opposed to the usual torture devices, he opted to bring five dead humans to a fake Good Place and make their lives a living hell, all the while they’re under the impression that they’re in The Good Place.
The other humans in the series are Eleanor’s “soulmate” Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a wildly indecisive intellectual who spent his entire life pondering philosophy instead of actually living; Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a wealthy philanthropist who cared more about glamour and fame than actually helping people; and Jason (Manny Jacinto), an idiotic amateur DJ from Jacksonville, Florida who died by suffocating in a safe during a botched robbery attempt.
Creator and showrunner Michael Schur, who crafted The Good Place after ending his prior NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation—a stone-cold classic—approached the series as a sitcom, but also as a heavily serialized story. Each episode ends in a twist or cliffhanger that genuinely shakes things up. This isn’t a show where everything goes wrong in the cold open and by episode’s end it’s all back to normal. Schur and his writers embrace chaos, writing themselves into corners and then finding brilliant ways to move forward. In this regard, The Good Place is far more like Breaking Bad than, say, Modern Family.
But what really makes The Good Place stand out is how well everything is executed. The twists are shocking and exciting, but they’re always rooted in story. The story itself is wildly compelling, as Schur and his team are basically trafficking in sci-fi territory at this point with clearly stated rules. The performances from this stellar ensemble have also really carved out these characters as interesting, often hilarious individuals. Their chemistry is fantastic, to the point that the show can (and has) come up with all kinds of different character combinations that are basically equally engaging and funny—there are no disappointing Joey/Rachel episodes to be found.