The opening scene of NBC’s fall 2016 sitcom, The Good Place, starts off on an interesting note. A close up of Eleanor Shellstrop’s (Kristen Bell) eyes reveal the comforting phrase “Everything is fine.” Shortly after, Michael (Ted Danson) arrives and introduces Eleanor to the afterlife, reassuring her that she is in the "Good Place." Her reaction to her untimely death is pretty accepting, only later does she realize there’s been a huge mistake – she’s not supposed to be there.
Some widely varying descriptions of The Good Place can mislead potential viewers. If the show isn’t introduced right, it’ll be easy to dismiss or assume it’s one you may not enjoy. Here's how some of the popular media sites present it:
Netflix (standard, but doesn't capture anything special) - “When Eleanor dies and winds up in an afterlife paradise reserved for only the most ethical people, she realizes she's been mistaken for somebody else.”
IMDb (gets pretty vague) - “A woman struggles to define what it means to be good.”
Hulu (the best of the bunch) - “A smart, unique new comedy that follows Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who, through an extraordinary string of events, enters the afterlife where she comes to realize that she hasn't been a very good person.”
The premise of the show is unique, and in the hands of Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation (2009), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013), and SNL (1997-2004)) it has flourished. The Good Place proudly boasts the "Certified Fresh" stamp of approval from Rotten Tomatoes. And out of 32 critic reviews on Metacritic, 29 are positive. Danson’s comedic chops play off Bell perfectly, but the storyline of the show has contributed to the cult following.
The main characters all bring something different to the table. Eleanor was mistaken as a selfless attorney who fought to get inmates off death row. In actuality, she was a leading saleswomen swindling elderly people into purchasing bogus medication and regularly bailing on promises to be a designated driver. Based on the calculations and point system to get into the “Good Place”, Eleanor discovers she was nowhere near qualified. She realizes this herself, when she expresses that someone “seriously forked up.” It’s also in that moment that she discovers that you can’t swear in the Good Place.
Chidi, played by William Jackson Harper, is Eleanor’s designated "soul mate," a construct used in this neighborhood to pair up individuals to live in peace and happiness. He was a professor of moral philosophy and ethics on Earth, and coaches Eleanor on her way to being a person worthy of the Good Place.
Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a patronizing philanthropist, and her "soul mate," Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a Buddhist monk under a vow of silence, are Eleanor and Chidi’s neighbors, who add comic relief to the show and anxiety to Eleanor’s life.
Danson’s character Michael is the leader of this neighborhood within the Good Place and is aided by Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a humanoid-Siri who can answer any-and-all questions. Janet is by far one of thet gems on the show. The delivery of her character by Carden is impeccable and will certainly be the cause behind many of your laughing fits. Something about the way she can appear wherever when summoned, and still manage to surprise you with her delivery and dry wit, is addicting to watch. She's basically a real-life Siri, but more entertaining.
The tension throughout the season builds around whether Eleanor will be found out as a fraud. However, the interpersonal relationships that form and falter throughout the journey are incredibly entertaining. Through flashbacks, you get to see what each of the characters was actually like during their life on Earth. Over time, you learn to both love and hate each one for different reasons.
This areligious take on the afterlife is refreshing and comical. Immediately addressed in the form of a “So who was right?”-type question, The Good Place creates a universe filled with puns and oddities no one could’ve predicted. Well, except of course, for Doug Forcett.
“One night, he got really high on mushrooms… He got like 92% correct,” explains Michael.
The 30-minute format creates an easy-to-digest experience, aiding to the binge-style watching that has become popular with modern shows. While many networks have struggled to keep up with the show power of streaming sites, NBC has delivered a unique, hilarious comedy to liven up their Thursday lineup. I can guarantee this take on the afterlife is unlike anything else you'll find on television right now.
This is the type of show that gets even better when you watch it again, but is served best the first time, spoiler free. All of season 1 is available on Netflix, but tune straight in. Don’t Google the show, don’t read any fan discussions. Anything that spoils the first season plotline will take away from the sheer satisfaction when you watch the season finale.
If you haven’t already tuned in, binge season 1 and prepare yourself for some forking good laughs.
The Good Place airs on NBC, Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c. New episodes return on January 4th.