If you’ve heard anything about TV at all in the last year and a half or so, you’ve probably heard about a little show called The Good Place. Maybe you, for whatever reason, never checked it out. Now you’re seeing articles everywhere, watching people on Twitter discover it, hearing about a few award nominations. But for you, the uninitiated, you still have questions:
Why the fork is everyone talking about this show? And why can’t you say “fork”?
Don’t worry, friend, I’ll let you in on the wonders of The Good Place. For the first half, I’ll even do it without spoilers! Then, for everyone who’s caught up, or those who just don’t care about spoilers, we can enjoy talking a little bit about what the show is doing in its currently-airing second season.
The Good Place is great, so let’s talk about why!
So, let’s say you actually know nothing about The Good Place. If you missed out on the trailer the first time around, I would recommend watching it if you can, just to know how the show was pitched and what information new viewers were going into the show with. The version I could find on YouTube basically pitched it as a light-hearted, goofy, comedy of errors. Oh, everyone here is wonderful, except for this one mistake! Guess we gotta hide it!
And the show definitely is that, at its bare bones. But other shows can you describe as an “afterlife comedy”? And though the show begins with the need to address Eleanor’s misplacement, each episode ends with a cliff-hanger, which can be as simple as “Will Chidi help Eleanor stay in The Good Place?” to “Someone knows Eleanor’s secret?” to, well, any higher stakes and I’ll spoil it, but trust me for now, the show keeps shaking up its own status quo and it’s so wonderful.
Let’s talk about that shaking-up some more. The show could probably go for a few seasons as a standard sitcom, with Eleanor hiding her true identity and the characters all getting into various hijinks, but ultimately keeping its structure the same. Instead it does not do that. The characterization is consistent, which is good because the characters are wonderful, and you’re going to get that cliff-hanger ending, but other than that, there’s not much consistency. This may sound like it would get confusing, but it keeps you excited and ready for each new episode. Without ruining too much (that’s for later), the characters are constantly scrambling for what to do next, and even the setting isn’t always something you can count on.
But though the characters are constantly changing their plans, the writers aren’t. Creator Michael Schur apparently discussed some arc-planning with the creator of Lost, and I guess it helped because the first season of the show is very well-planned. A lot of that has to do with the finale, which I want to save for a little bit later.
The show’s also just plain hilarious. I don’t have much experience critically judging comedic writing, but I know that a restaurant in The Good Place named “The Good Plates” is funny. So is using carnival music as a stinger to turn serious moments into funny ones. And so is one of my personal favorite moments:
The Characters and The Actors
I love Kristen Bell. A new comedy with her as the lead? That’s all I really needed to give The Good Place a try, but don’t worry, she lives up to my bias. Her performance as Eleanor gives us slacker and sympathy, a person who’s trying…well, she’s trying. Ted Danson’s Cheers performance is before my time, which is okay because it seems like this role was made perfectly for him and he just walked onto set one day already clad in a brightly colored suit and bow-tie. Jameela Jamil gives us a perfectly posh, kind/passive-aggressive neighbor, and William Jackson Harper is a perfectly tormented academic (a “nerd,” if you ask Eleanor). D’Arcy Carden is a great not-a-robot trivia-knowing digital assistant, and Manny Jacinto, well, you’ll have to wait a little bit, but he gets to shine as well. Everyone just does such a good job in their roles, and that’s the definition of good acting, right?
Okay, I’ll get right out with it: if people weren’t talking about The Good Place before, there definitely were after they watched the season one finale. I watched both Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks (original flavor) for the first time last year, and this episode is still one of the best things I watched in 2017. The first season is only 13 episodes and this finale is so rewarding. If you’re not interested in the show, then please, I don’t know, go watch this one episode or keep reading to learn more; it’s still that good.
Okay, you’re all caught up? This is on you now.
The most important dramatic and memorable part of the finale is just a few lines from Eleanor. As our main characters fight trying to avoid being sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor makes one realization and delivers it in a perfect monologue. Here’s the heavy hitting conclusion to it:
“They’re never gonna call a train to take us to The Bad Place. They can’t, because we’re already here. This is The Bad Place!”-Eleanor, The Good Place “Chapter 13”
I am obsessed with “They can’t, because we’re already here.” The final line delivers the punch explicitly, but this is the line where your brain really catches up with Eleanor’s and you fell the punch. You can even see the cast’s face change when they learn the truth, right between the last two lines.
This really hits home the point I touched on earlier; while the show has shaken its premise a little bit, such as Eleanor confessing to being a glitch in the system or the addition of “real Eleanor,” the finale is really when Michael Schur and the writers really crumple it up and throw it in the fire.
The Direction and Season 2
Now that I can ruin the show for you, I’d like to go back and hit on some of the specifics I had to leave out when discussing the writing. The characters being trapped in The Bad Place wasn’t the ending to season one. At the end, we see our four humans’ memories erased, ready to live it all over again, but this time with a lot more tension for the viewers. The break gave us time to wonder if they could all figure it out again, and what would happen as they did. And to the show’s credit, we saw that again, and again, and again, and again, and again… Instead of just giving us another season of the humans figuring out their true new home, which has the danger of being repetitive, the runs through hundreds of versions as Michael just can’t get it right. Throughout season two, we’ve still been getting numerous curveballs. Michael helping the humans for real this time, we think? An actual new person made by Janet? Leaving The Good (Bad) Place? We have no idea what’s next and it’s great!
The Good Place is so, so good. It’s smartly written, both in humor and story. The characters wonderful and are brought to life by some great actors. I forgot to work this in and there’s not a good place for it, but the production value? So high! The sets and scenery are beautiful. It’s just a bright show about frozen yogurt and studying moral philosophy and ethics.
The Good Place airs Thursday nights at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.