This past fall, NBC’s comedy night kicked off with a new show that broke down conventional ideas of heaven and renamed it “The Good Place.” While where we’re living doesn’t feel like a very good place right now, the sitcom created by Mike Schur (the mastermind behind “Parks and Recreation”) provides laughs while also questioning what the afterlife really is.
Starring Kristen Bell, “The Good Place” is about Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who dies and wakes up in the “good place” – a neighborhood filled with everything she could ever want in the afterlife, including her soulmate. Her guide, and the architect who built the neighborhood, Michael (Ted Danson), gives her a tour and explains that all of the good things she did on earth earned her a spot in the show’s equivalent of heaven. There’s just one problem – Shellstrop doesn’t actually belong there; she was mixed up with someone who had the same name. The neighborhood is tailored for the real Eleanor Shellstrop, not the one that Bell plays.
The first season just wrapped up a few weeks ago, and in only 13 episodes was able to go from a quirky comedy about where people go when they die, to a more dramatic investigation into good versus bad, right versus wrong and whether or not soulmates actually exist.
Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Eleanor’s supposed soulmate, is an ethics professor – or at least he was before he died. Against his better judgement he tried to teach her how to become a good person so she doesn’t get discovered and sent to the bad place. The chemistry that Bell and Harper build over the course of the season makes you root for them, even though you know they are not actually supposed to be together. Danson’s character is also quirky and fun to watch as he tries to keep his version of heaven together while there are some obvious errors. And another performance that stands out is D’Arcy Carden as Janet – a kind of human Siri. She’s a robot personified, who has every piece of knowledge you could ever need to know. That is, until she accidentally gets reset and falls in love with another resident of the neighborhood, Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). There are also familiar faces from Schur’s other shows who guest star, including Adam Scott as Trevor, the representative architect from the so-called “bad place” and Marc Evan Jackson, another “Parks and Rec” alum, also makes an appearance.
The premise sounds more complicated than it actually is, while still being genuinely funny. Since curse words are banned in the good place (and on network TV), they’re replaced with “fork” and “shirt,” and a restaurant in the town is called “The Good Plates.” The criteria to get into the good place also made me smile – using the word “Facebook” as a verb took points away from your chances, while being vegan but never discussing it unpromptedly added to them. And if you have questions about who else got in, Michael addressed it in the first episode. Mozart, Picasso and pretty much every artist went to the bad place, along with every United States president except Lincoln.
“The Good Place” recently got renewed for a second season, and if you’re wondering how long this premise can last, don’t worry. Without too many spoilers, a series of events involving memory loss and a character that secretly turns out to be evil sets up the show’s return.
The sitcom mixes comedy with a little bit of drama, while breaking down conventional ideas of heaven and hell and only briefly discussing religion. It questions whether a person can be truly all good or all bad, if it’s possible to fall in love with more than one person at once and if a person can really change – even in the afterlife.