With every new TV season, there seems to be one new show that’s so fresh, so original and so thought-provoking that it immediately wins over audiences. In 2016, that show was NBC’s “The Good Place,” a fantasy-comedy series involving four characters trying to figure things out in a version of the afterlife. And now in 2017, Season 2 of “The Good Place” is shaping up to be just as good – if not better – than Season 1. Here’s why viewers love “The Good Place.”
“The Good Place” is a startlingly inventive TV show
The fundamental premise of “The Good Place” is that four human characters are stuck in a form of the afterlife that is modeled on a pseudo-utopia (and which looks just like suburban California). What these characters find out at the end of Season 1 is that they have actually been tricked into thinking that they are in “The Good Place,” when they are actually in “The Bad Place.” To put that into religious terms, they thought they were in heaven, but wake up to find out that they’re in hell.
“The Bad Place,” though, doesn’t look at all like what you’d expect. There is no fire, no brimstone, and no tormented souls, as you might expect after spending a Sunday in church. Instead, there’s a sarcastic, self-serving demon named Michael (played by Ted Danson) who has created “The Good Place” as an even more fiendish version of “The Bad Place.” He keeps working on versions of it, to get it just right.
You see, what he has figured out is that what is hellish about our existence on earth is “other people.” And he has figured out exactly the right combination of “souls” who will make each other’s lives miserable. Thus, he has figured out that the key to making the life of Eleanor Shellstrop (played by Kristen Bell) miserable is by pairing her with her eternal soulmate, a Nigerian ethics professor named Chidi (played by William Jackson Harper) who loves to talk philosophy and toss around the names of great thinkers. In contrast, Eleanor describes herself as “an Arizona dirt bag.”
“The Good Place” features a wonderfully talented cast led by Kristen Bell
The star of the show, of course, is Kristen Bell. She’s a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed gal who winds up in “The Good Place” by mistake. It turns out that someone else with the same name was supposed to get her place, but she was selected instead. In Season 1, she then makes a vow to stay forever in this (apparent) utopia.
But it is not just Kristen Bell who is wonderful on “The Good Place.” Her eternal soulmate, Chidi Anagonye (played by William Jackson Harper), is also amazing. What is so fascinating about the show are all the levels involved – in many episodes, the two appear to be fighting and feuding. But then in another, they appear to hook up and have a relationship together. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening, because the demon Michael (played by Ted Danson) keeps re-booting “The Good Place” to get things just right.
If there’s mega-star power in “The Good Place,” it’s Ted Danson, who plays the bowtie-wearing demon. In Season 1, he was amazing. But in Season 2, he’s really taking things to a whole new level. Now that the audience is in on the big plot twist from Season 1, he’s able to take on a new, more deceitful role. He’s basically an evil scam artist masquerading as a basically well-intentioned good guy. Which is why the four humans in his sector of the afterlife fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
“The Good Place” is intellectually challenging and thought-provoking
Can a 30-minute primetime sitcom really be thought-provoking? NBC’s “The Good Place” proves that it is possible. Just the whole premise of the show will stretch your mind. This premise is actually inspired by a famous French play, “No Exit,” by Jean-Paul Sartre. In that play, three characters find themselves trapped together in a room. They get on each other’s nerves, and by the end of the play, the verdict is clear: “Hell is other people.” You’ll recognize this basic concept immediately in “The Good Place.”
And there’s one more thing – the creator of this show, Michael Schur, is also the creative genius behind “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He has said in an interview that he was always inspired by the show “Lost,” and was looking to create a similar type of show, with plenty of cliffhangers, plot twists and meta-level storytelling (stories inside stories inside stories).
Thus, Season 1 basically followed the template created by “Lost” – it featured cliffhangers in every episode, it included a major plot twist in the finale of Season 1 (what has been called “one of TV’s best finale twists ever”), and it includes plenty of clever scriptwriting that some critics have interpreted as being a form of meta-storytelling. In short, the show’s creators are having a second, private conversation with the show’s fans, at the same time as a casual TV watcher has no idea of what’s really going on.
Here’s just one example: at the beginning of Season 2, the demon Michael explains the rules of the road to his group of helpers: “We’re keeping everything from version one (of “The Good Place”) that made them miserable, but adding a whole bunch more that’s new.” You can read this on two levels – as a way of explaining what’s happening on the show, or as a form of coded communication with fans (“we’re going to make Season 2 even better, just wait”).
“The Good Place” never crosses the line with religion
As the show’s creators have pointed out repeatedly, this show is about ethical behavior, not religious dogma or religious salvation. The show is non-denominational, and does not explicitly take on religion. And that’s been a key to the show’s success: it’s more about ethics and doing the right thing, and less about trying to be preachy.
Thus, “The Good Place” has quickly become one of the most original and inventive shows on TV. It features an engaging cast, it has plenty of twists and cliffhangers, and it’s fun to watch on several different levels. Those are all the reasons why viewers love “The Good Place.”