The Good Place, season 1 & 2 (up until episode 7, “Derek”). Series created by Michael Schur. Produced by Universal Television, and broadcast on NBC. Pilot released September 19, 2016, and airs Thursdays, 8:30 / 7:30 pm CST.
I had heard about The Good Place when it first premiered. A somewhat fan of Kristen Bell (thanks to Veronica Mars and Frozen), and intrigued that Ted Danson had returned to the world of sitcoms, it was relegated to my ‘when I invent the 48-hour day’ list for the longest time (i.e. items I want to watch/read/listen to, but just don’t have time for.)
But I kept hearing about it. GIFs from the show popped up on my Tumblr, I started seeing friends on Facebook reference it, and then it happened: Pop Culture Happy Hour did a segment on it. Their enthusiastic praise played a good part in moving the show to my ‘watch it now’ category. However, when they mentioned that Marc Evan Jackson (an actor I’ve been a fan of thanks to the Thrilling Adventure Hour) had a recurring role, I quickly confirmed that yes, the first season is available to watch on Netflix and that the second season is on Hulu. I ended up binging the show up to the current episode in a couple of days.
The premise of The Good Place is fairly simple: Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who has died and ended up in The Good Place. But, we find out, that — while not outright evil, Eleanor isn’t exactly the best person in the world. She did things like go to Vegas when she was supposed to dog sit for her friend, would hold up lines just to frustrate people, and regularly took the easy way whenever possible. As a result, she realizes quickly that she’s not supposed to be there. (Her response? “What the fork?” You can’t swear in The Good Place, after all.) So, she spends the rest of the season trying to find a way to not be sent to The Bad Place.
Along the way, she is introduced to Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper, who plays anxiety like an expert), who is supposedly her soul mate. Luckily, when he was alive, Chidi taught ethics and (somewhat reluctantly) agrees to help Eleanor learn to be a good person.
She then meets Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil, who can turn the best compliment into a backwards insult), a woman who spent her life helping those in need all while namedropping every celebrity she could. Finally, she runs into Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto, who has some of the best comedic timing I’ve ever seen), who is mistaken for a monk but is actually an EDM DJ.
Ted Danson plays Michael, a celestial being who is the architect of this particular neighborhood in The Good Place. (You find out that there are several neighborhoods in The Good Place.) Rounding out the main cast is D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet: a sentient database who is there to make sure everyone is happy. She rapidly became my favorite character in the whole show.
The show is not only funny, but incredibly smart. The concept that Eleanor needs to learn ethics means we get references ranging from Kant to Friends. (And having Ted Danson break down the issues with the sitcom tropes of Friends is some sort of meta comedy in and of itself.) It also delves into the whys and wherefores of humanity and morality in a way that you rarely get in prestige dramas, let alone a 30-minute sitcom on broadcast television.
Additionally, the show is a serialized comedy: something you don’t really get. Sitcoms — for the most part — may have the occasional ongoing storyline and even some gradual character development, but The Good Place is the first one I’ve ever seen that needs a ‘previously on’ segment at the beginning.
This is a good thing, because the basic premise is one that made me wonder how they were going to keep it going for multiple seasons. With that in mind, there’s also a huge plot twist at the end of season 1 that basically rewrites said premise. That means season 2 is currently going in an unexpected direction, and I’ll be curious what else is on our plate.
The best part, for me, though, is how female-friendly it mostly is. All our female characters (including Janet — ESPECIALLY Janet) are well-rounded with their own story arc that — while connected to Eleanor’s — is also their own story. The show routinely passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, and the cast is the perfect size to where we don’t always focus on Eleanor. Even with background and minor female characters, we get well developed motivations.
My only quibble is how heteronormative the show is. While yes, Eleanor has made a few comments about Tahani being someone she’d have sex with, it’s more used as a one liner throwaway joke than as an actual idea. Additionally, all the major female characters are connected romantically to a male character. And yes, that includes Janet in a current plotline that seems to involve the idea that women can’t be happy unless they have someone in their life.
The Good Place is using comedy to explore what makes us human, and makes me think about life and ethics in ways I don’t expect. That, as Eleanor would say, is some good shirt.
Scale of Inclusivity
Not offensive to women = 1/1
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2
Passes the Bechdel test = 2/3
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 3/4
Above and Beyond General Media = 4/5
The Good Place broadcasts on NBC on Thursdays at 8:30 / 7:30 pm Central. And, as mentioned, the first season is currently available to binge on Netflix. For more information, visit NBC’s official site.
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