The Good Place is a high-concept afterlife comedy currently in its sophomore season on NBC (with no slump in sight).
In A Nutshell
The Good Place centers around a group of recently dead individuals who managed — as the title suggests — to make it to “the good place.” (Not heaven, exactly, but same general idea). However, for our wayward protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, it’s actually a case of mistaken identity. The series initially follows her efforts to become a better person in the afterlife to avoid getting sent to “the bad place.”
Meet the Characters
Eleanor Shellstrop is, at the outset, shallow, selfish, and morally lacking. While she is not exactly Hitler or Martin Shkrehli, she did not lead a particularly good life on earth. To wit, she was employed as a sales rep, hocking fake medicine to old people. Eleanor is not on par with most of her fellow Good Place-rs upon her arrival. When she finds out the cosmic bureaucracy mixed her up with a different Eleanor Shellstrop, she works desperately to hide the mistake. For this, she needs the help of her ‘soulmate,’ Chidi.
Chidi Anagonye is a former professor of ethics and moral philosophy with a particular love for Kant. Initially hesitant to help Eleanor, he also is burdened ethically by the prospect of getting her sent to the bad place. He opts to keep her secret and teach her ethics in the hope of helping her earn her spot in the good place. While Chidi has more moral scruples than Eleanor, he also has his own flaws. His endless ambivalence surrounding every tiny choice – due to weighing all the ethical factors ad infinitum – is as annoying as it is endearing.
Tahani Al-Jamil is a former British socialite of Indian descent. She ostensibly earned her spot in the good place for her extensive charity work and fundraising for the needy. While she is not above some self-indulgent bragging or name-dropping, she seems to possess an earnest generosity of spirit. She often tries to right the misfortunes of others in the “neighborhood,” usually by hosting parties in her stately mansion. She and Eleanor develop something of a frienemy relationship, overshadowed by hints of sexual tension.
Michael the Architect is a member of the cosmic bureaucracy. He designs “neighborhoods” in the good place where groups of deceased people live in idyllic pleasantry forever. Eleanor’s neighborhood is his first solo project, and he desperately wants to see it go off without a hitch. However, he spends most of season one trying to keep the neighborhood from falling apart in the wake of various catastrophes seemingly caused by Eleanor’s presence.
Other stand-out characters include Janet, the embodied good place version of Siri/Alexa who can answer any question or provide any resource to neighborhood residents. Also, Buddhist monk Jianyu, who is quite central to the series as well, but whose storyline I cannot spoil because it is too funny.
A Brief History of The Good Place: The When, Where, and How
The Good Place debuted on NBC in September of 2016, with an initial run of 13 episodes. Season one is currently available on Netflix and Hulu. Michael Schur — of Parks & Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine — is the executive producer. It is currently airing its second season.
Why It’s So Awesome
The Good Place is refreshing in that it takes risks without being needlessly ‘edgy.’ This show isn’t trying to push the envelope so much as think outside the box. It is kooky and creative, and endearingly farcical. A lot of TV takes itself far too seriously these days. While I think depth and grittiness and harsh realism have their place, not everything needs to be grimdark^10.
As with other Michael Schur TV products, this show strongly emphasizes character and character development. Eleanor and co. are highly three-dimensional; much of the series’ humor derives from the simultaneous bonding and chaffing that takes place between these colorful characters. Eleanor and Chidi’s dynamic is a particular delight.
It also contains multiple twists and turns that are unexpected, obvious in hindsight, and always well-earned. Pulling the rug out from under your audience is not an easy thing to do well. It often comes off as needlessly contrived, or as a cloying attempt to show how clever a writer you are. The Good Place avoids those pitfalls, keeping its twists and turns vital to the story, and organic to the world.
Also, did I mention it is forking hilarious? Because it is, not the least because, in the good place, there is no swearing. But no matter, you still get the idea.