Imagine that in your life, every good thing you did earned you ‘good’ points, and imagine that every bad thing you did earned you ‘bad’ points. Where you end up in the afterlife directly correlates to these points. For some, including myself, the thought is a scary one, and yet this is the premise for one of the most fun, heartwarming comedies out today, and one that is criminally underrated.
The Good Place, aired on NBC in the States and distributed by Netflix everywhere else, focuses on Eleanor Shellstrop (played by the ever delightful Kristen Bell), who wakes up upon dying in ‘The Good Place’, a heaven-like afterlife in which only those with the most ‘good points’ in their life make the cut. These people are given the perfect neighbourhood, with a house perfectly tailored to who they were in their life, and a soulmate – the one person who they will spend the rest of eternity with, and will do so happily. Only one problem: Eleanor Shellstrop is definitely not meant to be there.
The series that follows, of which there have been 2 seasons so far with a 3rd in production, centres around Eleanor atttempting to earn her place among the good, with the help of her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper). We also see flashbacks of each of their lives, Eleanor and Chidi that is, as well as their neighbours Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto).
There are many things that make this show so worth watching. First of all, for anyone who is familiar with Mike Schur’s other work, such as Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it is very typical of his style. It’s upbeat, lighthearted fun, but with wonderfully written character development that draws you in and leaves you feeling connected to each and every character in the principal line-up. As well as this, it is gleefully absent of a laughter track, reminding you that when you laugh, it is because it is genuinely funny. However, unlike Schur’s other shows, the plot is much more arc like in its nature, you can’t really watch episodes as separate entities, as it is all part of a wider, more complex (and brilliantly twisty) plot.
Secondly, let’s just all appreciate the delicious diversity of the main line-up. There are 6 main characters – the four I’ve previously mentioned, as well as the designer of their ‘good place’ neighbourhood, Michael (Ted Danson, of Cheers fame) and a non-binary sentient being that functions as an information guide of sorts, Janet (D’Arcy Carden). This includes a black man, a Pakistani-British woman, and a Filipino American man in the main line up. As well as this, like with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, none of these characters adhere to their cultural stereotypes. In fact, the black man is a softly-spoken, incredibly anxious Academic, and the Pakistani-British woman is a upper-middle-class Socialite. Also, in regards to diversity of sexuality, they have done pretty much everything to imply that Eleanor is bisexual, even though they are yet to explicitly state it.
Thirdly, despite the fact that it’s a comedy, the show actually gets quite deep. Its explorations of what it means to be a good person are incredibly interesting, especially when framed through the use of flashbacks to each of the characters’ lives. It also asks big questions about our motives for doing good, as well as including some big thoughts, quotes and ideas from major philosophers such as Aristotle and Kierkegaard.
What really makes The Good Place special, however, is the fact that there isn’t really anything like it on TV. Its concept is so original, and as the series goes on, just becomes even more so. It’s a completely secular take on the afterlife, being inclusive to people of all religions watching, whilst not claiming itself to be biased towards religion as a whole. It thinks big, but does not lose sight of the small details either. It’s a show with a lot of heart, but also a lot of guts, and it truly deserves more people to watch it.
The Good Place Season 1 and 2 is available to stream on Netflix now.