“This is not your parent’s idea of heaven and hell”
That’s one of the early lines in the pilot to NBC’s The Good Place starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and it is what the show aspires to provide. The Good Place follows the journey of Eleanor (Bell), who, in the show’s opening moments finds out she is dead and has passed on to the next life. That new life is destined to take place in “The Good Place”, a phrase that serves as a placeholder for heaven. For the premise of the show the split between who goes to The Good Place and The Bad Place is not 50/50. In The Good Place, where Eleanor has arrived, only the truly best people from earth are allowed. The central issue is that Eleanor may have arrived in The Good Place mistakenly. She is not a good person, nor a bad person, she is a self-described “medium person”. The plot takes off running from there.
The show’s unique concept allows plenty of avenues for plotlines. It also conjures up the feel of Fox’s Last Man on Earth by creating a universe that exists far beyond that of the typical sitcom, one where anything goes. And with infinite possibility comes infinite opportunity for jokes. For example, in The Good Place people cannot swear, although cursing makes up a large chunk of Eleanor’s typical vocabulary. Instead, each swear word is replaced by a similar sounding normal word (you hear “oh fork” out of Eleanor’s mouth quite often). It’s just one small quirk of the show but it adds character and is a remarkably convenient way to get some laughs in a network TV environment since it is obvious what word is intended in each case.
The Good Place takes special care to present a secular view of heaven. In the early minutes of the show Michael (Danson), the architect of Eleanor’s new world, gives a shout out to all the major religions and states that “each one got about 5% right” when it comes to the afterlife. So, if you misguidedly found your way to The Good Place thinking it was going to present the biblical view of heaven or that it would focus on spirituality you will be disappointed. Instead, the good place focuses on morality, which serves as a more common thread between all the religions and therefor quickly eliminates the need for scholarly discussion of who was right about their views on heaven and hell. For Eleanor, the struggle centers around whether she is good enough to be in The Good Place. Flash backs to her past life suggest she is not. But in the present she is willing to do whatever it takes to earn her spot in the good place posthumously (literally). She’s joined in her quest by her soul-mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), an ethics professor in his previous life. Their goal of making Eleanor good becomes more imperative when the utopic Good Place starts to experience some glitches that may stem from Eleanor’s arrival.
The Good Place is fresh and appears to be one of the best comedies to come out of NBC in the post-30 Rock/Parks and Rec era. Bell is a delight and Ted Danson is always welcome onscreen. Creator Michael Shur (Parks and Rec, The Office, Brooklyn 99) has built up a strong comedic resume and can be trusted to deliver laughs (he can also be trusted to make shows that get better, not worse, over time). The world created in The Good Place is bright and intriguing and will keep audiences returning to check in on Eleanor in her quest to be as good as her accidental reputation.