When it was originally on: 2016-2020
Original network: NBC
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen the first three seasons, and will eagerly watch season 4 when it’s available for binging.
What IMDb says: Four people and their otherworldly frienemy struggle in the afterlife to define what it means to be good.
Why I picked it: I would argue that The Good Place is the most ambitious comedy to ever exist on network television. What’s more, it actually is a fairly strong execution of its ambitious premise. Since I’ve seen three seasons of it, I can testify that the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns that no one could’ve predicted based on the pilot. The fact that it’s heavily serialized and plot driven rather than likable characters thrown into mundane preferences is a bit part of why it’s so different from any comedy previously aired by a big network. It’s a show that gives me hope that major networks can still take risks and make it work, and I hope it paves the way for more sitcoms that break the existing molds of family sitcom/workplace sitcom/hangout sitcom.
I also think it’s a great example of how a television show can have a moral center while still being hilarious and never crossing the line into “preachy.” Make no mistake, The Good Place is actively trying to teach you about ethics, both its theoretical concepts and what those concepts look like in practical application.
What I liked: The pilot does an exceptionally good job at world building. The bright colors. The frozen yogurt places. Janet. It’s an interpretation of the afterlife we’ve never seen before, and we immediately feel immersed in it. I feel like there’s endless possibilities for funny little jokes or new story elements. It’s a world I want to spend more time in and learn more about. It also does a great job of getting you hooked on this world BEFORE it pulls the rug out from under you: Eleanor doesn’t belong here.
I also have to give both the writers and Kristen Bell hella credit for making Eleanor likable and endearing while still communicating that she’s a bad person. Part of this is accomplished by establishing that the Good Place is for exceedingly fantastic people who dedicated their whole lives to charitable causes, making Eleanor’s relatively run-of-the-mill narcissism look out of place. We may not be as bad as Eleanor, but we can also relate to her hatred of self-righteous good people who make us feel insecure.
I also love how the show introduces the concept of “soul mates” but also doesn’t limit soulmates to romantic relationships. Eleanor and Chidi have more of a friendly, almost brother/sister type energy in the pilot. The soul mate dynamic means Chidi and Eleanor, two characters who seem like they NEVER would have been friends on Earth, are stuck with each other. Each character is endearing for different reasons, and the two play off each other quite well. They’re believable as soulmates, but unexpected as soulmates.
Bonus treat: if you pause the pilot at the point where they tell you all the point values, you’re in for a treat.
What I didn’t like: There are definitely moments that feel a little overly explanatory in an on-the-house, unnatural way. Literally the first scene is Eleanor sitting in an office while Ted Danson explains the plot of the show to her. While maybe there is some more interesting, creative way to get this information across. I’m slightly more sympathetic than usual simply because The Good Place is so high concept that I don’t see how they would convey this information any other way. Also Ted Danson is charming enough to pull it off.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I do! I think the pilot leaves a ton of doors wide open, and the show’s world and characters are just fun to spend time with. The pilot (and the show as a whole) pulls of a surprisingly feel-good vibe given how heavy some of the themes are.