You’ve probably read the reviews or heard all the praise for NBC’s The Good Place, that it’s one of the best shows on TV right now and you should definitely be watching it. But maybe you’re reluctant to start, because it is a weird premise. A woman finds herself in the afterlife in the Heavenly place when she thinks she should be in the Hell-y place, so she has to learn to be a good person in order to stay there? What?! That’s perfectly understandable. It’s not your average sitcom. It certainly is an unusual show. But you should also certainly be watching it. First of all, forget everything you’ve heard about the show, because all is not what it seems. Without giving anything away, prepare to have your conception of the universe and the world around you seriously toyed with. Anyone who has taken the plunge and seen the show knows that it’s one of the best shows on television, but it is hard to get into, admittedly, so you may need some light convincing before giving it a go. We don’t want to spoil anything, of course, so here are 15 spoiler-free reasons why you should definitely be watching The Good Place!
10. Moral philosophy lessons
This may not sound like a very convincing argument for why you should tune in and watch a sitcom, but either way, there is a lot you can learn about moral philosophy from episodes of The Good Place. One of the characters, Chidi, used to be a philosophy teacher on Earth and he’s the one coaching Eleanor to be a good person. So, we learn a lot about the different theorists and their views on moral behavior, particularly his favorite, Immanuel Kant. For example, we learn that your motivations for good deeds are what counts. If you do philanthropic work to seem like a good person rather than out of the goodness of your heart, then it won’t count. The Guardian said in their review of the show that “moral philosophy is the beating heart of the program” and that it “made philosophy seem cool,” and this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to get into the real Good Place after you die (you may know it as Heaven, whatever your belief system is), then you should be watching The Good Place religiously (no pun intended – well, maybe a little intended) and taking notes on its moral philosophy lessons.
9. You’re in good hands
You’re not going in blind with a bunch of unknowns here. You can trust the brains behind the show. For starters, it was created by Michael Schur, who also created Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and wrote for The Office and co-wrote the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive.” Season 3 premiere “Nosedive” was one of the best episodes of the show, with its sharp, dark, satirical story of an Instagram-like app where everything everyone ever does gets rated and determines your socioeconomic status. Schur also wrote for Saturday Night Live for more than 100 episodes and he also worked on Lisa Kudrow’s wonderful and underrated meta HBO comedy series The Comeback. Point is, the guy knows what he’s doing when it comes to TV comedy and sharp satire. Plus, The Good Place stars Kristen Bell, the talented and lovable actress from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Frozen, and Ted Danson, the sitcom legend from Cheers, Becker, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, so you know you can depend on them for a lot of laughs. So, don’t worry. A new sitcom can be daunting, but if you’re familiar with the actors or the creative team behind it, then that can be reassuring. You’re in good hands here, trust us.
8. The impending sense of doom
At the end of every episode of The Good Place, and certainly at the end of every season (there’s only been two so far, but each one has ended with a mind-blowing bombshell of a finale. There’s this impending sense of doom that there will be no way out of any situation the characters find themselves in, but of course you want to keep watching to see just how they’re going to get themselves out of it. They always manage it, but that still doesn’t ever waver your sense of dread. This might sound like a bad thing, but the way that it’s done on this show means that you’re actually laughing along every step of the way. It’s quite masterful how the writers keep their characters right on the verge of annihilation and still manage to keep the show itself wildly funny. An impending sense of doom can make a lot of audience members nervous and agitated and uncomfortable. They spend the whole episode fearing what could go wrong. But that’s where the humor comes in handy. It keeps you comfortable, settled nicely into the back of your seat, so that when things do inevitably go awry, you’re taken even more by surprise – you didn’t see it coming. It’s masterful storytelling.
7. Running gags
Running gags are great in any comedy series, like Kramer’s famous entrances into Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld or Mac being a closet homosexual in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. One of the best shows for running gags was Arrested Development – there was the chicken dance, the banana stand, the Blue Man Group, Tobias’ ambiguous sexuality, the unfortunate phrasing of sentences, the Hot Cops, the never-nudes, Buster’s hook hand, Carl Weathers, the doctor who says things literally, Franklin, the stair car, the Boyfights videos, as well as all the catchphrases: “Her?” and “I’ve made a huge mistake” and “Hey, brother.” The list goes on. Running gags are awesome! It’s the familiarity and the repetition that makes you laugh even more each time and feel that wonderful fondness. Well, strap in, because The Good Place is loaded with them. For example, in the Good Place, you’re not allowed to swear, so every time Eleanor tries to say the F-word, it comes out of her mouth as “fork.” Or if she wants to say the S-word, it comes out as “shirt.” It’s a funny little gag, but it’s always a sly way for Schur to get around network television’s rules on profanity. Kill two birds with one forking stone!
Get ready to meet your new favorite character on television, Janet. She’s an artificial intelligence that has the physical appearance and voice of a perky human woman, but she’s actually more like a very, very advanced version of Alexa. She’s jam packed with knowledge and wisdom and she’s always there to help. She’s also really sweet and her lack of human emotion or understanding is the source of a lot of the show’s humor. It could be argued that character and the actress playing her, D’Arcy Carden, are underrated as they’re overshadowed by bigger stars and more central characters, but she’ll get her due eventually – she’s the breakout character. Without a doubt, she’s the funniest character on the show, and if you start watching it, you’ll fall in love with her immediately. Just watch it, you’ll see. The great thing about Janet is that her potential for human emotion clashes with her computerized presence and bank of knowledge so that she walks a unique line between artificial intelligence/robot and human being. There’s never been a character quite like her before in fiction. The Atlantic wrote an article about it recently entitled “Sympathy for Janet on The Good Place.” That’s how deep and profound this show can be – there’s articles in the Atlantic about its code of ethics. And yet it flies by as a breezy comedy. It’s just mesmerizing. Truly one of a kind. You need to watch this show now!
5. The critics don’t lie
Listen to the critics! If they say that something is the greatest show on television, they’re probably right! These critics are literally watching every series on television, because that’s their job, and they know all the critical points to look for in the makings of a good TV show. They know what they’re talking about, and when they say that The Good Place is “supremely entertaining,” they’re one hundred percent right. The show is unanimously praised by critics across the world. It’s been named by The AV Club and TV Guide as the number one show on television right now, and it’s on the top ten lists of more than thirty other publications. Rotten Tomatoes called the first season an “absurd, clever, and whimsical portrayal of the afterlife,” and the second season “even funnier than its first.” Even philosophers have praised the show for getting a widespread mainstream audience interested in their field and for accurately portraying most of the philosophical concepts that they address. The Atlantic has mentioned how “The Good Place stands out for dramatizing actual ethics classes on-screen, without watering down the concepts being described, and while still managing to be entertaining.” So, basically, critics love this show – and you will, too.
4. It’s like a comedy Lost
The Good Place is kind of like a comedy version of a show like Lost. Does that make sense? Remember the feeling you used to get when you’d watch an episode of Lost, where you were really freaked out all the time and asking questions and having old questions answered and getting deeply invested in the mythology of the story and trying to figure out the mysteries and determine where the show was going to go next and never being able to predict it and getting sucked in by the bizarre and surreal setting and getting excited to come back every week and be freaked out all over again? Well, that’s exactly how you feel when you watch The Good Place, except you laugh along the way as well. It’s difficult to explain. Critics have compared the surreal nature of the show and the way that it makes you doubt everything you know about it and question where the characters are, as well as its eerie closed-off setting, to a little known, short lived sci-fi series called The Prisoner. Well, Lost is like a more successful version of The Prisoner, and The Good Place is probably also more easily compared to Lost – the characters are stranded in an unknown location, faced with the threat of supernatural forces. It’s got Lost written all over it!
3. The outsider view of human culture
The character who Ted Danson plays is called Michael. He’s sort of the head honcho down in the afterlife, so while he may look like a normal human being, he’s actually an ancient, intergalactic, otherworldly, omniscient, omnipotent being who’s been around for thousands of years and seen everything. To him, humankind and their society and their culture couldn’t be more alien. Everything he finds out about us and what we do and what our planet’s like seems to confuse him, and it couldn’t be more hilarious. This outsider perspective into the human race and their inner workings is the source of so much great humor in the show. It’s not a perspective that we often get to see. All the jokes about someone’s mother-in-law or the struggles of marriage or the etiquette of restaurants or pretty much all of human behavior have been told. But viewing all of these things from the perspective of a higher being who sees humans as aliens – that’s a novel approach. It’s new, it’s fresh, and it’s interesting. There’s one episode where Michael binge-watches all ten seasons of Friends in order to get a better understanding of how to be human, and he becomes obsessed with it.
2. The jokes are always sharp
Trust Michael Schur to come up with sharp satire in a show about religion, spirituality, morality, philosophy, and the afterlife. Hell, he made a show about local government workers and managed to turn it into a satirical comment on feminism, politics, show business, big businesses versus small businesses, American capitalism, geek culture – well, just about every topic there is to satirize. And so goes The Good Place, with such gags as the first man who said, “Well, actually…” to a woman ending up in the Bad Place or some stoner going off on a tangent while high who astounded the powers that be in the afterlife with how strikingly close he got to the truth, much closer than any world religions. Anyway, point is, this is show filled with sharp, hysterical humor, which is exactly what you want in a comedy series. And what’s great is that Schur and his writing staff do not excel at one particular type of joke or humor – they excel at all of them. There’s smart comedy, dumb comedy, moments of slapstick, moments of cringe comedy, awkwardness, funny wordplay, visual humor, comedy of manners, comedy of errors, everything you could possible think of. It’s like Costco, but for masterfully crafted styles of humor.
1. The plot twists!
If you enjoy plot twists (and who the hell doesn’t?), then you’re in for a real treat with The Good Place. There’s a major plot twist at almost every turn. At the end of every episode, it’s a different show than it was at the start. This is not an exaggeration – this is completely true. The end of season 2 is completely unrecognizable when compared to the beginning of season 1. The show keeps twisting and twisting until you don’t know where the hell you are anymore – but it’s exciting. As long as you’re along for the ride, it’s always exciting to see where the show is going to take you each week. No spoilers, but there’s a plot twist at the end of season 1 that will leave your jaw firmly on the floor for about a week. The plot twist at the end of season 2 isn’t quite as mind-blowing, but it is huge. Most other TV shows, like The Walking Dead, strategically plan their big twists and plot moves for midseason finales or season finales. You can always see them coming. With The Good Place, the biggest and most earth-shattering moments could happen in any given episode, at the beginning or the middle or the end. You don’t see them coming!