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Why I love The Good Place

One of the great joys of Netflix is discovering new shows to fall in love with. Over this past summer, it’s been fantastic to watch Micheal Schur’s genius sit-com The Good Place. The premise is simple- Eleanor Shellstrop is dead, and is in “The Good Place”. This is a place where people who have done exceptionally good things in life go when they die- everyone else goes to the Bad Place. This is good news for Eleanor- except she’s not supposed to be here. She is a terrible person, and there’s clearly been a mistake. With the help of her “soulmate” Chidi and her neighbours Tahani (a rich, spoilt British philantrophist) and Jianyu (a mute Buddhist monk), Eleanor must become a better person in order to stay in The Good Place. The Good Place neighbourhood is overseen by the immortal being Micheal and assisted by the AI Janet. After the first night ends with flying shrimp in the sky, Eleanor must try and hide her secret whilst trying to earn her place in the Good Place. Hilarity ensues.

The genius of this show is in how simple it is, yet how insanely complex it is. The show gleefully plays with sitcom conventions by having every character being both unlikable yet enduring, and the idea of resetting the status quo each week is completely broken by having the show be serialised. The characters are all distinct and unique, and through the series we see them evolve and respect each other. After Eleanor realises there is no option but to try and be a better person, she becomes more considerate, selfless and ultimately caring. This is helped by Chidi’s lessons on ethics and philosophy, which balance real philosophical ideas with humour. This is juxtaposed with whatever situation is happening in the neighbourhood right now, whether it’s a giant sinkhole or Micheal’s constantly poor management of the neighbourhood.

The humour comes through the absurdity of the situations as well as the character dynamics- Eleanor is annoyed by Chidi’s indecisiveness and lack of humour and is jealous of Tahani, who in turn looks down on Eleanor. Jianyu meanwhile… isn’t a Buddhist monk. In the first of several major twists, it’s revealed only a few episodes in that he too does not belong in the Good Place- he’s a DJ from Florida called Jason and he is far from a good person. There’s been another mistake. The show constantly keeps you on edge as to what new reveal will happen, as more elements of the neighbourhood are revealed and Eleanor’s past is shown, presenting a clear shift from who she was on Earth to who she is in The Good Place. Halfway through the series, Eleanor spills the beans to save Micheal and the show takes another twist into a debate on whether one’s past actions define who they are now. It’s utterly brilliant how the show manages to be so funny yet manages to blend great development and themes together to create a hilarious show about a cosmic misunderstanding. Until…

OK, I’ve revealed a few things about Season 1, but what happens at the end of the season fundamentally changes everything. It is best to go in without knowing anything. So if you want to watch The Good Place, stop reading and watch it all on Netflix, or grab the DVD if you’re American. Seriously, it is impossible to discuss Season 2 without discussing what happens in Season 1. So SPOILER ALERT. 

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Yeah, they’re in the Bad Place.

This is when The Good Place becomes a smart comedy to a work of genius. The twist is perfectly executed and makes you view everything you’ve seen in a brand new light. Ted Danson as Micheal is… well, it’s hard to describe, but it’s like Matt Smith in Doctor Who, Simon Pegg in The World’s End or Nathan Fillion in Firefly- a perfect performance that captivates you completely. The way he laughs manically and maintains his sunny demeanour whilst being a completely different character is just stunning. This twist is phenomenal, as the characters realise they’re effectively…. in a sitcom. Four differing personalities, brought together by a powerful force are put into various situations designed to make each other miserable. It’s gloriously meta and brilliant writing. Just as the audience try to piece together exactly what has happened, Michael snaps his fingers and resets everything, with “The Good Place” ready to start over. Which leads us to Season 2.

The status quo has shifted completely. After hundreds of failed attempts, Micheal’s fellow demons have threatened to spill the beans on Micheal. When Eleanor finds out yet again that they’re in The Bad Place, Micheal tries to save himself by allying himself with the humans. He relinquishes control of the neighbourhood over to Vicki, the demon threatening to tell their boss Shawn everything, but does not wipe the memory of the four humans. Instead, Micheal asks them to play along with his charade, whilst he tries to understand them and find a way into the real Good Place. It’s in this season where The Good Place becomes one of my favourite TV shows, as it brilliantly continues on from Season 1 but expands on everything. The focus shifts to Micheal and his gradual arc into understanding and trusting the human condition. As an immortal being, he cannot even comprehend what being a human is like, and despite Chidi’s best attempts, fails at first.

Incidentally, The Trolley Problem is the best episode of the show. Utterly brilliant television.

This is where the brilliance of the character of Micheal comes in. In the first season, he’s evil pretending to be good. Surface level stuff. Yet in Season 2, he’s good pretending to be evil, whilst pretending to be pretending to be good to the humans. I can’t even begin to say how good Ted Danson is in this role, and Micheal is one of my favourite characters ever. Had I seen this show back when I did my list of favourite characters, I would’ve definitely have had him on there. Season 2 of The Good Place takes my favourite character from Season 1 and turns them into a character I understand and adore completely, very similar to how Season 2 of Stranger Things turned Hopper into a character I liked to a character I loved. Micheal is a perfect character.

That’s not to say the other characters are bad- far from it. Every character in the small but fascinating ensemble is equally fun to watch. Chidi is utterly endearing- he’s got a good heart and a great personality and you want him to get into The Good Place, but at the same time you understand why he’s in the Bad Place. Every single character in this show is immensely flawed yet you want them to succeed. It’s also one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen- the absurdity of the setting combined with the brilliant writing and hilarious dialogue and acting creates a fantastic TV show that remains one of the most unique television shows right now. I cannot express how clever this show is- it effortlessly balances comedy with well thought out, complex moral issues and ideas and combines them with a fantastically meta narrative about the nature of a sit-com. The series has so many narrative twists that means it’s never dull and just when you think you know what’s going on, the next episode subverts and twists what you think. I cannot recommend this show enough- it’s one of my favourite shows and I can’t wait for the UK to get the first episode of Season 3 tomorrow.

 

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About Ben Williams

I am an 18 year old pop culture addict from the south of England. I write about anything that interests me- whether it's Doctor Who, Skulduggery Pleasant, the films of Guillermo del Toro or comic books. Warning: I get very very silly.

One response »

  1. Ted Danson is a brilliant actor – I have never seen him turn in a bad performance. From ‘Cheers’ to ‘CSI’ he has never been anything less than totally watchable.

    Reply

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