I feel like not enough people are talking about The Good Place, the NBC comedy about a woman who goes to heaven but isn’t supposed to be there.
It sounds so dumb. It looked so dumb! People using silly words like “fork” instead of its bad word equivalent, “fuck”? Dumb.
However, these heavenly hijinks have masked a show that is one of the smartest – Not to mention funniest! – programs on television right now. The show is a very complicated, very charming untangling of philosophical dilemmas associated with love and kindness, ultimately trying to figure out what it means to “do the right thing.” And, yes, there are phrases like “bullshirt” thrown into the mix. Even that becomes charming after a while!
The show isn’t even about its heavenly premise either. I’m not going to spoil anything but the entire “Outsider in heaven!” bit fades fast, turning the show into a cat-and-mouse fantasy mystery about people trying to do the right thing. Again: philosophy. This all comes by way of wrongfully placed not-good woman Eleanor (Kristen Bell) trying to figure out how to be the best version of herself with the help of philosophy professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper). While maintaining Eleanor’s plot to right her wrongs, the show encounters wacky great characters like socialite of sorts Tahani (Jameela Jamil), “silent” monk Jason (Manny Jacinto), and heavenly overseer Michael (Ted Danson) and his heavenly Siri, Janet (D’Arcy Carden).
The show is surprisingly hysterical as it explores what it means to be a good person and what it means to be a bad person, skewering not only heavenly creatures but the hellish monsters from The Bad Place and those locked away in other areas. (Just wait until you hit The Medium Place.) The show is a lot like the show Lost folded up with a very long form Abbot & Costello movie that was produced by Berggruen Institute. It shouldn’t be this smart but it is. There’s are many episodes dedicated to the trolley problem! Yes, this is a riffing on the meme but it very seriously unpacks the scenario to explore, philosophically, what it would mean to have to choose to save lives. What the fuck other mainstream television show is doing such intellectual, existentialist legwork? NONE. Literally. I’m waiting for the day when an episode is dedicated to Foucault so my brain can cream on itself.
Moreover, the show is so strikingly diverse from most angles. The cast is so sharply international, with men and women of various ethnic backgrounds shaping this “afterlife” as a diverse representation of the planet. And, in watching the credits, the show quickly reveals itself to have a largely female staff and top writing and directing credits by not-white-men. The show isn’t just smart in subject but seemingly smart in production. Sometimes Hollywood listens.
(My lone critique – which is small but large – is that their queer representation is absolutely lacking. No gay or lesbian characters, no transgender or genderqueer subplots: nothing. It’s quite shocking that the show goes there in every other realm save for the LGBTQ+. Perhaps they will fix this.)
There’s a lot more good I could say about the show but I’m going to button my lips in the hopes that I’ve tempted you enough. Season one is available to stream on Netflix and season two is on Hulu: it’s worth an afternoon binge since the show consistently keeps you hanging, twisting and twisting and twisting itself beyond the initial conceit of “bad lady, good place.” You won’t regret checking it out: it’s the smartest funny show on television right now and, perhaps, the best show about existentialism ever made.