Eleanor Shellstrop opens her eyes to find that she’s arrived in the afterlife. It appears – to her relief – that she made it to The Good Place (heaven). After being told she earnt her place in paradise because she saved innocent people from death row, she realises she has accidentally taken someone’s identity and place. They share the same name and died at the same time, but they led two completely different lives. Eleanor discovers she actually belongs in The Bad Place (hell).
Terrified of an eternity of hellish torture, she pretends to be Good Place Eleanor while learning to be more ethical with the help of her ‘soulmate’ Chidi to rightfully earn her place in paradise – only if she isn’t caught by heavenly patriarch Michael or tempted back to her selfish old ways by her annoyingly perfect neighbours Tahani and Jianyu.
Granted, The Good Place’s premise for a sitcom seems outlandish but it has refreshed the sitcom genre by blending ‘situation’ and ‘comedy’ in unexpected and refreshing ways that has captivated a loyal audience. Compared to the typical laugh-track sitcoms on television, The Good Place is nostalgic of classic ensemble sitcoms (particularly Friends and Cheers). Currently airing its second season, it seemingly begins by following the formulaic sitcom style of resolvable episodic ‘conflict’ but has since challenged expectations by consistently turning its own concept on its head.
Eleanor (Kristen Bell) is the perfect recipe for disaster as she fails to adapt within the divine neighbourhood. Her comical mishaps often result in flying shrimp in the sky, Armaggedon-like destruction and amusingly struggling to curse aloud, with her being forced to yell “fork” or “shirt” due to heaven’s heavy regulation on expletive words.
Needless to say, The Good Place is forking hilarious and addictive to watch. The show’s unique snappy humour and clever writing is thanks to creator Michael Schur, with fan-favourites Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine already under his creative belt.
Reminiscent of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation, The Good Place’s rag-tag group of friends (including an emotionless guide named Janet and a silent Buddhist monk) forms a close yet dysfunctional family bond, conforming to the eternal sitcom ‘friends are family’ dynamic. As the show develops their wacky shenanigans get more comically absurd, but in this world, what’s normal anymore?
To counterbalance the zany sub-plots, Chidi’s ethics lessons with Eleanor grounds the show as we witness Eleanor learning life lessons in death and finally blossoming into a decent person. Chidi’s numerous classes pose a thematic question mark over the series; what defines (and divides) a good person from a bad person and do they really deserve their reward/punishment? The answers are quite astounding.
Sitcom legend Ted Danson (aka Cheers’ bartender Sam Malone) returns to form Michael, the charming architect who aids the group in their transition into the afterlife. Stealing every scene he’s in, Michael even graces us with this meta-sitcom line; “I feel like Friends in season eight, out of ideas and forcing Joey and Rachel together even though it made no sense.”
The final touch to any television comedy is the famous and ever-quotable catchphrase. Cheers’ was the shout of “Norm!” and Joey in Friends had the undefeatable pick up line, “How you doin’?”.
Surely you’ll soon be screaming Eleanor’s “What the fork?” in daily life and into television history.
The Good Place season one is currently streaming on Netflix. New season two episodes are uploaded every Friday.