Reviewing The Good Place poses an interesting challenge. On the one hand I want to use this review to urge to watch it as soon as your eyes have the free time, whilst on the other hand I’d like you to know as little about this superb comic gem before you set those same eyes on it.
Before I go further into the crux of the plot let me give you the basics. The show comes from the pedigree of Michael Schur who previously created the truly wonderful Parks and Recreation. It stars comedy royalty Ted Danson and the wonderfully bubbly Kristen Bell. Intrigued? Let me enlighten you a bit more. Bell stars as Eleanor Shellstrop. Shellstrop isn’t the world’s nicest person. She might scream at you if you ate your popcorn to loudly in the cinema or give you piece of her mind if you cut in front of her at the supermarket. She’s by no means the worst of humankind though.
As the superbly unique pilot episode opens with Eleanor opening her eyes to discover she’s in the afterlife having been run over by a billboard truck advertising impotency medicine. Michael (the brilliant Ted Danson) is quick to inform her she’s not to worry for she is in ‘The Good Place.’ It’s not something Eleanor immediately questions until she meets the seemingly perfect residents of The Good Place.
She knows she has been far too selfish to end up in the Good Place, especially when she meets its other blameless residents; humanitarian aid workers, philanthropists and the like and when Michael lists off the reasons Eleanor has been sent to The Good Place she realises there’s been mistake. However, if Elenor comes clean about her real identity she’s destined to burning for all eternity in the scream filled ‘Bad Place’.
She decides to confide her secret to soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper) in the hopes he can teach her to be a better person thus earning her spot in The Good Place. Chidi doesn’t take the news well. He’s an Ethics professor but he’s a man plagued by indecision who agrees to help Eleanor against his better judgement.
Other key players here are beauteous charity patron Tahani (Radio 1’s Jameela Jamil) and her soulmate silent Buddhist monk Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). Eleanor and Tahani immediately rub one another up the wrong way as do gooder Tahani becomes the butt of Eleanor’s jokes.
Very much like The Prisoner, the world created by architect Michael is idealistic, always sunny and pastel-hued. Smiling locals, all partnered up with their soulmates, sit at cafe tables eating brightly coloured frozen yoghurt and congratulating themselves on their ascent to paradise and where swearing is changed to family friendly language much to Eleanor’s disgust.
Despite Chidi’s best efforts help Eleanor to fit in her presence in the utopia appears to be affecting Michael’s creation. His nirvana starts to unravel with sinkholes opening up and giant flying shrimp filling the skies. The team behind the show have great fun playing with their world and it feels as if anything can happen here. The show doesn’t play on religion as The Good Place has a cleverer way to determine the eligibility of the residents with Michael asking: Did you ever reheat fish in an office microwave? Did you ever pay money to hear music performed by California funk-rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”
Whilst Bell and Danson are the star names this is very much an ensemble piece and everyone has their role to play. It’s an incredibly fun show that revels in keeping its characters and its audience on their toes. To say too much more would spoil where the story goes but suffice to say it’s vital you stick with this one. Unlike a lot of comedies that press reset when each episode ends, the narrative structure of The Good Place lends itself perfectly to a good binge. You won’t regret it I promise.
The Good Place Season 1 & 2 are available now on Netflix