Home > Reviews > Brief thoughts on THE GOOD PLACE (some spoilers)

Brief thoughts on THE GOOD PLACE (some spoilers)

I gave up on modern sitcoms a long time ago. For a while, it seemed like they’d just become formulaic, always about the office or school or a family or a bunch of friends talking about sex all the time. I missed the creativity of sitcoms in the 1960s, when they ventured into sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, spy adventure, desert island survival narratives, or just the general surrealism of something like The Monkees or Green Acres. And when I did occasionally catch a glimpse of later sitcoms, they seemed unrecognizable, these cynical slice-of-life shakycam shows whose humor I just didn’t get.

So when I heard a bunch of good stuff about The Good Place while it was on, I was skeptical and didn’t give it a chance. Once it came to Netflix, I put it in my queue thinking maybe I’d give it a chance eventually, but it just sat there for a while. Now, prompted largely by seeing Jameela Jamil on She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and remembering she was in this show, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it…

…and I’m totally blown away. The Good Place might be the best sitcom I’ve ever seen — heck, one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. It’s extraordinarily innovative — it opens with the main character waking up in the afterlife and learning she’s dead, and it goes through so many twists and turns over the course of its four seasons, with escalating stakes until the show’s six lead characters are literally responsible for deciding the fate of all humanity. It’s an all-out sci-fi/fantasy premise like a throwback to the ’60s, but with modern production values and some marvelously inventive visual effects, from the comical to the spectacular. (There’s even an all-out fight sequence in one episode with excellent stunt choreography.) It’s an incredibly smart show, using its premise to explore questions of philosophy and ethics and pairing them with heartfelt and nuanced character development, though it has its share of dumb, crude humor that was less to my taste. (It’s also weird that its cosmology equates “the universe” with just Earth and humans, as though no other life exists anywhere.) The leads are all terrific, with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson as particular standouts.

What struck me the most about it, perhaps, was a paradox: On the one hand, its depiction of the afterlife is a Brazil-like bureaucratic dystopia, a badly broken system in which every human suffers and the entities in charge just go with it because it’s the way it’s always worked. That’s really dark. And yet it’s such an upbeat, optimistic show when it comes to the human potential for bettering ourselves and one another.

So anyway, I spent a lot of the finale bawling my eyes out, because it was sad and beautiful. But it did leave me with some questions about the final system the characters worked out for the operation of the Good Place. Like, why didn’t they consider reincarnation as a viable alternative? Given how much their system of testing and improvement depended on reboots, you’d think it would’ve been a natural fit.

I guess I’ll leave it there. There’s a ton more worth saying, but it’s too much to get into right now. Maybe someday I’ll do a rewatch review series on my Patreon, because it is a show I’ll want to see again. For now, I just wanted to spread the word that the show’s worth watching, though I’m aware I’m probably one of the last people to discover that.

  1. TK
    October 4, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    While I haven’t seen The Good Place yet, may I recommend Parks and Recreation? Written by largely the same writers’ room as The Good Place, its central themes are very similar to what you’re describing: people trying to make the world a better place in face of egoism or indifference. Season one is not great, but has only six episodes, and after that it becomes much different and much better. While not a genre show, there is sort of a genre bent in the final season and the finale. And it has one of the great TV nerd characters.

    • October 4, 2022 at 12:36 pm

      I’d been wondering if that one was worth checking out too. But it doesn’t seem to be streaming on any service I currently have access to.

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