ColumnDon't Miss It!Movies & TV

The Good Place Is Hilarious, Subversive, and Teaches Us How to Be Better People

Hi! We’re trying out a new column called Don’t Miss It. There’s a lot of media in the era of streaming and peak television, and it can be hard to cut through the noise. Once a week, we’re going to offer a recommendation of some recent-ish pop culture that we think might be worth your time, starting with The Good Place. Please sound off in the comments if you think there’s something we missed.

The Good Place returned for its fourth and final season this week. The show focuses on a group of unlikely allies thrown together who are trying to save their immortal souls. When Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars) dies in a freak accident in a grocery store parking lot, she discovers that there has been a mix-up. She lived a selfish and empty life, which should have consigned her to an eternity of torment in the Bad Place. But due to an administrative error, Eleanor finds herself in the Good Place under the oversight of the angel Michael (Ted Danson of Cheers).

What follows is a comedy of errors in which Eleanor tries to stay in the Good Place with the help of equivocating ethics professor Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper of Midsommar), name-dropping self-absorbed socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), and vacuous drug dealer and failed dance-crew member Jason Mendoza (Manuel Luis Jacinto).

The Good Place was created by veteran producer Michael Schur, who proved he knows his way around a half-hour sitcom with his work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation. The series uses the form remarkably well, adhering to the familiar half-hour adventure format but also offering a very clear sense of progression and development from the leads. The Good Place repeatedly blows up its own premise, offering a series of dramatic and narrative reversals. Its plot owes more to Lost or Westworld than Friends or Mad About You.

the good place is underrated and overlooked

Over its first three seasons, The Good Place has evolved from a familiar mistaken identity setup into a surprisingly insightful exploration of what it means to be a good person, or even whether it is possible to be a good person in the modern world. Like any great sitcom, the series hinges on the chemistry of an immensely talented cast, with Ted Danson serving as something of an elder statesman of the form. The second season finale even cheekily casts Michael as a bartender.

A half-hour comedy might seem like an unlikely vehicle for philosophical and existential meditation, but the sitcom structure proves surprisingly adept as a metaphor for the slow and iterative process of becoming a better person. Shows like Seinfeld made the characters’ lack of progression from one episode to another a larger self-aware joke, while The Good Place offers an intriguing and subversive alternative. It’s also one of the most consistently funny series on television. Come for the meditations on human morality, and stay for the frozen yogurt puns.

The Good Place airs Thursday nights on NBC in the United States. It is available to stream internationally on Netflix. New episodes are released weekly.

About the author

Darren Mooney
Darren Mooney is a pop culture critic at large for The Escapist. He writes the twice-weekly In the Frame column, writes and voices the In the Frame videos, provides film reviews and writes the weekly Out of Focus column. Plus, occasionally he has opinions about other things as well. Darren lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. He also writes for The Irish Independent, the country’s second largest broadsheet, and provides weekly film coverage for radio station Q102. He co-hosts the weekly 250 podcast and he has also written three published books of criticism on The X-Files, Christopher Nolan and Doctor Who. He somehow finds time to watch movies and television on top of that. Ironically, his superpowers are at their strongest when his glasses are on.