This review is supposed to convince you to go watch ‘The Good Place’, but honestly one of the best parts of watching ‘The Good Place’ is getting to know the characters yourself and sinking into the story.
So, please take my advice and go and watch every available episode now. It’s all on Netflix, each episode is twenty minutes, and you can easily binge through them all in a day, time which you won’t regret spending. Please. Please, just go watch ‘The Good Place’.
If that still hasn’t convinced you, then I’ll do my best now.
‘The Good Place’ is, for my money, possibly the best TV show currently being made. Possibly the best TV show ever made. I dunno. But it’s fantastic.
It’s clever, erudite even, but still accessible. It’s morally on-point without being preachy or condescending. It’s hilarious, but still hits dramatic notes without trouble.
The premise is that Eleanor Shelstrop, by all counts a pretty mediocre human being, dies an embarrassing death and finds herself in “The Good Place”, a neighbourhood full of virtuous paragons who spent their lives doing good and improving the world.
The neighbourhood is the reward for a life well lived, a quaint utopia with happy streets and stunning mansions and parks and as much frozen yoghurt as you can eat. The neighbourhood was tailored to fit the greatest desires of every resident there by Michael, an immortal being and architect of this particular slice of paradise.
Surrounded by civil rights lawyers and social activists, Eleanor (who was the top salesperson at a fake-medicine company) quickly realises that she doesn’t belong, and that some kind of mistake has been made.
She reaches out to her supposed soulmate Chidi, a professor of moral philosophy, to help her try to become a better person so that she can stay in The Good Place. The alternative is her being found out, and sent to The Bad Place, a diabolical hell dimension with a neighbourhood specially crafted to torture its residents with their very worst nightmares.
(At one point, we are told The Bad Place for philosophers is very clever, as they are forced every day to attend school naked and sit an exam on a subject they know nothing about. And they are then smashed with hammers, which isn’t so clever.)
Along the way we meet a plethora of other characters, including Tahani, the effortlessly flawless philanthropist, socialite and model with a long list of celebrity friendships and an ever-so-slightly condescending tone. We also “meet” Tahani’s soulmate, Jianyu, a Tibetan monk who maintains a vow of silence he made when he was seven years old.
And there’s the standout character, as far as I’m concerned: Janet. Janet is an omniescent, near-omnipotent and omni-helpful… well, it’s never quite explained what she is. She’s sort-of the mainframe for the neighbourhood, existing purely to make the residents happy and content, and provide them with whatever they ask for.
It’s probably easier to describe what Janet isn’t:
- She isn’t a woman.
- She isn’t a girl.
- She isn’t a lady.
- She isn’t a person.
- She isn’t alive.
- She isn’t a robot.
- She isn’t a computer.
What she is, is perfectly played by D’Arcy Carden, and manages to be the strongest element of very strong cast. Janet’s just an endless well of positivity and helpfulness, and is wonderful to watch.
And that’s not to play down the rest of the cast. Kristen Bell is flawless as the incredibly flawed Eleanor, whilst Ted Danson’s turn as the earnestly hapless Michael is joyful and adorable. Jameela Jamil is magnificent in just about every way, and there’s an incredible, reprehensible appearance by Adam Scott (Ben from ‘Parks and Rec’) as a devil come to collect Eleanor and take her to The Bad Place.
It’s so, so difficult for me to do anything but gush about this show uncontrollably, so please, just go and watch it. It’s a beautiful series, full of beautiful people, with beautiful jokes and beautiful lessons to learn.
Admittedly, the second season runs a little cooler for me than the first, I think because of a weaker narrative focus. But not enough for me to stop loving it more than I’ve ever loved any person in my life.
Basically, you need to watch this show right now, and if I still haven’t convinced you, here are some of my favourite lines:
- [Eleanor, discussing and then imitating Tahan] “Tahani: what a condescending bench, am I right? Why does she still have the British accent, right? No one else here has an accent. She’s choosing to have that accent! ‘Oh, hello! I am just a big, beautiful, utterly perfect cartoon giraffe!’“
- [Eleanor, after receiving the gift of a potted plant from Tahani] “Ugh, Tahani. ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood, even though we all arrived here at the same time. Here’s some dirt I put in a bowl because I’m amazing!’“
- [Okay, pretty much every single complaint Eleanor has about Tahani is great] “She wants everyone to think she’s such a perfect princess just ’cause she’s tall and glamourous and has capuccino skin and curves everywhere. And now I’m complimenting her. And kind of turned on.”
- [Michael, on the decision to choose frozen yoghurt over ice cream] “There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it just a little so you can have more of it.”
- “Listen baby, don’t be sad, your father wasn’t great. Let’s call him what he was: a fart in the shape of a man.”
- “Maybe they figured out clam chowder is disgusting because it’s basically a savoury latte with bugs in it.”
- “And clam chowder is disgusting, it’s just hot ocean milk with dead animal croutons!”