This was a binge watch in varying states of sobriety so my recollection may not be as detailed, and unlike every other time I say I’ll keep things short and then write loads, I really think this one will be short.
Written by Mike Schur, the creator of Parks and Recreation, a favourite sitcom of mine, The Good Place is similar in some ways regarding the tone especially, but at the same time an entirely different beast. The main similarity comes in the form of kindness, one of the things that made Parks and Rec stand out so much was that everyone was overall kind to one another (excluding poor Jerry). With The Good Place being set in heaven, this niceness is a common thread and its reflected by the bright, colourful aesthetic and characters who by and large treat each other nicely. This setting also provides some clever humour as expletives are not fit for heaven and as such they are replaced by similar sounding, albeit unrelated words, a clever and humorous solution to the limitations of cable TV. However unlike, Parks and Rec, The Good Place isn’t actually particularly funny, its very pleasant and enjoyable but I can’t recall any jokes that actively made me laugh, perhaps this is due to a much smaller ensemble and a less compelling lead than Leslie Knope. This isn’t Kristen Bell’s fault, she does a good job with a not particularly interesting character, in fact none of the characters are particularly interesting and therein lies the problem. The ensemble does a good job with their material, particularly Kristen Bell and Ted Danson (also wonderful in Fargo S2) and a standout performance from D’arcy Carden who provides the bulk of the show’s humour and she does it so fantastically. However the characters lack chemistry and dont feel like a particularly united ensemble, perhaps due to the lack of group scenes or scenes where we have odd character pairings as the focus is almost always on Bell. This seems like a somewhat unfair critique as all sitcoms take time to find their footing and develop that chemistry, which is particularly hard with only 13 episodes, perhaps in the next season they’ll form a more cohesive group.
What the show lacks in outright laughter, it makes up for with its incredibly finely tuned and precise narrative which is unlike any sitcom I can recall ever seeing. The show has a great concept that could last many seasons but the show never rests on that, they completely change the dynamic about halfway through and then have a finishing plot twist that makes season 2 incredibly exciting, but also incredibly difficult to figure out how it will work. The plot twists never feel extraneous or forced but rather quite natural to the world Schur created, you can tell this show was intricately planned before production, as these plot twists are pulled off perfectly, more so than Westworld (which I loved) that prided itself on its twisty narrative but got quite messy. The writers employ an Orange is the New Black-esque mode of flashbacks to provide insight into the characters’ backgrounds, showing life before death as opposed to life before prison.
Despite not being the funniest show ever, it is really very enjoyable and must be applauded for the commitment to the complex narrative especially in a genre that doesn’t expect it. I’ll definitely watch season 2, but maybe wait for it to be over so I can binge it as that feels like a good way to watch this show.