Set in the afterlife, Kristen Bell (Bad Moms) plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a morally bankrupt woman who ends up in The Good Place by mistake and must get by whilst under the watchful eye of immortal architect Micahel (Ted Danson). Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of comedy hits Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place is one of the most offbeat and delightfully surprising sitcoms of the last few years and is worth every ounce of your time.
It would be an impossible task to try to talk about it without accidentally spoiling it, so labyrinthine is its short existence. To describe the plot of the show for those who haven’t watched it would mean I could only cover about 10% of the show’s current 16 episode’s and even then, I’d have to maneuver around the way the show tell its story, with a twisty stinger at the end of every episode.
There’s gonna be a twist is still a spoiler after all.
Thankfully the premise is interesting enough on its own that all you need to say is “Watch it” and most would do so, only to get drawn in with each well-crafted cliffhanger. There’s very little one needs to do to sell the show beyond a friendly recommendation, smirking knowingly because you know what’s coming.
That’s what puts The Good Place a step above other sitcoms. It does more with its premise than any other 25 minutes ‘Situation Comedy’ and is no greater display of the influence of Michael Schur than any show before it. With Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, two of the best comedies of the last decade, Schur displayed his knack not just for comedy but for making the world the show inhabits feel real.
It matters when a sitcom believes in its own world, for example, the best storyline The Big Bang Theory ever did was sending Howard to space and reason why it irks me so that the show often reduces character accomplishments to cheap jokes.
Parks and Rec wasn’t just a comedy that just happened to be set in a government department but rather a comedy that was ABOUT a government department. The show was always at its best when it spun stories off park or politically related plotlines and the characters always felt more real when they were both good at and loved their work.
Similarly, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has put time and effort into giving its characters storylines that solidify their police world without ever feeling like it’s just a series of jokes about being a cop.
Michael Schur gets this with his shows because time and again he has put story and character before comedy. For The Good Place he spoke to the creators of Lost to learn how to construct a series that would have mysteries unfold over seasons. With this sort of care and attention to telling a good story rather than just some good jokes, its no wonder that he’s one of the smartest writers out there.
Usually, with sitcoms you like the jokes and you like the character stuff. With a Michael Schur show, you know that it’ll feel like a part of the real world too. He’s made The Good Place a high concept comedy where the high concept isn’t just some background thing. Episode after episode the world is expanded and built upon, keeping us laughing all the while. From the Parks department to the 99th precinct to Heaven itself, Schur makes each of his worlds matter and not the backdrop to a bunch of gags.
It’s perfectly fine to have a sitcom that is all just about the laughs, Seinfeld famously had a ‘No hugging, no learning’ policy, yet it’s also great to have a writer who wants to do more and give his characters a proper background to bounce off of. Parks and Rec is his best show so far, yet that may soon be about to change.