Binge or Purge?: The Good Place.
There’s a lot of good things being said about NBC’s The Good Place. Mostly because it’s awesome.
Now nearing the end of its second season, NBC’s The Good Place has become a critical darling. I had seen a few episodes of the previous season on Netflix, enough to make me interested in seeing more. After having furiously binge-watched both seasons in one evening, I can tell you that The Good Place has earned its reputation. The satirical comedy is sharp, witty, hilarious and packed with great writing. If we did a best TV of 2017 segment, I’d put The Good Place very high up on that list.
The Good Place.
Eleanor Shellstrop has died and gone to “the good place.” It turns out heaven is a slightly bland afterlife experience filled with evening parties, lush gardens, community events, and a troubling amount of frozen yogurt. The only problem with Eleanor’s hereafter is that she doesn’t belong. Apparently some other do-gooder died at the same time as her, and now she’s in heaven and the real saint is in hell. Illustrating why she was originally headed to “the bad place,” Eleanor decides the best tactic is to stay quiet, try to blend in, and recruit a couple other residents to teach her how to be good before she’s found out.
Season 1, Episode 1: Everything is Fine.
Eleanor (Kristen Bell) wakes up in a waiting room, where Michael (Ted Danson) walks her through being dead. As the architect of this version of heaven, Michael is in charge, and eager to impress his supervisors that his new take on the afterlife is a winner. Eleanor soon realizes she’s in deep trouble when she meets her “soul-mate” Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a bookish ethics professor who is nothing like the person she would hang out with on Earth. Luckily, as an ethics professor, he’s the perfect person to teach her how to be less awful.
The first episode introduces the players and premise with charm and style. Everyone is idiosyncratic and slightly unlikable in a calculated way, and they’re all played perfectly by the cast. The events move by quickly, as each episode is 22 minutes, and it feels energetic instead of rushed. There is a level of whimsy and silliness that is balanced by a deeper sense of dread and existential panic. It’s a great first episode that will let you know up front if this is for you.
Season 1, Episode 13: Michael’s Gambit.
Eleanor’s latest attempt to avoid being found out has taken her to the lonely limbo neighborhood of “the medium place” where only one person in history has been sent to live. Michael’s boss is angry that things have gone off-track, and he threatens to shut the whole project down. Eleanor is given an impossible choice to earn her spot in The Good Place, but she may have one more trick up her sleeve.
This is the famous”twist” ending to the first season. The Good Place does like to shake things up pretty often, but don’t be afraid if you haven’t avoided the spoilers. I knew how this episode ended in advance (indeed, before watching any of the earlier episodes) but the show is so well written and thought out that there’s even more pleasure watching the first season after knowing how it ends. Seriously, you can binge this season twice, once before knowing and once after.
Season 2, Episode 4: Team Cockroach.
Eleanor seems to be in exactly the same place as when she started her journey through the afterlife. The one ace she has up her sleeve is that she knows how to recruit the people around her to get out of a scrape. To that end, she schemes up a plan to turn Michael himself into an ally so she can finally earn her spot in The Good Place.
Just when I thought the show had written itself into a corner, it pivots once again to change the scenario. This is another inflection point that makes you want to go back and re-re-watch the other episodes. This series is fantastic at hiding its machinations in plain sight, so it feels like a surprise and completely obvious at the same time. I can’t wait to see the final episode of the season…so I can go back and watch it all over again anyway.
Binge or Purge.
Binge. Obviously. Unequivocally. The Good Place is one of those rare shows that is constantly growing bigger and better in a way that makes every early episode feel new and exciting upon a second viewing. It’s a bit like Breaking Bad that way, and for much of the same reason: great characters and writing. Even if you hate twists, the story and cast are so engaging (despite being mostly peevish and constantly getting on your nerves…in a good way) that you can float along the surface of the series. NBC has a great show here, filled with talent, and I hope they can keep up the delightful romp through the afterlife for a long time.