I'd heard a lot of good things about The Good Place but I was not prepared for how incredible it would be. The initial premise was honestly interesting enough: a woman finds herself in a sort of religiously-neutral heaven, but quickly realises that she has been put there by mistake. With the help of a moral philosopher (who is meant to be the soulmate of the person everyone thinks she is) she tries to prove that she can be a better person and actually earn eternity in the Good Place. Quirky, interesting, lots of scope for weird situations, Kristen Bell is involved. I'm in.
At the start, the show leans hard into those expectations. The various characters are all brilliant, but what really makes it work is Janet and Michael, the robotic AI personal assistant and angel (I guess?) that are in charge of this particular neighbourhood of the afterlife. Janet is a great deus ex and brilliant excuse for having episodes where people get to fly or just generally weird stuff needs to happen. Also, whilst Kristen Bell is brilliant, D'Arcy Carden is exceptional. That must have been one hell of a fun role to play and she nails it. Cactus, anyone?
As the show goes on, though, it starts messing with its own plot in some brilliantly devilish ways. The reveal that Eleanor isn't alone, but that the Buddhist monk next door is a second imposter, is a great early twist and brings some interesting dynamics to the show. It also allows us to more closely focus on the main four characters: Eleanor, Jason, Chidi, and Tahani. Each one gets an expertly crafted arc that helps them learn a whole lot about themselves and really makes you care for them, even if some (*cough* Tahani *cough*) are a bit grating at the start. But that's all part of the show's biggest conceit. You just accept that Chidi and Tahani are "good people". One is a rich socialite that has devoted her life to charitable work, the other is a moral philosopher who has spent decades considering the very nature of ethics. Culturally, it makes sense that they would both get into "heaven", so you don't really question things. Similarly, Eleanor is a compulsive liar and immensely arrogant, whilst Jason is an idiot. Again, you just accept that the divide between the two groups makes sense.
Except of course it doesn't. Jason is an idiot, but he means well. He's broken a lot of laws, but the more you learn about him the clearer it becomes that he never understood the implications and he was always following a twisted kind of logic. Eleanor is a fairly awful person, on the other hand, but she learns and grows a lot, making her a highly empathetic character. Crucially, both of them are "normal people". On the other hand, as we learn more about Chidi and Tahani, you begin to realise that they both suck (even though they are both great, too). Chidi's ethics made everyone's life miserable and gave him no enjoyment; Tahani just spends her entire time trying to be seen as better than her sister. They're both, ultimately, selfish and self-absorbed.
All of which begins to make you think that something else might be up here, but the show does a great job of distracting with everything else going on and so you buy that this is the Good Place. The Judge, the demons, the Medium Place (a stroke of absolute genius), Janet's evolving emotions and marriage... it's a whirlwind that keeps picking up pace until suddenly crashing together in that huge reveal: this isn't the Good Place. This is the Bad Place. They're all being tortured. Everything clicks into place, Michael's actions flip and he becomes a really interesting character, and so much of our own preconceptions as an audience are shown to be obvious falsehoods.
It's brilliant and for the plot alone The Good Place is a more than worthy watch, but the cherry on top is the humour. Oh, and the acting, but I've already mentioned that. And the set design. And the direction. And the ease at which they make complex ethical discussions both interesting and educational. And how well it does empathy and emotion. And just how damned funny it is (it really can't be overstated). Pobody's nerfect, but The Good Place comes damn close.