The Good Place

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 4 reviews.

tl;dr: The heavenly, hellish, and utterly neutrally amazing comedy.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

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.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

After the whole switcheroo at the end of season one, I was really intrigued to see where the show would go next. With the characters reset, it gives the audience a lot of additional information that really makes the opening few episodes work. Armed with the knowledge that Michael is evil and purposefully making their lives miserable makes his plans so much more devious and interesting to watch. That the four main characters keep doing things that he doesn't predict is devilish good fun. It's also great that we get to see the inner workings of the demons a lot more. Vicky, in particular, is a great character that brings something fun to the mix. I hope she sticks around.

That said, seeing the characters go through everything again would have been a bit dull, so I'm glad they supercharge the narrative. That Eleanor works it out within two episodes this time is a brilliant move and opens the door to some increasingly whacky and hilarious reboots, particularly as we watch Michael floundering in his lies. Also, the moment that Jason works it out... 😂

Better yet, I like that we return to the Medium Place. There were a few times when I thought: why not just go back to Mindy's? so it's good to see the writers felt the same way. Plus, the reveal about Eleanor and Chidi is just heartwarming. I'm definitely team Chianor (or whatever). Still, by episode three the show felt like it had covered a season's worth of ideas and wham it pulls another twist. Michael's defection and subsequent attempts at learning ethics is a fun ride and a clever direction to take us in. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing him play a demon, but I think I prefer ethically uncertain Michael; also, the trolley problem simulation is morbidly hilarious.

Outside of the core circle, Janet continues to shine as one of the best characters in any show, ever. Her slow descent into realisation around Jason is brilliant and, of course, gives us the excellent Derek. There's some clear overlap now between The Good Place and Brooklyn 99 in terms of casting and I'm very on board with that.

Which brings us round to the finale. After such a brilliant set piece in season one, I wasn't sure how they would top themselves, but they pulled it out of the hat. Breaking into the Bad Place was a great move and allowed the show to explore a lot more about the underlying ethics system on which their afterlife is based. It's also surprisingly tense and the molotov cocktail moment has to be one of the best in the show so far. Finally meeting a real Judge was also a really interesting direction; again, the show is happy to progress in leaps, which makes it so much more rewarding to watch. That we get to then see that Eleanor has truly improved is a really bold choice, too, and sets up a very interesting starting point for season three, with our main characters all now back in the real world. Intriguing.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So we're back on Earth and everything is going wrong, because familiarity often wins out. It's a solid set up for a new season and gives us countless brilliant moments as Michael and Janet try to bring them back together. Watching the demons trying to undermine everything is just as great, and I think provides some fairly meaningful commentary on the entire Judeo-Christian concept of tests vs free will.

From a general writing viewpoint, I think The Good Place has generally outdone itself. There are countless moments of utter brilliance on display and the plot twists and turns so rapidly, yet with such precision, that it creates a brilliant ride without being hard to keep up. I really like that they get the whole "experiment" thing out of the way so quickly. Yes, it was a nice riff on the previous plotlines, but it was ultimately a rehash. They keep it going just long enough to be interesting, then transform it into something better. As the gang realise they're doomed no matter what, trying to help others is a neat route to go down; that it leads them to Doug Forcett is a really neat throwback to the first episode, but also a powerful statement. That Doug himself is destined for the Bad Place is a smoking gun and an interesting meta-commentary on ethics which they explore really well. That even picking a tomato becomes a morally negative decision is a great demonstration of how screwed up modern life is. Again, the show continues to one-up itself.

It also leads to the episode in Janet's mind, which is exceptionally done and continues to prove that D'Arcy Carden is an utterly exceptional individual. Her portrayals of each of the characters are brilliant and work so darn well. It also gives all of the characters some great character development. The script remains incredibly tight and I'm so happy that Jason and Janet are back to being a thing. Still, as finales go setting us back into the neighbourhood, even with Eleanor in charge, feels like it could be a step backwards. I guess time will tell, but overall I think the show continues to go from strength-to-strength.

Season Four

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I've been looking forward to the final season of The Good Place for so long. And then... we watch two-thirds of it in a single evening without even realising 😭 I mean, we weren't even setting out to watch TV, figured an episode or two would slot in around life, and entered the longest binge in ages. Sigh I guess that, at least, it shows how exceptionally good the show still is.

Sure, the first couple of episodes felt a little like it was trying to work out where to go next without retreading too much ground from the first two seasons. Particularly following such a phenomenal third act that (literally) changed the entire game of ethics that sits at the show's core, the fourth season has to fill some pretty huge boots whilst also tying everything together and standing on its own. I was a little worried it wouldn't quite stick the landing, but so far, so good.

Chidi's memory wipe lets us get some more of his earlier character traits, which is great fun, and it allows Eleanor to have some really intense character moments, without which I feel she would have been a little stuck simply as "leader" for this season. In other words, it works very well. Plus it gives us the chance to see what his true paradise would be, given that Eleanor has designed it, which is just really touching... whilst also giving us the prat-fall comedy gold that is summonable philosophy books 🤣

Overall, I thought the experiment setup worked really well and allowed the show to retread some of its past in a good way, without feeling like fan service but with a canny eye on self-deprecation. The pay off – that they prove the points system is broken, but that the Judge, therefore, wants to delete existence and start fresh – is a great twist that stands up to previous seasons neatly. That it isn't even the start of the real meat of the final season is pretty brilliant. I think it's clear that they could have stretched this season into two: have season four just be the experiment and the cliffhanger of "deletion", then season five is everything else, including cleaning up the actual Good Place. That they realised it would be more poignant and better paced together is yet another example of how tightly written The Good Place is.

I also loved seeing Chidi's past lives episode, where he relearns/remembers everything. Also:

There is no answer. But Eleanor is the answer.

😭 Why ya' gotta do this to me, man!

The show had two huge problems to resolve in this final season. First, it needed to come up with a better afterlife, a system of morality that actually worked. Considering the thousands of years of philosophy and religion that have largely failed to achieve that so far, that's a big ask for some comedy TV show writers. The second issue is that fans wanted to actually get to find out what the real Good Place was like. Sure, we've been there, we've seen it, but we don't know much about how it works. I figured they might pull off #1 but just gloss over #2, but no, they bloody well pulled them both off, and in style.

There's almost certainly some further room for improvement, but their idea of morality testing and continual learning fits the show and what we understand of how their afterlife already works. It's a good compromise for the demons and humans alike, plus it gives both Shawn and Vicky some really fun character development as we get to see the demons adapting to new techniques. It's great.

As for the Good Place, I love that they find it's also utterly broken. The concept of happiness zombies is a great one and gives the show a final body shot at some classical philosophical arguments that they hadn't been able to properly explore yet. Also, Lisa Kudrow as an ancient Greek philosopher: 👍

So that just left the problem of how to end a show as fantastic as The Good Place. They don't go out with a bang, but an emotional and heartfelt melody. It's perfect. The concept of the door to oblivion is great, but that we get to see each character live their paradise and ultimately choose to take that road is equal parts heartbreaking and perfect closure. The whole Janet/Jason situation is wonderful (she is such a brilliant actor); Jason's perfect Madden game is hilarious; Tahani becoming an architect is so fitting; and then Eleanor helping Michael become human gives her character such a brilliant final moment.

And so ends what is possibly the best comedy I've ever seen. There are a couple of moments that felt – first time around – a little odd or out of place, but they are so few and far between as to be utterly forgettable. I do wonder what it will be like on rewatch. Will knowledge of how it all ends highlight inconsistencies in the earlier plot lines, or will it make those small niggles suddenly click into place? I know the creators kind of winged it from season-to-season, rather than having a clear story progression, but it still feels remarkably tight so it wouldn't surprise me if they fill in a lot of blanks with hindsight.

Overall, though, it gets a perfect rating from me. The actors are perfect, the ethics are perfect, the story is perfect. I mean, "pobody's nerfect", but still... Utterly perfect. I miss it already.

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