Culture/TV

The Good Place is the most exciting show on TV

October 12, 2017

If you're not watching it, you should be.

The original premise of The Good Place was clever enough, and ripe with plotline possibilities for the show to comfortably exist for several seasons. Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, arrives in the afterlife to find herself in The Good Place, a utopia for the dead who did enough during their time on Earth to avoid being in The Bad Place, where humans get tortured for the rest of their existence. Shellstrop meets Michael, played by Ted Danson, the architect of The Good Place, and soon realizes that she has lived a selfish lifestyle which included a day job selling scam medicine to the elderly, which means she does not belong here.

Except, The Good Place isn’t here to just be comfortable—not after a game-changing twist at the end of the first season, when it was revealed that Michael has actually built his own version of The Bad Place to torture Eleanor, who foils Michael’s first attempt at building his own psychological torture chamber by figuring it all out. With a snap of a finger, Michael reboots the universe, and we were on to season two. A few weeks into its second season, The Good Place is moving forward at a breakneck speed that makes it the most exciting show on television at the moment.

When Michael Schur, who also co-created Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, started building out the idea that would become The Good Place, he consulted the modern-day standard bearer of television mystery boxes: Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof. In six seasons, Lost became a cultural phenomenon. Viewers spent every week spotting clues on the show, taking to message boards and forums to try and figure out the purpose of these strangers ending up on an island with mystical qualities. But the strength of Lost was also its downfall. Lindelof and co-creator Carlton Cuse laid down so many clues that when it came time to pay them off in the final season, they were unable to do so in a way that satisfied the fanbase.

Lindelof had an importance piece of advice for Schur, telling him, “you just need to know where you’re going.” Schur took the advice to heart, and learning from the pitfalls of Lost, mapped out exactly where he wants The Good Place to go. At its best, Lost was not just a science fiction mystery, it was a character-driven show with relationships that we cared for. The Good Place has taken a similar approach. While the quirks of the universe—like its many food references in the background—rewards the attentive viewers, the show also spent the first season fleshing out the main ensemble cast with flashback scenes, a narrative device that Lost used to perfection many times.

Aside from Eleanor, we meet Chidi Anagonye, an academic whose greatest flaw is his indecision; Jason Mendoza is an amateur EDM DJ from Jacksonville who’s clueless about everything, but brings a much needed innocence to the nihilism that consumes The Good Place (it also helps that the show gets all of the mileage out of their Jacksonville jokes). Tahani is a high-society model and museum curator who forever lived in the shadow of her more successful sister, with her jealousy leading to her eventual death. Together, the four main characters have a wonderful dynamic that the show can play around with to greater efficiency now that the initial mystery is out of the box.

To earn the trust of an audience in any entertainment platform is a difficult task. With each plot twist, there are heightened expectations from viewers that a television show will continue to take risks, walk the tightrope, and ultimately deliver on its set up. So far, season two of The Good Place has passed with flying colours. While it might have been conventional wisdom to dwell on Michael’s second attempt at duping Eleanor and company in his version of The Good Place, the show burned through what might have felt like a season’s worth of plotlines in episode three, titled “Dance Dance Resolution,” where Michael’s 800+ failed attempts to deceive the group are shown in a series of vignettes, ending with another pivot for the show: Michael, being blackmailed by a fellow Bad Place employee, now has to work in cohorts with Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahini with the promise of getting them to the actual Good Place.

How the new dynamic plays out for the rest of the season remains to be seen. There are still plenty of open-ended questions for the show to answer. Janet, a human sentient database who’s also rebooted each time Michael starts over, figures to play a huge role in the conflicts ahead (and if we’re continuing the Lost comparisons, I’m personally rooting for the short-lived Jason-Janet relationship from season one to return, because that’s our Desmond and Penny). We’ve also seen glimpses of The Medium Place, occupied by a coke-addicted lawyer named Mindy St. Claire. And then there’s the actual Bad Place, where douchebags like Trevor—played by Adam Scott in a scene-stealing cameo role in season one—exist.

Now that the toolbox is filled with toys, the characters have been established, and the universe has been explained and expanded, The Good Place is ready to continue going places it’s never been. Given the results so far, there’s no doubt whether we’re going to the good, bad or medium place, this show is well-prepared for what’s ahead.

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