The Buzz: ‘The Good Place’ A Good Recap
They say repetition is the definition of insanity, but for The Good Place, it just might be their secret to success. The Good Place is the latest of comedy shows developed by Michael Schur. If his name sounds unfamiliar, his shows are anything but. From the American adaptation of The Office, to Parks And Rec, and Brooklyn 99, Schur is an indisputable genius when it comes to making well-known and lovable comedies. His works all feature common tropes, including jokes or catch phrases that span across his shows such as “cool, cool, cool” or “noice”. Cast members are even known to guest star in the Schur shows, such as Adam Scott acting as nerdy accountant Ben Wyatt in Parks And Rec, and as the frat boyish demon Trevor in The Good Place.
Onto the actual subject matter of the show. In The Good Place, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in the afterlife to find out she has made it into “The Good Place”. The Good Place is not affiliated with any religion - be it Abrahamic or not - it is just a utopia for souls who have accumulated enough “points” for being good during their lifespan. There, she meets the architect of the neighborhood, Michael (Ted Danson) who introduces her to others who have passed away: the indecisive philosopher Chidi (William Jackson Harper), elite and elegant socialite Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and a Buddhist monk, Jianyu (Manny Jancito). Unbeknownst (supposedly) to Michael, there has been a case of mistaken identity and Eleanor was intended for “The Bad Place”, the complete antithesis of The Good Place. After a crazy turn of events, including a discovery that Jianyu is harboring a similar secret - he’s really a Florida native named Jason - Eleanor and friends realize that The Good Place is The Bad Place. Michael is truly an architect, but he’s also a demon, and he’s been purposefully torturing the gang by having them struggle to keep each other’s secrets.
This is all back in season one. By season three, Michael has endeared himself to the gang, going from foe to father figure. How repetition comes into play, is throughout the plotline. There are several “reboots” throughout the series. Every season, or every few episodes even, the gang has their memories wiped and they must go through the whole ordeal again. What should feel mundane or repetitive is saved by new challenges or slight deviances to the timeline. For instance, in season three, the newest timeline is that Michael has gone back to save the lives of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason; thus, allowing them the opportunity to grow as individuals. It doesn’t work exactly as he intends, but this new life allows for a humorous juxtaposition between what was and what will now be. This is furthered when the gang stumble upon the truth of their past afterlives and devote themselves to trying to help others make it into The Good Place.
But what makes The Good Place such a noteworthy show isn’t in the time loop plots, but in the characters. Just as with Schur’s other shows, the idiosyncrasies and relationships between the characters are what carry the show. For instance, Tahani and Eleanor are as opposite as two women can be, but they end up as strong and stalwart friends. Likewise, Eleanor and Chidi bounce back and forth between a platonic and romantic relationship depending on which timeline they’re in, but undeniably, their bond is unbreakable. Relationship and character progression are one of the elements of what has been affectionately dubbed as “The Schur Formula”.
Other components include genre subversion – which is tackled in the many multiverses of the show – as well as discussion and depiction of real-life issues. A show about life after death - especially one that so heavily relies on frozen yogurt - may seem like an unreachable fantasy, but The Good Place is surprisingly humane. Michael’s transformation into a good guy is brought about by the tenacity and unpredictability of humans. From the character of Chidi, the show also delves into various philosophical discussions, from consequentialism to nihilism. Whatever and however the main core four are called, be it the “brainy bunch” or the “soul squad”, the show teaches both its characters and its cast what it means to be human.
But it’s not all theoretic and moral virtue, there is a lot of humor in the show, even a surprising joke about Manifest Destiny in season three, episode two. Each character has their own schtick. Michael and his curious affinity for humans, Tahani and constantly name-dropping her famous friends, and Jason’s Florida-isms. Given the multiple resets to the timeline, personal growth can always be set back and reversed. Tahani only recently connects with her artistic sister, Kamilah (Rebecca Hazlewood), in season three despite episodes of bitter sister rivalry. Eleanor walks the border between selfish and selfless depending on the progression of her relationship with Chidi.
The newest season, season four, will double as the final season of the series. For good reason too. Repetition is understood to be the backbone of the show, but it can also be its crucifix. There are only so many resets a show can do before all the various possibilities have been played out. It’s a fun show for feeling good, as the name aptly suggests, but not meant for in-depth drama. As a network comedy, The Good Place is high in laughs and love. Just don’t expect an anthology or saga of Biblical proportions