Look, “The Office” is a great show. Jim and Pam are arguably the best TV couple of all time. But for the life of me I cannot grasp what joy can be drawn from endless re-watching of the show’s full nine seasons with no twists, no surprises, just pure blasé happenings at the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. I am no stranger to the Netflix re-watch: Stranger Things, Parks and Recreation, Planet Earth, John Mulaney — the list goes on. It feels overwhelming to have so much content to choose from in this day and age; it’s easy to go back to something familiar and enjoyable. At the same time, it’s ridiculous that we would ever re-watch a TV show in the face of all this content. Admittedly, much of it is of questionable quality, but there is so much out there of a high caliber. The best of the best right now is without a doubt “The Good Place”. The sitcom takes a creative concept, flips it on its head, and hooks you beyond anything you could have previously imagined. It’s the best show on television.
Before even describing the premise, it’s worth noting who actually created something so “good;” Michael Schur. Schur is the mind behind not only “The Office,” but “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Parks and Recreation” as well. Over the course of about 15 years, this man has created some of the most well-received comedy shows ever. Each program is intimate in its study of each character, major and minor, and Schur works hard to make characters into believable people. There are plenty of shows which barely survive past their first season. Each of Schur’s shows consists of at least three seasons, which, in the competitive world of short-form TV comedy is an impressive feat. That he has made these three successful, humorous, affecting shows should be intriguing enough on its own.
The premise of “The Good Place” is complicated, but the execution is simple. A woman wakes up in a waiting room to the words “Everything is fine!” emblazoned in green on a wall. She’s dead, and she’s in the Good Place, a non-denominational paradise for the absolute ‘crème de la crème’ of the human race, as she’s told by a deity-like ‘architect.’ The catch is that she’s not supposed to be in the Good Place. She’s actually a terrible person, and belongs in the Bad Place. That’s no spoiler; she reveals that to her soulmate (everyone gets a soulmate in the Good Place) shortly after meeting him in the first episode.
We end up watching her journey to become a better person, learning ethics and morality in order to prove that she deserves a berth in the Good Place after all and won’t have to endure eternal torture. That’s certainly pretty heavy stuff, and for a 22-minute sitcom it can feel like a lot. More often though, it feels like something both enriching and hilarious, a rare and valuable combination in today’s world of endless reruns and re-watching. I’ll be the first to admit that the first few episodes can drag. It shouldn’t be the case that the best show on TV takes a bit to gain solid footing, but it is here. Once past the slow start to the first season, it grabs you and does not let you go.
The cast, honestly, is the biggest draw. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, the woman mistakenly sent to the Good Place. Ted Danson plays Michael, the immortal architect responsible for his own neighborhood in the larger Good Place. William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Eleanor’s soulmate and ethics professor, helps her to become a better person. Jameela Jamil is cast as Tahani, a snobby British socialite. Manny Jacinto plays Jianyu, a silent Tibetan monk who turns out to be the most hilarious of them all. Just wait until you see Janet in action, too. It’s a truly diverse group, three women and three men, three people of color, each with a significant contribution to the narrative.
“The Good Place” is different; it’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s unexpected.
Michael Schur has discussed the plotting of the show with the creators of “Lost,” aiming to avoid that program’s pitfall of endless twists without payoff. Schur throws in some devilish twists that increase exponentially when it comes to moments that make you gasp, and there is sure to be a big payoff once the show eventually comes to a conclusion. The show is intellectually captivating, emotionally enthralling, and it’s damn funny. The characters are worth the price of admission alone, as each cast member relishes their role and works hard in tandem with the writing to draw the audience into the souls of these people and root for them. It’s a better use of your precious relaxation time than re-watching something old, and it’s far more than just “Good.”