Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A man walks into a TV executive’s office. “What do you have for me?” the exec asks between sips of La Croix. “Something funny? Your career has been an unbroken streak of hilarious half-hour comedies, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!”
“Okay,” says the man. “It’s about morality.”
“Yes. The internal struggle within us all whether to give in to our baser impulses, or to be a better person.”
“Ooooooooookay. Where is it set? A bar? A strip club? A casino? Somewhere all kinds of crazy accidents and temptations can happen, right?”
“The afterlife. It kind of looks like Main Street USA, at Disneyland.”
“Did I mention Ted Danson is interested?”
We can only assume that the pitch meeting for The Good Place, quite possibly the most uncommercial concept in the history of network sitcoms, went something like this. And it was only because it came from creator Mike Schur, coming off a successful run on The Office before going on to create Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that anyone even considered greenlighting it.
But going into its third season on NBC, not only is The Good Place still on the air, it’s objectively the most interesting comedy — and arguably the most interesting show, full stop — on television, and shows no sign of decline.
The premise is this: a rude, selfish woman (Kristen Bell) is killed in a shopping cart accident and finds herself in The Good Place (as opposed to The Bad Place), where she is greeted by an angel named Michael (Ted Danson), who shows her around and introduces her to the recently departed philosophy professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), international philanthropist Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Tibetan monk Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). Realizing that, in light of the way she lived her life on Earth, Eleanor can only be in The Good Place by mistake, she sets about trying to prove that she belongs there before she can be sent to The Bad Place.
I don’t want to spoil by saying any more about the plot (you can catch up on the first two seasons on Netflix), but from there, The Good Place is singular in its ease with clever writing, inventive plot twists, moral dilemmas, philosophical discussions, and most importantly, jokes, jokes, jokes.
The cast is impeccable: Ted Danson continues to make his case that he is the Paul McCartney of TV comedy — not super flashy but dependably excellent, year after year, no matter what — with an agile performance where each new plot twist puts his character in a different light; Kristen Bell manages to make her self-described “garbage bag” of a character charming despite herself; and the three newcomers, Harper, Jamil, and Jacinto embody three very different archetypes without allowing them to fall into stereotype. D’Arcy Carden rounds out the cast as Janet, Michael’s cheerfully omnipotent robot assistant, and the achievement of her performance is easy to miss until she switches over to Bad Janet, who despite very few appearances may be my favorite character on the show.
If you saw the Season 2 finale, you’ll have a pretty good idea where Season 3, which premiered with a double-sized episode last week, picks up. I don’t want to say any more because one of the principal pleasures of this show is its surprises, but I will give you this little tidbit: Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) joins Maya Rudolph, who became a recurring guest star last year, as part of the ensemble at the end of last week’s premiere, it looks like he will be in his Step Brothers, D-bro mode, and we are here for it.
New episodes of The Good Place air at 8:30pm ET Thursdays on NBC in select markets; elsewhere, they are available Fridays on demand. Seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix.