While this season’s cup runneth over with dark, brooding comedies, NBC’s The Good Place is the perfect tonic for those missing the sunny world of Parks & Recreation.
Created by Parks & Rec’s Mike Schur, The Good Place stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor, a woman who has recently died and entered the afterlife. She’s welcomed into this new plane of existence by a kindly professor type named Michael (Ted Danson), who takes her into his office and explains to her that instead of heaven and hell, humans are sent to either a “Good Place” or a “Bad Place,” and a life full of good deeds has earned Eleanor a spot in the good one. Michael is one of the architects responsible for developing the topography of their eternal resting place, and his neighborhood is a quaint, Disneyfied small town full of communal green space, twee striped awnings, Silicon Valley–style tech innovations, shops with names like the Small Adorable Pet Depot, and a glut of frozen-yogurt shops. (Meanwhile, Mozart, Elvis, Picasso, “basically every artist who ever lived,” and every U.S. president, except Lincoln, ended up in the Bad Place).
As we learn early on in the pilot, there has been a mix-up; Eleanor doesn’t belong in the Good Place, and beneath her chipper veneer, she turns out to be a manipulative troublemaker who spent most of her earthbound existence lying and scheming to get her way. (Bell, as in most of her roles, is great at being both tart and sweet simultaneously.) Consequently, Eleanor’s presence causes a disruption in the fabric of the universe, causing a string of plagues to rain down upon the Good Place. Her assigned “eternal soul mate,” an ethics professor named Chidi (William Jackson Harper) gets roped in to teaching Eleanor to be a good person, embarking on a string of lessons in the ethical theories of Aristotle and Kant and John Stuart Mill (while the show may be light, it certainly isn’t vapid).
Watching The Good Place, I felt myself slipping into childlike thought-spirals, both profound (What happens after we die? Can morality be taught? Do good actions outweigh cruel intentions?) and less so (Who would my soul mate be? Which of the Kardashians would make the cut? Why does everyone in the afterlife like frozen yogurt so much?). Much as he did with Parks & Recreation’s Pawnee, Mike Schur has created a bright, richly populated world that sparks viewers’ imaginations. I might not want to spend the rest of eternity in The Good Place, but I’m more than happy to wile away 13 episodes.