|Scene from The Good Place|
The plot of The Good Place is one of those novel concepts that are maybe too simple to sustain a long lasting sitcom. A bad person (Kristen Bell) dies and goes to a heaven-like location called The Good Place. How does she manage to survive among a group of goody-goodies? That's the gist of the show's plot over the course of its first season before ending in a triumphant twist that not only alters the show's future, but makes one reconsider everything that came before. It may be a bit silly to suggest that a show is as strong as its twist, but in this case it helps to make the end of its first season very compelling while also making the future of the show very exciting. The only hope is that it can sustain its gimmick. For now however, it delivers one of the most solid premiere seasons from a Fall 2016 series.
Over the course of 13 episodes, the show introduces a cast of characters that all have one thing in common. They are all trying to maintain a good repertoire in order to not be removed. Ran by a landscape designer (Ted Danson), The Good Place runs on a point system that allocates how good someone actually is. With flashbacks to time on earth, each character is eventually given a compelling back story with excellent performances all around. With plenty of snappy comedy, the show manages to take simple tales of working through moral struggles and turn it into one of the most delightful sitcoms of the year.
This would appear to be how things go until halfway through. Characters are killed off (then reprogrammed) while the revelation that the good person that Bell was mistaken for has actually arrived to take over her position. It becomes its own conflict and ends up making each character form a conscience. While some are better than others, the show chooses not to embrace flaws but instead try to work on them to make each and every one a better person. As the show takes on a fantasy-style courtroom pastiche in the latter half, the show manages to find enough creativity to show the struggles in ways that make it a great show to watch week to week. If nothing else, the cast is really strong in delivering laughs.
However, it is in the last episode that the show manages to sustain any promise long term. While the show managed to run through a variety of excellent plot lines, it never gave off a sense of providing something that could make the show last for longer than maybe another year or two. Then came the twist that The Good Place was actually The Bad Place. Yes, this is a very obvious twist and in lesser hands would be obnoxiously used without deeper context. On the bright side, the show manages to turn the primary colored landscape into a deceptive trap where punishment isn't always predictable. In fact, the show lays out its reasoning in great detail, suggesting that everyone was being punished subliminally, and Danson was the mastermind behind it all. It doesn't dampen the appeal of the previous episodes, but instead makes the audience curious to revisit what came before.
The Good Place is a deceptively lighthearted show. As the final episode suggests, this is with proper intent. While the show started off being about the struggles to become a good person, it has taken on a deeper and more fascinating look at a world not far removed from more highbrow dramas like Westworld or Lost. If nothing else, the show managed to produce hearty laughs with a creative set design and plot that gave the actors plenty of room to form great chemistry. While there's always the concern of where the show goes next, it at least has an interesting road map. One can only hope that they take a few twists and turns along the way.