SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE OF THE GOOD PLACE
We all know that empty feeling we have after having finished a show. It’s as if the show has left a hole inside of you. We then quickly move on to another show to re-fill that empty spot as soon as possible. Though you know that you’ll eventually finish that show too, due to which you’ll be filled with emptiness once again. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s one we decide not to avoid for some odd reason. It’s a cycle that we’re all trapped in and we sort of like it. I myself am also victim to this immense form of torture. Recently I found myself amidst this vicious cycle. I was in the “feeling of emptiness”-phase.
I was in need of another show. A month prior, I finished watching Parks and Rec after which I started to watch The Office to fill that void left by Parks and Rec. I finished The Office in no time, so that old familiar feeling came knocking on my door again. To stop the feeling from reoccurring, I decided to watch a show people have kept on recommending to me. It’s a show made by the guy behind my favorite sitcoms of all time, Michael Schur, who created the two previously named shows, but also Brooklyn 99. The show that I’d newly started to watch had gotten a lot of praise. It was deemed to an absurd show. It was said to be original. It’s said that it was a show different than any other. It’s a show about… It’s a show about morals, philosophy and a lot more. It’s a show so odd it’s hard to describe. It’s a show starring Kristen Bell as a dead girl sent to a so-called better place. It’s a show called The Good Place.
Having seen all of Michael Schur previously made shows, I was pretty excited to start watching The Good Place. I thought I had a certain idea of what to expect; a mockumentary-esque show with, a wide arrange of characters and a pretty down to earth yet at times a ridiculous kind of tone. Notice that I wrote “thought” and didn’t just leave it out. I thought the show would have these things. I thought that it would be similar to Schur’s previous shows. I thought I knew what to expect, but to my surprise, The Good Place subverted all of my expectations. Not only before having seen the show did it subvert my expectations, also while watching it. I kept on trying to predict what was going to happen next, yet it was always able to surprise me with another absurd idea or solution to the problem the characters will have to face. The story took twists and turns no one could predict, but it all makes somewhat sense. It’s incredibly creative in its storytelling aspect and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It’s quite… brilliant, for reasons I can’t truly explain nor understand.
The reason why I can’t figure out why this show is as brilliant as it is, is because it shouldn’t be as brilliant as it is. It has no right to be, yet it is. The premise is ridiculously stupid, yet Schur succeeds at making it a fun journey, filled with a bunch of interesting and funny characters. Said odd premise gives the show the option of exploring philosophical themes in an exciting way and it lends itself to some touching moments. The shows not only entertaining, it’s also insightful and filled with information, which you wouldn’t really suspect from a sitcom. These characters all have their own specific traits that make them unique and funny, but Schur never relays too much on their character traits to generate humor. By slowly adding more and more characters to the show, it never grows tiresome and by mixing in some visual comedy, the show stays fresh. The absurdism and unpredictability also add to the humoristic value of the show. The comedy’s far from the type of comedy used in shows like The Office or Brooklyn 99. The type The Good Place utilizes is more absurd and weird. It’s odd and interesting. It’s stupid, but it somehow works. It’s nearly never laugh-out-loud comedy, but it’s the type that warms your heart and makes you chuckle. It’s also creative in solving a problem most cable programs have to suffer from: cursing. Instead of having people say “shit” or “fuck”, they’ll say “shirt” or “fork”. It sounds stupid, but it’s quite funny.
The show’s also built less funny than Schur’s previous shows. Humor isn’t that big of a focus for The Good Place either, its focus lies more on the story. In the previously named shows, there’s an overarching story throughout the season, but it’s more focused on telling individual short stories in different episodes rather than one in a big story. The Good Place only has 13 episodes to work with, but it utilizes them all to their fullest potential to tell one overarching story. The shows more story driven than it is by jokes. It’s still funny, but there are fewer jokes per minutes than there are in The Office, for example. This isn’t something bad though. The Good Place still holds up to these other shows, because his other shows didn’t have something The Good Place does have: an interesting world to explore. When it isn’t cracking jokes, its rich world is shown to us. And it does this in a visually interesting way.
The overly lit shots in season one make each scene look like it was shot on a set. In the context of any other show, this would’ve been negative criticism, but in context of The Good Place it’s more of a compliment. The feeling that it might’ve been shot on a set is exactly the one the show’s striving for. The show wants to generate that unnatural atmosphere that almost feels like everything’s set-up. It adds to that feeling of disbelieve. The show wants you to think that The Good Place and The Bad Place are made up. It makes itself look fake, by making it look like it was shot on a set. It wants to feel unreal. It wants to feel absurd. It wants you to think that the things happening aren’t really happening. The not-so-great special effects also help with breaking that suspension of disbelief. If that all made any sense whatsoever.
In season two, however, the bright lighting has been toned down to show that our characters have become aware that it’s all an elaborate way of torturing them and that they aren’t really in The Good Place, which they thought they were.
It’s not the heartwarming comedy or the top-notch cinematography that’ll keep you coming back to it; it’s the silliness and the unpredictability of the show that keeps you wanting more. The constant subversion of expectations and the absurd situations the characters have to face are extremely fun to experience. It’s because the show’s so different from anything else on the air, that you’re drawn to it. The charming characters, great performances and the improbability of it actually working, make the show interesting. And that’s why The Good Place can be seen as quite brilliant in some ways. At least I think so. I’m not quite sure.