If you haven't heard of this show, you're not only living under a rock but also don't have cable television. "The Good Place" has been a breakout hit for NBC over the course of its first three seasons, but the factors behind its success prove it's more than just popular; it's really forking good.
1. It's experimental.
Whenever I try to recommend "The Good Place," I always run into the same recurring issue: it's so dang hard to explain. Give me a shot here. A selfish, scheming woman dies and wakes up in Heaven. Turns out, she was sent to the wrong place, but she'll have to learn to be a good person if she wants to stay.
Simple enough for a film series or book trilogy, but for a network sitcom? Unlikely, especially when you consider that the premise for "Friends" was literally just: "They're friends in New York." Still though, "The Good Place" pulls off its high-concept plot by injecting the right amount of humor at every turn. For instance, the show implies that Eleanor, the main character, will be subjected to eternal torture in Hell if her plan fails, yet the stakes never feel that grave.
Instead, it's an enjoyable romp, a goofy sitcom that commonly plays into very non-goofy ideas. The result is refreshingly original television.
2. It has an overarching storyline.
The fact that "The Good Place" has a plot, let alone a complex one, sets it apart from pretty much every other sitcom on TV. It's a thousand times easier to design a traditional comedy around an episode-by-episode structure, where every week is a new self-contained story. That format works; in fact, it has worked for years in the past in countless legendary sitcoms. "The Good Place" takes a more serialized approach, however, meaning that each episode furthers the show's plot and leaves the characters in a wildly different place from where it began.
Serialized comedy is unconventional, but it's effective. It allows the characters to grow in season-long arcs, it makes you more compelled to watch the next episode, and it allows for some shocking twists and turns that are virtually unheard of in any other comedy.
3. Its cast is as diverse as it is talented.
Any monumental sitcom is held together by its lovable, hilarious characters. You can't have "The Office" without Michael Scott or "Parks and Rec" without Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson. "The Good Place" is the same way, and the delightfulness of its cast of characters can easily be traced back to the show's stellar cast.
Kristen Bell leads the pack with numerous iconic moments of millennial humor and some surprisingly compelling dramatic chops. Her co-stars are equally gifted and have plenty of moments to shine throughout the show, with D'Arcy Carden as Janet (the cheery robot servant) serving as a clear stand-out.
4. It incorporates fascinating ethical dilemmas.
It's not often that a show balances comedy and ethical quandaries. Actually, it pretty much never happens. "The Good Place" somehow manages to take advantage of its high-concept premise to create some interesting situations for its characters. The show questions what it means to be "a good person," often referencing back to the teachings of ancient philosophers in search of a satisfying answer. Okay, it definitely isn't every day you hear a comedy show quoting Kant's categorical imperative.
5. It's self-aware.
"The Good Place" is a sitcom in every sense of the word. Where it strays from the established sitcom prototype is in its subversive storytelling.
A quick example: in the Good Place (the show's version of Heaven), the characters are paired up with their systematically chosen "soulmates" and expected to fall in love, creating a scenario reminiscent of every sitcom romance ever. Instead, they butt heads and resist each other upon finding they have nothing in common (more akin to an actual matchmaking service).
Many things in "The Good Place" are not as they seem, and as the show explores the hidden horrors of a utopian afterlife, it simultaneously uncovers and transcends the limitations of its own genre. It's high-quality, introspective, hysterical TV, and honestly, it's Heaven on Earth.