The Good Place

The Good Place is an American fantasy comedy television series created by Michael Schur. It premiered on NBC on September 19, 2016, and concluded on January 30, 2020, after four seasons and 53 episodes.

Although the plot evolves significantly over the course of the series, the initial premise follows Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a woman welcomed after her death to the Good Place, a highly selective Heaven-like utopia designed and run by afterlife "architect" Michael (Ted Danson) as a reward for her righteous life. She realizes, however, she was sent there by mistake and must hide her morally imperfect past behavior while trying to become a better, more ethical person. William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto co-star as other residents of the Good Place, with D'Arcy Carden as Janet, an artificial being who assists the residents.

The Good Place received critical acclaim for its writing, acting, originality, setting and tone. The first season's twist ending and the show's exploration and creative use of ethics and philosophy were specifically praised. Among other accolades, it received a Peabody Award and three Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. It was nominated for 14 Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series for its third and fourth seasons.

The series is centered around an afterlife in which humans are sent to "the Good Place" or "the Bad Place" after death. All humans are assigned a numerical score based on the morality of their conduct in life, and only those with the very highest scores are sent to the Good Place, where they enjoy eternal happiness with their every wish granted, guided by an artificial intelligence named Janet; all others experience an eternity of torture in the Bad Place.

In the first season, amoral loner Eleanor and small-time criminal Jason believe that they have been sent to the Good Place incorrectly. Eleanor's assigned soulmate, Chidi, a moral philosopher, attempts to teach them ethics so they can earn their presence there. Jason's soulmate, wealthy socialite Tahani, attempts to help Michael, the kindly designer of their neighborhood, deal with the chaos apparently caused by Eleanor and Jason's presence. In the season finale, Eleanor realizes that the four humans have actually been in an experimental Bad Place all along, chosen by Michael to torture each other emotionally and psychologically for eternity.

In the second season, Michael repeatedly erases the humans' memories to try to restart their psychological torture, but they figure out the truth each time. Michael's failures result in him being blackmailed by another demon who wants his job, so Michael convinces the humans to help him fool his boss in exchange for passage to the real Good Place. When Michael sees that humans can improve their goodness after they die, he appeals their case to the eternal Judge, who rules that the humans may be returned to their lives on Earth, with no memory of the afterlife, to attempt to prove their moral development.

Back on Earth in the third season, the group participates in a research study led by Chidi and his colleague Simone. Once they learn the truth about the afterlife, they try to help others improve their moral behavior. Eventually they discover that no one has been admitted to the Good Place in centuries. They propose that the points system is fundamentally flawed and set up an experimental simulated Good Place to test their thesis that humans can develop morally with proper support.

In the final season, the year-long experiment eventually proves that humans can show moral improvement in the afterlife. The group institutes a new system whereby deceased humans will earn their way into the Good Place by passing tests of moral development; and then, to avoid becoming numbed by the ennui of eternal bliss, humans may choose to exit the Good Place and peacefully end their afterlife. In the final episode, Jason, Chidi, and Eleanor eventually choose to exit; Tahani becomes a designer of afterlife environments, and Michael is allowed to be sent to Earth to live as a human.

NBC issued a press release on August 13, 2015 announcing it had given the then-untitled show a 13-episode order based purely on a pitch by Michael Schur.[22] On January 12, 2016, it was announced that Kristen Bell and Ted Danson had been cast in the lead roles for the series. The first synopsis of the show was also released, stating that it would revolve around Eleanor designing her own self-improvement course with Michael as her guide[9] – although the afterlife element had always been a part of the series, as Bell stated she was aware of the first-season finale twist when she signed on.[23]

William Jackson Harper was cast as Chris on February 11, 2016,[10] though the character was renamed Chidi. Jameela Jamil was cast as Tessa on February 25, 2016,[11] and her character was renamed Tahani. On March 3, 2016, Manny Jacinto was revealed to have been cast as a "sweet and good-natured Jason" whose "dream is to make a living as a DJ in Southern Florida".[15] On March 14, 2016, D'Arcy Carden was cast as a series regular announced as "Janet Della-Denunzio, a violin salesperson with a checkered past"[12] – although writer Megan Amram later admitted that this was a hoax.[24]

The show's final premise, including the afterlife element, was announced on May 15, 2016, when NBC announced its 2016–17 TV season.[25]

According to Schur, they originally planned to include religious elements after doing research on various faiths and groups. Instead, he decided on a more diverse concept that included all faiths and was free of religious views. "I stopped doing research because I realized it's about versions of ethical behavior, not religious salvation," he says. "The show isn't taking a side, the people who are there are from every country and religion." He also pointed out that the setting (shot in San Marino, California's Huntington Gardens) already had the feeling of a pastiche of different cultures, and said the neighborhoods would feature people who were part of nondenominational and interdenominational backgrounds who interacted with each other regardless of religion.[26]

The series' setting and premises, as well as the serialized cliffhangers, were modeled on Lost, a favorite of Schur's. One of the first people he called when he developed the series was Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof. "I took him to lunch and said, 'We're going to play a game [of] 'Is this anything?'" He then added "I imagine this going in the Lost way, with cliffhangers and future storylines."[27]

The first season's surprise twist, that the Good Place was the Bad Place, and Chidi, Eleanor, Jason and Tahani were chosen because they were best suited to torture each other indefinitely, is very similar in premise to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's stage play No Exit, where three strangers die and are escorted to a single room by a friendly bellhop and informed they must co-exist. They ultimately determine they are entirely incompatible and reach the conclusion that "hell is other people". Danson and Bell were the only actors who knew the ultimate premise from the start.[28]

Critics have also suggested similarities to 1960s surreal TV show The Prisoner in its isolated, rule-bound setting.[29][30][31]

The series premiered September 19, 2016.[32] On January 30, 2017, NBC renewed it for a second season of 13 episodes, which premiered September 20, 2017, with an hour-long opening episode.[33] On November 21, 2017, NBC renewed the series for a 13-episode third season, which premiered September 27, 2018.[34][35] On December 4, 2018, NBC renewed it for a fourth season.[36] On June 7, 2019, it was announced that the fourth season would be the last.[37] Season 4 premiered September 26, 2019.[38]

In several international territories, the show is distributed on Netflix. The first season was released September 21, 2017 and episodes of subsequent seasons became available within 24 hours of their U.S. broadcast.[39][40]

All DVD releases for The Good Place were distributed by the Shout! Factory. The first season was released on DVD in region 1 on October 17, 2017,[41] the second on July 17, 2018,[42] and the third on July 30, 2019.[43] The complete series was released on Blu-ray on May 19, 2020.[44]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season has a rating of 92%, based on 71 reviews, with an average rating of 7.74/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Kristen Bell and Ted Danson knock it out of the park with supremely entertaining, charming performances in this absurd, clever and whimsical portrayal of the afterlife."[57] On Metacritic, the first season has a score of 78 out of 100, based on reviews from 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[58]

The editors of TV Guide placed The Good Place second among the top ten picks for the most anticipated new shows of the 2016–17 season. In its review from writer Liam Matthews, "NBC's new comedy has an impressive pedigree" (referring to Mike Schur and stars, Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, the latter cited as "arguably the greatest sitcom actor of all time"). Matthews concludes, "The hope is that their combined star power can restore NBC's tarnished comedy brand to its former glory. It won't be the next Friends, but it's something even better: a network comedy that feels different than anything that's come before."[59]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season has a rating of 100%, based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 8.95/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "By voluntarily blowing up its premise, The Good Place sets up a second season that proves even funnier than its first."[60] On Metacritic, the second season has a score of 87 out of 100, based on reviews from 10 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[61]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the third season has a rating of 98%, based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 8.35/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Charming and curious as ever, The Good Place remains a delightfully insightful bright spot on the television landscape."[62] On Metacritic, the third season has a score of 96 out of 100, based on reviews from five critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[63]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the fourth season has a rating of 100%, based on 21 reviews, with an average rating of 8.33/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A wild philosophical ride to the very end, The Good Place brings it home with a forking good final season."[64]

Several critics have commended the show for its exploration and creative use of ethics and philosophy.[65][1][66] Featured topics include the trolley problem thought experiment originally devised by Philippa Foot,[67][68] the categorical imperative first formulated by Immanuel Kant,[68][69] T. M. Scanlon's What We Owe to Each Other,[70] and the works of Aristotle and Søren Kierkegaard.[68][71] Andrew P. Street of The Guardian wrote that "moral philosophy is the beating heart of the program" and that the show "made philosophy seem cool."[69] Elizabeth Yuko of The Atlantic noted that "The Good Place stands out for dramatizing actual ethics classes onscreen, without watering down the concepts being described, and while still managing to be entertaining."[68] For their part, several philosophers have celebrated the show's largely accurate popularization of their line of work,[1] while noting some minor inaccuracies.[71]

Several critics have noted that The Good Place is notable for its eschewing of antiheroes and cynical themes in favor of likable characters and positive messages. James Poniewozik of The New York Times said, "The most refreshing thing about The Good Place, in an era of artistic bleakness, is its optimism about human nature. It's made humane and sidesplittingly entertaining television out of the notion that people – and even the occasional immortal demon – are redeemable."[67] Jenna Scherer of Rolling Stone wrote that The Good Place proved that "slapstick and banter can coexist alongside tragedy and hardship – that a show doesn't need to be self-serious to be serious-minded."[72] Erik Adams of The A.V. Club praised the show as portraying an "uncommonly decent TV world".[73] Stuart Heritage of The Guardian called The Good Place "relentlessly optimistic",[74] a quality which Stephanie Palumbo of Vulture called "a salve for despair in the Trump era".[70]

In 2019, The Good Place was ranked 69th on The Guardian's list of the 100 best TV shows of the 21st century.[75]

During its airing, The Good Place received many awards and nominations. It received fourteen Primetime Emmy Award nominations during its run, including two nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series for its third and fourth seasons. It also received two Golden Globe Award nominations in 2019, including a nomination for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. In genre awards, the show has won three Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form for "The Trolley Problem", "Janet(s)", and "The Answer"; it has also been nominated two other times in the category. The show also received three consecutive nominations from the Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Television Series and two nominations from the Nebula Awards for the Ray Bradbury Award. In 2017, the American Film Institute named the show as one of its top 10 television programs of the year, and in 2019, the show received a Peabody Award for its contributions to entertainment.

Several cast members have received awards for their performances on the show. Danson received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as Michael. He has also been nominated for three Critics' Choice Television Awards (winning one in 2018), two Satellite Awards, and a TCA Award for his work. Bell was nominated for a Golden Globe for for her performance as Eleanor, as well as one Critics' Choice Television Award, two People's Choice Awards (winning one in 2019), one Teen Choice Award, and one TCA Award. Maya Rudolph has received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, and Harper, Jamil, Carden, and Adam Scott have all received nominations for awards for their work on the show.

The Good Place makes use of many different theories of moral philosophy and ethics through the character of Chidi Anagonye, the moral philosophy professor. Within the show, there is reference to John Locke, Tim Scanlon, Peter Singer, and Derek Parfit, and "the show has covered everything from Jonathan Dancy's theory of moral particularism, to Aristotelian virtue ethics, to Kantian deontology, to moral nihilism."[79] UCLA philosophy professor Pamela Hieronymi and Clemson philosophy professor Todd May served as consultants to the show.[80] [81] They both made cameo appearances in the final episode.[82]

The beginning of The Good Place takes its inspiration from the idiom "Hell is other people" from Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. In the play three people are trapped in Hell, represented as one room, and they torture one another psychologically while reflecting upon the sins that got them there.[79] The concept "Hell is other people" is an often-misunderstood philosophical idiom meant to reflect that "Hell is other people because you are, in some sense, forever trapped within them, subject to their apprehension of you."[83][84]

The second season's philosophy is most closely related to that of Aristotle, with Schur in particular highlighting Aristotle's "practice-makes-perfect" attitude to acting ethically. Chidi's impenetrable 4,000 page ethical treatise was inspired by Parfitt's On What Matters – which attempts "to propose a grand unified theory of all ethical theories". Schur was unable to finish reading due to its length.[85] Tim Scanlon's What We Owe to Each Other "forms the spine of the entire show" according to Schur.[79] The book presents the idea of contractualism: the idea is that "to act morally is to abide by principles that no one could reasonably reject".[79] The show and the relationships between the characters act as an investigation into contractualism with the four main humans, Michael, and Janet forming their own society whereby they must act in ways that no one could reasonably reject even when that goes against the rules and tenets of higher powers. The overarching thesis of the show, greatly influenced by the contractualist theory, is "the point of morality ... isn't to accumulate goodness points, as in the elaborate point system the organizers of the Good Place and its corresponding Bad Place employ to determine who goes to which upon death. It's to live up to our duties to each other."[79]

In September 2019, prior to the release of the fourth season of The Good Place, NBC released a six-episode web series on their website, app, and their YouTube channel, titled The Selection (full title: The Good Place Presents: The Selection), directed by Eric Kissack. The series, set during an ellipsis taking place during the season 3 episode "Chidi Sees the Time-Knife", follows Michael's former demon boss Shawn as he and his underlings decide which four people to pick for Michael's new incarnation of "the Good Place". Marc Evan Jackson, Josh Siegal, Bambadjan Bamba, Amy Okuda, and Jama Williamson form the main cast by reprising their roles from The Good Place as Shawn and his underlings, with Joe Mande reprising his role as Toddrick "Todd" Hemple in the third episode.[20] At the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, the series was nominated for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series.[86]