There are many shows confronting big philosophical questions in the current TV landscape. “Westworld” questions what it means to be human. “Altered Carbon” questions the limits of human consciousness. “The Leftovers” did it too, even with Wu-Tang Clan inspired trampoline sessions. Yet “The Good Place” uses philosophy as a lifeblood while remaining one of the easiest shows to watch on television. It’s an incredible feat and as it leaves the very strong second season behind, there’s reason to be very excited about the direction of the show.
Most shows from mega-producer Mike Schur contain high numbers of laughs, positivity, and surprisingly witty pop culture jokes. Past shows, such as “Parks and Recreation,” or “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” have become hits based on this foundation. However, “The Good Place” was always going to have a higher level of difficulty. The series follows a group of individuals who have recently reached the afterlife. In the afterlife, humans are sorted between the Good and Bad place based on a scoring system.
The story follows four people who have made it to the afterlife. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) is someone who accidentally was placed in The Good Place, but knows she should not be there. Her soulmate, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) is an academic who is well versed in philosophy. A rival couple, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) also feel like a mismatched couple, and the four quickly bond. However, they must keep their secrets from Michael (Ted Danson), the man who runs this neighborhood of the Good Place, as well as his assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden).
Those who have seen the first season know the series wraps in a very different place than one would have guessed when the season started. The second season picks up immediately where the first left off, and the show maintains its momentum. With Michael’s big plans destroyed and altered, the series follows a new path that begins a deeper examination of what it means to be good. The way in which the story bends and weaves gives audiences one of the more remarkable narratives on TV.
To build this narrative, the show had to take a leap of faith. That leap raises all boats, and the writers deserve the credit. The show’s writing is exceptional, and Schur’s team crafts a story that works on several levels of humor. Yes, this season has dozens of Blake Bortles jokes. Other jokes are visual, such as the seemingly never-ending string of visual jokes on display with changing shop names. Then there are visual gags based on philosophy, turning what should be high-brow humor into accessible jokes for your Philosophy 101 class.
Most shows take time to discover the best way to its cast. “The Good Place” is no different as it experiments around with characters this season. The cast relishes in the new opportunities as the writers have begun to test new character combinations. Each actor has a standout moment this season, but three rise to the top. Bell, Carden, and Danson are exceptional throughout the season, and carry the show to new heights.
Danson is a TV legend, and this role will only add to his legacy. With callbacks to some of his iconic moments, the show acknowledges how special it is that he’s on board for the ride. Bell is near perfection as Eleanor, so much so that the writers send her on her own adventures. There are episodes that completely revolve around her journey, and give us insight into how far she’s come. Bell does an excellent job showing Eleanor’s growth, yet still allows Eleanor to slip into old habits from time to time. Finally, Carden provides the best moments of the season as far as humor is concerned. Carden’s given the opportunity to play multiple characters who approach the world with literally opposite purposes. This gives us the ability to see her range, and Janet might be as close to a 100% laugh character as you can get in a series regular.
The most recent of “The Good Place” is another triumph for Mike Schur and his team. It remains a spectacular show that is wandering on a thin tightrope that could lose the audience if it pushes the wrong direction. Yet it is an incredible feat that should be applauded for the daring narrative choices it takes. Few comedies in the modern TV landscape require such an important focus on narrative, but “The Good Place” thrives because of it. It’s one of the very best shows on TV, and should only look to get better as time passes.