Since I arrived on Kenyon’s campus in August, I’ve spent my free time in a variety of ways, but none have been quite so enjoyable as hopping onto Netflix to watch The Good Place. The NBC sitcom, created by The Office and Parks and Recreation mastermind Michael Schur, centers around the lives of four deceased humans and their experiences in the afterlife. With its fourth and final season currently airing on NBC, the sitcom has captured acclaim from critics and audiences alike. You may ask, “But what makes the show so charming and appealing?”
First and foremost, The Good Place is just really forking funny. The sitcom’s absurd concepts and eccentric characters allow the jokes to fly in a way they rarely do in other shows. The characters at the heart of the show—such as Kristin Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop, a narcissistic, self-proclaimed ‘dirtbag’ from Arizona, or Jason Mendoza, a Buddhist monk-turned-amateur-DJ from Jacksonville, Florida—allow for endless comedy.
A favorite gag of mine is Mendoza’s obsession with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a perennially mediocre NFL team, and their former starting quarterback, Blake Bortles. Jason Mendoza holds nothing closer to his heart than the lackluster AFC South team, something he unceasingly tells those around him. This is just one of The Good Place’s running gags, though—the sitcom offers something for everyone to laugh at.
Another draw of The Good Place is the effortless connection the show makes between its humor and its higher themes. With William Jackson Harper’s portrayal of Chidi Anagonye, a deceased professor of ethics and moral philosophy, the show makes room to explore moral questions and philosophical concepts in a way no other contemporary sitcom does.
As Eleanor explores “The Good Place,” she quickly discovers that she doesn’t belong: The Eleanor Shellstrop she was mistaken for was a death row lawyer who saved dozens of innocent people. Audiences are brought along for the ride as Eleanor takes philosophy classes from Chidi in order to become ‘good’ enough to remain in paradise.
Questions arise throughout Chidi’s teachings—everything from classic philosophical problems like the famous “trolley problem” to more abstract questions like “what do we owe to each other?”—and grow into larger themes as the show progresses. In the end, Eleanor’s quest to become a better person is more than a simple plot point. It serves as a vessel for a philosophical journey that brings the show greater meaning.
However, no single factor has a greater influence on the appeal of The Good Place than the influence of creator Michael Schur. As Ted Danson, who stars in The Good Place as architect Michael, told The New York Times, “It’s all Mike. We’re all a bunch of little Mikes.” Schur’s approach to comedy, dating back to his writing for The Office, has always centered around warmth and humanism. Rather than succumb to the irony and cynicism that have dominated comedy since the days of Seinfeld, Schur’s works tell tales of growth and optimism—tales of humans that learn from their mistakes and improve the lives of those around them.
And this approach works for The Good Place. It’s easier to laugh about death and the afterlife when the underlying themes are positive and optimistic. It’s easier, too, to feel something for the characters and their struggles—and to learn from the lessons and themes that come together to make The Good Place a modern television masterpiece.