Watching American shows as they air can be a challenge. Once you’ve found them on the right streaming service, and avoided spoilers, they have a nasty habit of unexpectedly skipping weeks (Thanksgiving! Labour Day! July 4!) or, worse, taking a “mid-season hiatus”.
This irritation has lately afflicted season two of The Good Place, right when we needed it most. If you haven’t yet had the unparalleled joy of discovering this gem, then at least you haven’t had to endure two months of waiting for a new episode, like those of us already hooked.
But last week it triumphantly returned, and as we all cling to the remaining dregs of hope that this year might not be quite the sharknado that 2017 was, it’s the perfect opportunity to initiate newbies.
At times like this, we need pop-culture comfort-food that soothes us, but also nurtures that glimmer of hope. The Good Place is that comfort food: a comedy about ethics with a female lead. Praise be.
If you can’t quite face Black Mirror in darkest January, The Good Place will have you contemplating morality, without even realising it, as the 20-minute episodes wash over you. Before you know it, you’ll be chuckling at a joke about Camus.
It begins with the central character, Eleanor Shellstrop, waking up to make two surprising discoveries. Firstly, she is dead. Secondly, she is in heaven – also known as The Good Place. This is a surprise because in her earthly life, she was… well, she was The Worst. She was a friendless scammer who only cared about herself, and showed enthusiasm for almost nothing bar Rihanna concerts and the hot postman. She was a liar and a cheat, who stole and mocked and flaked out. She is almost unredeemable. Until she has to pretend to be a good person to avoid facing eternal torture, and suddenly there is a chance that even the very worst people might have something worth saving.
Season one sees her desperately trying to keep it a secret that she has mistakenly ended up in this particular afterlife, and avoid being sent to the Bad Place; season two moves on to… it’s probably best to wait and see.
It looks like a glossy sitcom, it has both a tartness and a smartness that make it one of the most rewarding TV shows out there right now
The Good Place is an addition to the Mike Schur TV universe, which already includes Parks And Recreation. This is the man who gave us Leslie Knope, gifs of Aubrey Plaza looking unimpressed, Li’l Sebastian, Treat Yo Self, Snake Juice, the board game The Cones of Dunshire and one of television’s seminal friendships between Leslie and Ann. He is to be trusted with our happiness.
And, like Parks And Rec, The Good Place has the same properly laugh-till-you-cry lines, while maintaining its heart. It has perfectly whimsical quirks that become clever running jokes, like the fact that in The Good Place, swearing doesn’t come out quite like the swearer intended… which is why Eleanor finds herself calling someone “a condescending bench” and spouting some serious “bullshirt”. What. The. Fork.
It’s helmed by the completely charming Kristen Bell who, apart from being the voice of Anna in Frozen (Love IS an open door) and cult heroine Veronica Mars, is also lined up to host the Screen Actors Guild Awards show, which has promised an all-female lineup of category presenters. The awards don’t actually have a host normally, so Bell isn’t even stepping into an old white guy’s shoes – she’s paving the way.
Judging by the trailer, which shows her swigging Champagne from the bottle with her ball gown tucked into her knickers, she will be a delight.
And there are so many other reasons to watch this show. It doesn’t make a song and dance about having a diverse cast, but it does. It will make as good a joke about Kierkegaard as it will about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s made for repeat viewing: like The Simpsons, there are countless visual gags and extra jokes sewn into every scene. And, while it looks like a glossy sitcom, it has both a tartness and a smartness that make it one of the most rewarding TV shows out there right now.
Lastly, Ted Danson. At the time of writing, Ted Danson has not been added to Hollywood’s list of predatory motherforkers, so it feels safe to say that in The Good Place he is radiant. He is a frothy, fizzing dreamboat of a man, with a pastel suit and a twinkle in his eye.
His wardrobe on this show is so damned jaunty that Vulture literally published a piece studying his “snazziest bowties”.
The Good Place has the potential to become our collective happy place, and God (or whoever looks after the good and bad places) knows we need it. And if you start now, you won’t have to sit through that annoying hiatus. You can ride straight through the first two seasons on Netflix, safe in the knowledge that it’s been renewed for a third. Thank fork for that.