In the past decade, network television has failed to compete creatively with the shows available on premium channels and streaming services. The best showrunners and artists in the industry tend to sign deals with the studios that they know will give them the freedom to pursue their ideas to their fullest potential. How can networks like NBC compete with blockbuster shows like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things?”
A rare exception to this trend is NBC’s brilliant existential science fiction sitcom “The Good Place.” Although it functions as a standard network comedy, “The Good Place” is slyly subversive in the way that it tackles themes such as inherent nature, determinism, and mental health. Creator Michael Schur is a veteran of the industry. He previously worked on “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
“The Good Place” is set in a utopian afterlife where Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) feels that she does not belong. While she initially hides her imperfections from the afterlife’s “architect,” Michael (Ted Danson), Eleanor decides that she will become a more ethical person. She struggles to connect with her supposed “soulmate,” ethics and morality professor, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper).
“The Good Place” was renowned for its shocking twists and turns. It’s one of the rare comedy shows that never produced a bad episode. Here are the 14 best episodes of “The Good Place,” ranked.
One of the best aspects of “The Good Place” is the show’s ability to take very typical premises and turn them into a thematically rich analysis of human behavior. In the Season 4 episode “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy,” a game of Pictionary goes off the rails when Chidi’s awkward drawing of a horse comes to life and begins wreaking havoc in their community.
However, the central storyline of the episode revolves around Eleanor, Michael, Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) as they interrogate the demon Glenn (Josh Siegal). Glenn claims to be defecting from “The Bad Place.” The group must determine whether he is telling the truth. Glenn also says that Michael is being impersonated by the demon Vicky (Tiya Sircar). The show is often at its best when it tells self-contained mystery stories.
“Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” also gives Jason a moment to shine when he determines that Janet has been replaced by the “Bad Janet.” Jason’s surprising intelligence is one of the show’s best aspects, as he’s initially not presented as the brightest character. This sets up an exciting storyline for the rest of the season in which the gang must rescue “their” Janet.
“The Good Place” didn’t show its hand early on. At first, the show could be viewed as a somewhat peculiar yet formulaic slant on a typical sitcom. It’s only after the game-changing twist at the end of the first season that “The Good Place” revealed itself to be something much more ambitious. However, the signs that the series was intent on tackling serious moral issues in a comedic way were evident from the beginning. The second episode of the series, “Flying,” starts Eleanor’s journey to becoming a better person.
It was hard for the second episode to live up to the pilot. Sitcom pilots are often disastrous, but “Everything is Fine” manages to start the series on a rousing note. However, “Flying” takes the time to explore some of the quirks of “The Good Place” universe. Eleanor’s guilt emerges when she sees all the advantages of paradise. She is excited by the possibility of being able to fly but feels that she does not deserve it. It’s an amusing crisis of confidence.
“Flying” also shows that Eleanor is willing to better herself to impress Chidi. She tries to prove to her new “soulmate” that she is worthy of his help. Although Chidi learns about some of the darker moments from Eleanor’s past, he doesn’t give up on her entirely. This begins sowing the seeds of their romance.
The first season of “The Good Place” did an excellent job of slowly incorporating flashbacks to the characters’ early lives. Although we know a lot about Eleanor from the very beginning, it takes a little while before the backstories of the other leads are revealed. Chidi’s flashback episode, “Chidi’s Choice,” is saved for a later point in the season. The pivotal episode reveals how indecisiveness has wreaked havoc on Chidi’s life.
It was clear from the beginning that Eleanor and Chidi were almost complete opposites. While Eleanor is willing to pursue her selfish interests, Chidi takes a laborious amount of time to determine what the most ethical choice is. Unfortunately, this often takes so long that it ends up creating inadvertent consequences. There are times in Chidi’s life when he simply needs to make a decision. He is too terrified of making the wrong choice to take any chances.
This episode incorporates some amusing flashbacks. When Chidi was a young boy, he was unable to pick a teammate for a game of soccer until he has considered “all the factors.” This draws the anger of his classmates when their recess ends before their game can begin. A more emotional sequence shows Chidi’s relationship with his childhood friend, Uzo (Keston John), who struggles to ask for his help. Chidi cannot be trusted with any responsibilities.
Season 2 took “The Good Place” in an interesting new direction. After the shocking twist at the end of season 1, the series essentially rebooted itself when Michael erased the characters’ memories and placed them in a new reality. Season 2 could have easily reset the characters, but it showed that they had all grown to become smarter, more compassionate people. This is evident in the episode “Dance Dance Resolution” in which Michael repeatedly fails to stop Eleanor and her friends from reaching the same conclusion.
Michael redesigns and modifies the neighborhood as he attempts to torture Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, but they’re able to emerge from his deceit every time. Danson’s frustration with the inherent goodness of these characters is both informative and hilarious. It shows the optimism that makes “The Good Place” so unique.
While it is a comedic series, “The Good Place” has a fairly dense continuity that you have to pay close attention to. “Dance Dance Resolution” does a great job at going through many different scenarios in a short time. It retains the rapid-fire sense of humor but gives the viewers a chance to catch their breath and understand what is going on.
Michael is one of the most complex characters in “The Good Place.” Although he initially appears to be a generous leader who cares for the people in his utopian community, Michael is revealed to be a demon that has trapped Eleanor and her companions in “The Bad Place.” Throughout the series, Michael has a change of heart. He begins to see the inherent goodness of humanity. Michael’s contemplation of his role provides some of the funniest moments in the series.
Michael begins to consider what his demise could look like in the Season 2 episode “Existential Crisis.” After Chidi realizes that Michael is not able to connect with humans because he is immortal, he encourages him to begin thinking about the eventuality of death. Michael completely spirals out of control. His chaotic midlife crisis decisions include buying an expensive sports car, wearing striking clothes, and getting a strange tattoo. Chidi’s exasperated reaction only makes the episode funnier. Ted Danson does an excellent job of showing Michael’s gradual redemption.
While “The Good Place” is one of the funniest shows of the 21st century, it is also one of the most emotional. There are several moments throughout the series that brought viewers to genuine tears. The audience grew to love these characters. However, the theme of the series is the eventuality of death. We know that the journey has to end at some point. Season 4 has many emotional high points that help send the characters out on a high note.
The notion of death is hilariously handled in the episode “The Funeral to End All Funerals.” As the characters await the Judge’s (Maya Rudolph) decision about the fate of humanity, they decide to prepare for their potential deaths by holding mock funerals for each other. Each character’s funeral represents who they are. The heartfelt messages that they share are both humorous and touching.
Even if you don’t find philosophy to be particularly interesting, “The Good Place” finds a way to tackle serious concepts humorously. Philosophy is often impersonal, but the show teaches its viewers about these themes by presenting them in a compelling context. If you’re ever overwhelmed by the mundanity of ethics, don’t worry! Eleanor helps serve as the audience’s avatar. She cannot understand why Chidi has decided to dedicate his life to this field.
“The Good Place” tackles a theoretical dilemma in “The Trolley Problem.” Chidi is trying to teach his friends about the concept, but Michael inadvertently creates an actual trolley and forces them to resolve the situation. Although he’s excellent at teaching, Chidi can’t face the pressure of having to solve the trolley scenario in real life. This creates a rift between Michael and Chidi that leads to some hilarious moments. Michael is forced to make an uncomfortable apology, and it pains him.
“The Trolley Problem” shows that Michael’s journey to becoming a better person would not be easy. It also ends on a cliffhanger when Janet tells Michael that their community could collapse on itself soon.
It was always going to be hard for the second season of “The Good Place” to pull off a twist as shocking as the one at the end of Season 1. While the Season 2 finale, “Somewhere Else,” isn’t as game-changing, it does set the show off in an interesting direction. Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi are sent back to Earth. Sure, they can make ethical decisions in the context of “The Good Place,” but what does it look like when they’re forced to live real lives?
“Somewhere Else” treats the complexity of “goodness” with sensitivity. Eleanor must contemplate the idea that it’s not possible to be a good person in the modern world. When everything has some sort of unintended consequence, how can anyone make good decisions? This grounds the series in more emotional stakes and makes the characters more relatable.
“Somewhere Else” also includes a moment that fans of the series had been waiting for since the beginning: Eleanor and Chidi finally kiss! Their romance had been hinted at since the beginning, but saving their first embrace for the middle of the series made it more rewarding. Chidi is the one who initiates the kiss. He is finally learning to take ownership of his decisions.
Pilots are incredibly challenging to pull off, especially for comedy shows. A pilot has to introduce the characters, story, setting, and themes and also give the audience a compelling cliffhanger that leaves them wanting more. Some of the greatest sitcoms of all time, including “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Seinfeld” had disastrous first episodes. However, “The Good Place” showed in its first installment that Michael Schur knew exactly what he was doing.
“Everything is Fine” gives the viewer just the right mix of heady philosophical themes and cheeky humor. Eleanor’s realization that she doesn’t belong in this version of heaven adds momentum to the story. It teases the journey that each of the characters will go on. Tahani appears to be pretentious, Jason doesn’t say a word, and Chidi reluctantly agrees to help Eleanor improve herself.
“The Good Place” also teased that it wasn’t afraid to make some pretty dark jokes. Eleanor discovers that she was killed after being pushed by shopping carts into oncoming traffic.
D’Arcy Carden is one of the most talented actors in “The Good Place.” While the entire cast had to play different iterations of their original roles at some point, there are countless versions of “Janet” that appear in the show. The Season 3 episode “Janet(s)” takes place in the void of Janet’s mind. We finally get to see what Janet’s thoughts look like.
“The Good Place” has some striking sequences, and the void in “Janet(s)” is reminiscent of such science fiction classics as “THX-1138” or “The Matrix.” We get to see the chaos that goes on in Janet’s mind. Having so much knowledge can be overwhelming! Understandably, “Janet(s) was one of the most difficult episodes of the series to film. It took over five and a half days to complete production.
It’s fun to see Carden do impersonations of the other cast member. “Janet(s)” also shows some more emotional moments from the titular character’s past, including her wedding to Jason.
The Season 4 episode “The Answer” doesn’t just close off one of the show’s most emotional storylines. It’s thematically one of the deepest episodes. Watching “The Good Place” may give you an existential crisis now and then, but the series caught on because of its optimism. If even a skeptic like Chidi can learn to accept the logic of love, then anything is possible.
“The Answer” emphasizes the importance of choice. Chidi regains his memories after Michael determines they are necessary to save humanity. This was a satisfying moment for fans. Chidi relives all of the events that we have seen.
The most important moment comes at the end of the episode. Michael admits that the concept of having a soulmate was his invention. There aren’t any predetermined soulmates. True love is choosing who you want to spend your life with. Chidi realizes that being with Eleanor is the answer he’s been looking for.
The Season 3 finale, “Pandemonium,” brings Eleanor’s journey full circle. At the beginning of the series, Eleanor feels like an outsider in “The Good Place.” She doesn’t think that she belongs in a utopia that reflects the best of humanity. It was only through her intelligence and healthy skepticism that she discovers Michael’s deceit. At the end of Season 3, Eleanor has to step into Michael’s role. She must help welcome new “test subjects” into a neighborhood that she helped design.
Giving Eleanor more responsibility was an important change to make ahead of the final season. Eleanor proved that she could shed her inherent selfishness and fight for her friends. However, “Pandemonium” tasks her with an even more important role. Her test will determine once and for all if humanity is truly worth saving.
The emotional highlight of the episode comes in the final moments when Chidi is forced to erase his memories. Chidi and Eleanor reflect on how much they have grown together. Although Eleanor is heartbroken, Chidi retains his optimism and suggests that things will work out. It’s a moving sequence that sets up an intriguing direction for the next season.
The legacy of every great television series is changed by their finales. “Whenever You’re Ready” tackles many grim philosophical topics, but more importantly, it offers satisfying conclusions for each of the characters. They each complete their goals in the afterlife, fulfilling their most heartfelt needs. Jason plays a perfect game of “Madden NFL” with his father, Tahani makes peace with her family, and Chidi makes peace with his decision to leave. It was important to give these characters the chance to live their best lives before they end their time in the universe.
Eleanor and Chidis’ last moments together are incredibly charming. Amusingly, Michael finally gets his wish and is sent to Earth to live out a life as a human being. It was necessary for the show to let these characters finally leave the Good Place, but that doesn’t mean it was any less emotional.
You go into some shows expecting a fair amount of twists and turns. A genre series like “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld,” or “Lost” is guaranteed to have many shocking moments, but generally, viewers aren’t expecting the same thing from a network sitcom. “The Good Place” took its fans by surprise with its Season 1 finale. The revelation that the characters in the series were really in the Bad Place the entire time signified that the show was far more ambitious than anyone may have suspected.
The clues that the characters weren’t really in paradise were there from the beginning, but only eagle-eyed viewers picked up on all the hints. The twist was just as shocking for the cast. Only Kristen Bell and Ted Danson knew from the very beginning. “Michael’s Gambit” turned “The Good Place” into a must-watch series. Fans felt that they had to recommend the show to their friends so they could hear their reactions.
“The Good Place” is unique because it doesn’t fall into any one category. Is it a high-concept genre series? Yes. Is it an insightful commentary on the nature of existence? Yes. Is it a hilarious sitcom? Yes. “Michael’s Gambit” is the pinnacle of a series that is undefinable.