The Good Place only takes four words to reel you in, and they aren’t even spoken aloud: “Welcome! Everything is fine.” Stamped in green across the wall of a cozy waiting room, this suspicious note greets our soon-to-be-favorite cockroach Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) in the very first moments of the show’s pilot episode. She’s comforted by the message, or at least she appears to be. And we’re left with our own four-word observation: That’s odd. What now?
Michael Schur’s high-concept comedy series may have rebooted its premise of the afterlife more than a few times across its four seasons, but The Good Place’s binge-worthiness remains as constant as a returning tide. After all, from its opening moments, the show propels us forward with questions that, on some level, we’ve all asked ourselves: What happens after we die? What does it mean to be a good person? And, as informed by Scanlon’s philosophical theory of contractualism, what do we owe to each other?
It’s worth noting that while The Good Place is steeped in moral philosophy and ethics, these roots don’t amount to an overwhelming or pretentious barrier of entry. Rather, the series isn’t afraid to get both silly and introspective in the same breath, often using its higher concepts in service of a solid gag. Why else should we consider the role of an unflattering pair of red cowboy boots in a run-through of the trolley problem? Or how an eternal round of monkey go-karting might not actually be the paradise that it sounds like on paper? Simply put, The Good Place is as smart and weird as it is sincere, and it keeps you curious all throughout its interdimensional ride.
Capped at 53 episodes that average about 22 minutes apiece, The Good Place is also a Goldilocks length for a binge-watch — not super intimidating, but a solid-enough investment to keep you occupied through a weekend and some change. What’s more, its four-season run ends purposefully, giving every member of its self-dubbed Soul Squad a bow that leaves you feeling content and whole.
It’s easy to sprint through a show if there’s someone you look forward to catching up with episode after episode, a couple that you desperately want to see together, or a pair of distinct personalities that you just know will stir up some trouble when left alone. To that end, Schur is great at stocking his comedies with such memorable characters and relationships; just consider anyone you love from Parks and Recreation, The Office, or Brooklyn Nine-Nine for proof.
The Good Place is no exception to that truth. From more-than-an-architect Michael (Ted Danson), to not-a-girl Janet (D’Arcy Carden), to our core team of Jason (Manny Jacinto), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Eleanor, and Chidi (William Jackson Harper), you want to see all of these people come together and succeed in arriving at their best place, so to speak.
Really, the investment that The Good Place makes in these characters and their shortcomings is what makes them—and the show itself—so endearing. To see yourself in Chidi’s indecisiveness or Tahani’s need for validation is, after all, to find a personal stake in growth that must come to pass, at least if the afterlife works as the series hopes it should. So what better way to embark on a whirlwind binge-watch than with the knowledge that your new favorite show does right by its beating heart, its cast, all the way through?
The Good Place is a warm hug of a series, and that niceness is exactly what makes it so addictive. It has teeth, too, of course; a broken system with literal life-and-death stakes can’t be righted by one experimental pass. But the show ultimately rests on the comforting notion of people’s inherent goodness, frequently returning to that question of what we really owe to one another. It all comes down to belief itself, and our capacity for change. Turns out, contractualism can work as quite a lovely thesis statement for a network comedy series. Who knew?
In the end, the show’s opening mantra really does fulfill its promise: no matter how many times this careening trolley called life goes off the rails, The Good Place will always be there to welcome us and assure us that everything is fine.