And it's not just because it has Ted Danson kicking a puppy into the sun. Though it does have that going for it.
The scales have tipped in the TV universe. Dramas are no longer the last word in critically-acclaimed, quality television—comedies are. Sure, there are plenty of great dramas on television, but none of those shows have Ted Danson kicking adorable dogs into the sun, or giant killer ladybugs terrorizing a neighborhood, or fascinating and funny existential questions about the afterlife. The Good Place has all of those things, and a really funny gag about clowns.
Few comedies have an elevator pitch as wonderfully odd as The Good Place: Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) is a willfully bad person who finds herself in heaven thanks to a clerical error, and tries to keep it a secret. The show's version of heaven (the titular Good Place) is run by Michael (Ted Danson), who comes across as a well-dressed and perpetually pleasant community organizer who becomes increasingly distressed and frazzled as Eleanor's very presence starts to sow chaos in heaven itself. It's a simple premise with a clear arc: Eleanor doesn't want to go to the Bad Place, and will go to hilarious ends to convince everyone she belongs in the Good Place, even if she's almost constitutionally incapable of belonging.
In 2016, there is a television comedy for almost every taste and predilection: The surreal rap-and-hustle stylings of Atlanta; smartly updated and socially conscious family sitcoms like Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat; the workplace comedy of Brooklyn Nine-Nine; the boozy satire and sober reflection of Bojack Horseman. There is also The Big Bang Theory, which pays a sort of backward tribute to its namesake as it continues to expand and grow and reverberate through everything until the heat death of the universe.
But as weird and wild as TV comedies have become, there's one thing few are really earnestly trying: Whimsy. And I don't blame them; whimsy is a hard sell these days. It is not sexy or popular or easily marketed. People do not look at whimsy and say Damn, give me some of THAT, as the all-too-brief lives of shows like Pushing Daisies or Wonderfalls or Flight of the Conchords can attest to. Many say How odd and colorful and ostentatious and then put on Shark Tank instead. Compared to that, The Good Place seems too kind for this world.
It feels strange to admit this in what's possibly the most crowded era of television on record, but The Good Place feels delightfully unique in the TV landscape, partly for this reason. It's got that sort of storybook-for-adults color and humanity that made the gone-too-soon Pushing Daisies such a (criminally under-seen) delight. The Good Place's take on the afterlife (in which every religion was about "five percent right") also has potential for both incredible gags and substantive storytelling—the show is extremely serialized, taking the chapters-from-a-book approach that makes it best to jump on board from the beginning and see it through 'til the end. But really it's just nice to have a show that's just as imaginative as it is clever, one where just about anything can happen and gravity is only a law as long as it's funny.
The Good Place airs its third tonight on NBC in its regular 8:30 p.m. timeslot, and you can catch up with the first two episodes (which aired back-to-back Monday) on Hulu.