The whole first season will drop, with little fanfare, on Thursday morning, and the first episode of season two will follow shortly after. It comes to the UK a year late, after making its mark on US audiences last year. The high-concept sitcom stars Kristen Bell as the recently-deceased Eleanor Shellstrop, who, thanks to a bureaucratic error, has found herself in a secular afterlife – think Center Parcs designed for grown-ups, with no worldly restraints – reserved for society’s most morally upright people.
As the season unfolds, Eleanor, a self-centred outlier amongst her neighbours – who include a Buddhist monk and a Senegalese moral philosopher – attempts to become a better person before her right to remain in heaven is called into question.
It’s very good, but there’s a catch: you’re going to have to watch the ENTIRE first season to understand just how good it is.
Hear me out. Watching a 13-episode season before passing judgement on a show may seem like a big ask, but more and more, we are seeing the release of shows that reward commitment – often bearing fruits in the latter stages of the first season, or, in some cases, a couple of seasons in. Michael Schur’s flagship show – the beloved Parks and Recreation, which made superstars of Chris Pratt and Master of None’s Aziz Ansari – changed dramatically after its first season.
In season two, the writers changed tack from encouraging the audience to laugh at small town bureaucrat Leslie Knope – à la Michael Scott/David Brent in The Office – and instead urged them to laugh with her. It was a crucial shift which helped to develop the show’s all-enveloping warm glow, and steered it away from the oversaturated market of cringe humour.
Netflix’s own BoJack Horseman debuted to lukewarm reviews at the beginning of its first season. Its primary ingredients – cartoon animals that are sardonic alcoholics, low-level showbiz satire – all felt a bit ‘been there, done that’. But late season episodes unveiled the nihilistic spiritual journey at the heart of the show: BoJack’s struggle with depression and the cyclical nature of life that sees bad habits passed down through generations. Seasons two, three and four have delivered some of the most moving TV moments in recent memory.
And as for The Good Place? Season one builds through a series of twists and turns, before a big revelation in the finale completely upends the entire series, revealing Schur’s ambitions in the process. The showrunner has seven seasons of the show already mapped out, and the scale of what he is attempting to accomplish will become clearer when you’ve polished off all 13 episodes. It may make you feel better – or, depending on which camp you fell into, a lot worse – to know that the first person Schur reached out to for help processing his idea was aforementioned Lost creator Lindelof.
If that’s anything to go by, we’re in for one hell of a ride.
The Good Place seasons 1 & 2 arrive on Netflix on Thursday 21st September