NBC's The Good Place just wrapped up its first season in an excellent finale that was the capstone on a truly outstanding freshman year. From Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur, and headlined by talent like Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, the show had a lot going for it at the start. Even then, it managed to transcend expectations — emerging as one of the most hilarious, tightly written and thoughtful shows around.
While we wait with baited breath as to whether or not NBC will give the show a second year, it's worth considering many of the things it did so well and what it executed best that other shows could benefit from considering.
4. There Are Advantages To Planning Things In Advance
This question has dogged many a series, with benefits and pitfalls playing out across early hits like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and dating even all the way back to Twin Peaks. If you lay out a framework that's too stringent, you may blind yourself to unexpected advancements (see: Ben on Lost). On the other hand, if you don't plan enough, the show may suffer from the lack of structure and fall apart at the seams (see: the later seasons of Battlestar Galactica).
The Good Place had the advantage of a shortened run of episodes over its predecessors, yet it used the concept to its full effect — not too stringent, but still a cleverly conceived run of episodes that was tightly netted together from the start.
3. Use Your Time Well
The Good Place only had a run of 13 episodes for its first year, which it used to great effect. It managed the tricky balance of establishing concept, setting, characters, and stakes, while also spinning along at a consistent pace in plot trajectory. This meant that no episode ever felt wasted, yet it also took enough care and time with each plot development that it never felt rushed either.
Showrunner Mike Schur discussed this in an interview, where he described it by saying that if something great was cut from the episode, it was because something even better was still there; that's how each episode consistently showcased the best of the best.
2. Binge-Watching Isn't Always For The Best
In an era of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, streaming is becoming the game of the day, with more and more shows developed specifically around the concept of consumption in a short span of time. Yet in the same interview, Schur discusses intentionally seeking out NBC's broadcast method over a streaming service for the series. For a show like this, it meant ideas could build up a lot over a longer span of time. Anticipation between episodes — and speculation about characters and world building — could organically grow for the viewers, allowing a culmination into one of the most surprising and satisfying first season finales any comparable show has achieved in a very long while.
1. Make Story Twists Organic
Like many a great show, #TheGoodPlace functions on plot twists — relying on the concept to subvert audience expectation, shift perception of characters, and alter trajectory for the central narrative. Yet, it also managed to keep the idea in check. No twist done purely for the sake of a twist — all were done in the service of story. Just as impressively, many that came as a true surprise to the viewer. It can be hard not to rely on this concept as a gimmick, yet the show consistently utilized it to great effect, and did so with finesse.
It could be weeks, if not months, before we learn of NBC's future plans for the series. While we wait, we can still celebrate everything The Good Place has accomplished in a relatively short span of time. Emerging as one of the best new shows of the season, wrapping up a superb first year, and offering up one of the most surprising and clever sitcoms on television. It's going to be a long wait until that hoped-for second season.
What did you think of the first season of The Good Place?