'Just try to find a better show than "The Good Place" '
In this column, I explain why "The Good Place" is my favorite show on TV right now:
NBC's wacky afterlife comedy "The Good Place" is a show that defies all expectations. Not only in its plot, which zigs and zags and turns things inside out (and which I won't discuss in detail, to avoid spoilers), but also in a broader sense: "The Good Place" defies what television watchers expect about what qualifies as "prestige TV."
The show, created by Michael Schur, who comes from a pedigree that includes "The Office," "Parks and Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," is every bit as brilliant and innovative as the best series of recent years, but it's also something that those shows rarely are: It's funny.
Comedies often get the short shrift in conversations about the best of television -- as critic Kathryn VanArendonk opined in Vulture earlier this year, not only can you count on "prestige TV" being especially cinematic and often novelistic, other requirements seem to be an abundance of dark colors, obligatory bare breasts, and a total lack of a sense of humor. "At most, prestige TV should induce a wry chuckle or possibly a single, derisive snort," she wrote. "If you find yourself openly giggling, or -- heaven forbid -- actually full-out belly laughing, what you're looking at is unquestionably not meant to stand the test of serious TV time."
The comedies that do manage to sneak away from the kids table and gain awards and critical reverence are often only half-funny -- which doesn't mean they are less funny than other shows, but that they are only allowed to be funny half the time. Shows like "Louie" and "Master of None" have a gravitas that "30 Rock" or "Seinfeld" never did, and they get to that place by alternating between hilarity and dead seriousness.
It's not that comedies don't get critical praise -- "30 Rock" and "Seinfeld" certainly did, and for good reason -- but it's so tempting for critics to put comedies in a box that is completely apart from (and less "important" than) dramas like "The Wire," "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."
I did, at first, with "The Good Place." When the show first aired last year, I was immediately hooked by the high-concept premise and fun performances, but I never expected it to be a show I would put up there with "Breaking Bad" or "Twin Peaks" as "television art."
Well, pull up a seat for me at the kids table, because at this point, "The Good Place" is, to my eyes, as triumphant an achievement of television storytelling as anything I've seen in the last decade.