NBC's 'The Good Place': The Afterlife As It Should Be, With a Minor Glitch or Two

The new NBC sitcom The Good Place just might be the most optimistic television show ever.

Starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, The Good Place suggests that despite every shred of evidence most of us see in this life, ultimately there is justice.

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Someone is watching, says The Good Place, which premieres Sept. 19. Every action in our life on Earth is noted and assigned a point value. Positive when that action makes life a little better, negative when that action makes life a little worse.

When our run here is finished, those with high scores are rewarded with eternity in The Good Place, where life is all soulmates and frozen yogurt shops. Everyone else goes to The Bad Place, which seems to be something like waiting in line for eternity at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Now it could be noted that most organized religions some time ago latched onto this idea of being rewarded or punished in the afterlife for our behavior here.

But Good Place creator Michael Schur says this is a different approach to the afterlife.

"I was reading a lot of books about religious conceptions of the afterlife across all world religions," he told TV writers in Beverly Hills. "And then, after I did all that for like a month straight, I realized that it was utterly irrelevant, because this wasn't a religious show. Religion is almost irrelevant. It's really about ethics."

Even the impetus for the show, he said, came from much more secular issues.

"I conceived it as a system of pure justice," he said. "Like when you're driving around L.A. and someone cuts you off or does something annoying, I would think, 'That's negative 8 points, man. That's negative 8 points, what you just did.'

"My secret hope was that there is an omniscient system that we're all being judged by, that it's impartial and definitive and absolute, and you don't have to worry about judging bias. It's like, 'This is the system. These are the points, plus and minus.' "

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This plays out in The Good Place with Bell playing Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who just died and finds herself meeting Michael - think St. Peter, played by Danson - at the entry point to The Good Place.

Michael explains that because she led an exemplary life, like all her relief work in Africa, she's among the relative select few who made it to The Good Place.

She will live in a house built to reflect all her taste, like her fondness for clown paintings, and she is introduced to her soulmate, Chris (William Jackson Harper).

Michael is relentlessly positive and reassuring throughout the orientation. Eleanor smiles graciously and meets some of her equally qualified neighbors, like the Buddhist monk.

It's only later, when she and Chris are alone, that she says this is all a mistake. She wasn't a good person in life. She bilked senior citizens by selling them worthless medicine. She'd never been to Africa. She hates clowns.

Seems The Good Place isn't The Perfect Place.

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Why not? Well, Danson offers a hint. "Michael only recently was promoted to middle management," he explains, "and he's in way over his head."

So Eleanor brings a different dimension to this land of good people, some of whom turn out to be more good than others.

But she likes being here, especially when she discovers she can drink 30 glasses of wine and wake up without a hangover. So she tries to strategize how she can remain, coming up with a series of schemes that often make Chris her reluctant accomplice.

In the end, says Schur, "The actual main question is what it means to be a good person. That's the only intention."

"The characteristics that Eleanor displays when she gets to the good place are not malicious," says Bell. "They're not evil. She's simply been living by this guideline that 'Isn't it every man for himself and shouldn't I be putting myself first?'

"So her road to learning how to be a good person is really learning about incorporating other people into her worldview. She's got a lot of hard work to do that she doesn't want to do. But unless she discovers how to be a good person, she's not going to be able to earn her place there."

So maybe it's also never too late. Wow, is this show optimistic.