You Should Watch 'The Good Place' on TV Even if You're Probably Not Going There

NBC's charming The Good Place quickly establishes itself as a first-class new comedy.

When it debuts Monday with back-to-back episodes after The Voice at 10 p.m. ET, we can officially begin crossing our fingers that it also achieves a good place in the Nielsen ratings.

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It doesn't have an instant hot hook, just a couple of great stars in Kristen Bell (above) and Ted Danson, plus a premise that sets it apart from pretty much everything else on television.

These days, that's tough.

Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, who has just died in a cheap, senseless little accident and wakes up in, yup, The Good Place.

The Good Place is everything that you were ever told heaven could be, and spending eternity here seems like everyone's dream.

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Eleanor's introductory tour guide is Michael, played beautifully by Danson (above). Michael isn't your classic archangel. He's more like a mid-level bureaucrat, the hotel manager.

He's also new on the job, which wouldn't matter except for one tiny little mistake: Eleanor isn't supposed to be here.

While she wasn't a mass murderer, she led a selfish and often intolerant life. She definitely belonged in the other place, which is where most people end up, because the standards for The Good Place are higher than most people, including Eleanor, meet.

Eleanor realizes the mistake when her dream house is clearly someone else's dream and she's matched up with an "eternal soulmate" she doesn't even like, partly because he's the wrong ethnicity.

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Her problem, of course, is that she can't go tell Michael there's been a mistake, because she really likes The Good Place and certainly doesn't want to be reassigned to the other place.

So she gets the bright idea to behave well enough so she in effect earns a spot by her current rather than her past behavior.

That's harder than it sounds, since it requires rewiring pretty much all her nature.

Now all this could potentially tie into the big spiritual and afterlife issues common to all religions and creeds.

It doesn't. The Good Place pretty much sidesteps religion, or at least any specific religion. The criterion for getting into The Good Place is more behavioral than spiritual, though the two frequently intertwine.

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Conversely, and equally important, it doesn't mock religion or make religion the target of its jokes. It just focuses more on Eleanor's secular life, then and now.

The Good Place aims for light comedy in the classic sense, and in the early going it achieves that, perhaps harking a bit to the gentle, lamented Pushing Daisies.

Therein, too, lies the danger for The Good Place. Light, quirky shows with a minimal focus on sex jokes have walked a tough road lately, and The Good Place will be facing strong competition when it settles next week into its regular timeslot, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

It would be quite wonderful, though, if it were to catch on. It's breezy, quirky and literate in an age when a growing number of TV comedies have taken a darker turn.

Sometimes TV should just be fun, which doesn't mean it can't hit pop culture notes and pluck more serious chords along the way.

There aren't many better places in TV's new crop of shows this fall.