The Good Place is a sitcom in the sense that it's a half-hour long and it's funny — some of the jokes are even delivered by Ted Danson, whom series creator and executive producer Mike Schur considers to be the greatest sitcom actor ever. But beyond that, it's not like any other network sitcom you've ever seen. Almost everything about it — from its concept to its heavily serialized structure to its number of episodes — makes it feel more like a drama than a comedy. But not like a dramedy — The Good Place is a comedy that operates like a drama. Or even like a novel.
"The episodes are called chapters instead of episodes because it feels like you're reading a book — or at least that's my goal," Schur tells TVGuide.com. "Every episode has a sort of to-be-continued feeling."
The Good Place has a novelistic concept that sets it apart from the standard workplace or family or friends-hanging-out sitcom. It stars the immensely appealing Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who dies and finds herself in "the Good Place," an afterlife where everything is perfect and nice and is populated by people who lived good, clean lives. As the Good Place's architect Michael (Danson) puts it, "You know the way you feel when you see a picture of two otters holding hands? That's how you're going to feel every day." But Eleanor being there is a mistake, since she was kind of an ash-hole (all curses get sanitized in the Good Place) when she was alive. Her presence causes a sort of glitch in the Good Place's Matrix and crazy stuff starts happening, like giant ladybugs attacking the neighborhood.
Michael doesn't know that Eleanor is causing all this to happen, and she wants to keep it that way. The only way she'll get to stay in the Good Place is if she learns how to be a better person. She starts to take ethics courses from her confidante Chidi (William Harper), who was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy when he was alive, and she tries to start being nicer and putting other people first. Meanwhile, she's also playing a cat-and-mouse game with Michael, who's trying to suss out the source of the chaos. It creates a viewing experience akin to watching a serialized drama.
"Lost is a spiritual ancestor of this show," Schur says. He would love for people to watch The Good Place sort of like how they watched that mysterious ABC drama, where tuning in when it airs is an event not to be missed or you'll be out of the loop when everyone talks about it the next day. Schur is chasing a feeling like when the castaways opened the hatch at the end of the first season of Lost. "I think that there's no more exciting or rewarding thing for a viewer of TV than when a show hooks you in like that," he says.
One of the big ways The Good Place is doing hooking is by making a simple but significant switch to the sitcom formula. Instead of episodes ending on big laughs, the episodes end on suspenseful dramatic moments. Each episode is still packed with jokes, but there's the added dimension of a dramatic storytelling flourish at the end.
So if you want a show that makes you laugh, makes you think and leaves you on the edge of your seat, The Good Place is for you.
The Good Place kicks off with a special preview Monday, Sept. 19 at 10/9c after The Voice, and has its official series premiere Thursday, Sept. 22 at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.