This article contains spoilers through the series finale of The Good Place.
The architects of The Good Place are two men named Michael. One, played by Ted Danson, is a demon in a skin suit whose job is to devise preposterous and subtly cruel scenarios with which to provoke maximum silliness among the four oddball characters in his care. The other is Michael Schur, The Good Place’s creator and showrunner, whose job is to devise preposterous and subtly cruel scenarios with which to provoke maximum silliness among the four oddball characters in his care. And both reveal themselves as having an ulterior motive in the end: the desire to create something fundamentally meaningful, something that maybe has the capacity to alter the people who experience it for the better.
TV shows exist for a lot of reasons, very few of them high-minded and none entirely divorced from a framework that demands both viewership and profit. And yet the superlative ones try to do something else, too—to slightly influence the ways in which the people watching them understand the world, and one another. No recent series has done this as transparently as The Good Place. The NBC sitcom disguised itself as one thing (a comedy about a woman who accidentally got into heaven) before revealing that it was actually something else: a comedic appraisal of philosophy, morality, and the meaning of life. All of this was made palatable to network TV viewers with the help of winning stars, joyful puns, and a lightness of tone that kept things defiantly frivolous.