5 movies and TV shows to help fill the Good Place-shaped hole in your heart
Let’s be clear: Nothing can replace The Good Place. The heavenly NBC comedy, which departed our mortal plane Thursday, was an utterly unique blend of components: fast-paced, whip-smart humor; a hearty dose of whimsy; plenty of optimism; twisty, intricate plotting; and a heaping helping of moral philosophy. Its conclusion leaves a hole in pop culture that nothing can completely fill, but there’s plenty out there that can recapture at least some of that Good Place flavor.
Of course, creator Michael Schur’s other cheerful comedies (Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) are always on the table, but we thought we’d offer some different-looking meals with shared, or at least similar, ingredients. Not all of them are obvious substitutes (we’ve conveniently ordered them from most to least directly similar to The Good Place), but all share something in common with the series thematically, if not cosmetically. Read on for our recommendations.
NBC’s dearly departed Community is the perfect show for a Good Place fan to binge if you missed it during its original run (if you’re most people, in other words; the critically adored sitcom was chronically low-rated throughout that run). EW already anointed The Good Place as Community’s worthy successor back in 2017, but here’s our new pitch for the unconverted: Not only are the shows equally unrelenting in their joke-per-minute rates, they’re oddly thematically consistent despite their deceptively divergent premises. (Both shows also have top-notch ensembles. Witness here Alison Brie and Donald Glover becoming stars before your eyes.) Community follows an unlikely group of friends at Greendale Community College through increasingly meta and pop-culture-skewering adventures, but (as this writer has argued before) beneath those high-concept elements the show tells an old-fashioned story of people coming together and finding a home in one another. Like The Good Place, Community believes in human beings’ fundamental decency, and in their collective ability to better themselves through the power of, well, community. (Available on Hulu)
A Matter of Life and Death
One of the greatest films by British masters Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death anticipates The Good Place’s celestial court proceedings while painting its own whimsical picture of the afterlife. Set during World War II, the film centers on Royal Air Force pilot Peter Carter (David Niven), who narrowly escapes death after bailing out of his plane — so narrowly, in fact, that a representative from the Other World is sent to retrieve Peter from the land of the living. Having now begun a romance with radio operator June (Kim Hunter), Peter demands an appeal, setting off an unprecedented trial overseen by the otherworldly denizens. Heartwarming, lushly romantic, and gorgeously shot in both Technicolor (for our world) and black-and-white (for the Other World), A Matter of Life and Death is a long-hidden gem (on this side of the Atlantic, anyway) that nicely complements The Good Place’s vision of the world waiting on the other side. (Available on YouTube)
What does it take for humans to become better people? The Good Place and Russian Doll seem to settle on the same answer: as many go-rounds as necessary. This Netflix series, co-created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and indie filmmaker Leslye Headland, tells the story of Nadia (Lyonne), who dies on the night of her 36th birthday — only to find herself trapped in a time loop, Groundhog Day-style. It would be a disservice to reveal much more, but suffice it to say that Russian Doll grapples with many of the same cosmic questions as The Good Place, without presupposing that an afterlife exists. As she dies, relives the night, dies again, etc., Nadia, like The Good Place’s Team Cockroach (or “cock-a-roach,” as she would pronounce it), moves toward a simple yet crucial epiphany: Helping other people is our best hope for fulfillment and happiness in this topsy-turvy world. (Available on Netflix)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Those who were enraptured by Eleanor and Chidi’s Jeremy Bearimy-fied romance should check out 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another tale of memory-wiped lovers with a timeline-twisting narrative of its own. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star as Joel and Clementine, a couple who decide to erase their recollections of each other after a breakup. As Joel relives their relationship in reverse, however, he starts to regret his decision, becoming determined to find Clementine again and give things another shot. Though spikier and rougher around the edges than The Good Place, Eternal Sunshine similarly blends heady concepts and emotionality, and Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-winning script poses a central question that should resonate deeply with Good Place fans: Are we doomed to repeat our past mistakes and failures? (Available on Starz or to rent on digital platforms)
Okay, yes, a nearly 60-year-old Japanese drama film might seem an odd recommendation for fans of a network TV comedy — but hear us out on this one. Directed by the great Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), Ikiru tells the tale of Kanji Watanabe (frequent Kurosawa leading man Takashi Shimura), a middle-aged career bureaucrat who’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and finds himself searching for meaning in his life and impending death. For those who loved The Good Place’s philosophical side, Ikiru scratches a similar itch, as Watanabe ponders how to come to terms with his fate and his place in the world. And like the show, the film lands on the idea that we should strive to do good in the world, and to use the means at our disposal to make things better. (Also, both share a disdain for the inefficiencies of bureaucracy. But don’t we all?) Nearly two and a half hours, black-and-white, and in a foreign language, Ikiru is an undertaking, sure, but it’s a powerful, unforgettable experience that will take less time to watch than whatever TV season you’re thinking of binging. So take Parasite director Bong Joon Ho’s advice, and overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles. (Available on The Criterion Channel)