The New York Times Magazine's Sam Anderson went behind the scenes of the NBC sitcom to learn how Michael Schur was able to create a profound work of philosophy for network TV. The Good Place is, "by network standards, quite radical," he says. "It attempts a clever gambit. The American sitcom, since its inception, has struggled with a fundamental tension at its core. Let’s call it 'jester vs. guru.' We expect half-hour comedies to pull off an impossible double duty: to both inject jokes into the national bloodstream and to enlighten us with high-minded moral instruction. We want not only zany catchphrases but wise life lessons. The history of the form has been a constant tug of war between these two contradictory demands. Early sitcoms tended toward Very Special Episodes — morality plays in which we learned to honor our parents, say no to drugs and rat out even our most charming friends. The sitcoms that followed rebelled against such ham-fisted piety, replacing it with ironic cynicism. Seinfeld famously rejected the moral duties of the sitcom altogether; 30 Rock was a pure fire hose of laughs. The control knob turned, further and further, from wisdom toward jokes. The Good Place tries, improbably, to fulfill both functions at once. It wants to sit at both ends of the control knob simultaneously. Like any good modern comedy, the show is a direct IV of laughs, but the trick is that all of those laughs are explicitly about morality."
TOPICS: The Good Place, NBC, Parks and Recreation, Michael Schur, Pamela Hieronymi