The Good Place is critically acclaimed not only for its humor and fascination with ethics, but as a Genre Deconstruction of the Sitcom, Deconstructed Character Archetypes based off of recurring sitcom character archetypes and the idea of Character Alignment itself.
This page contains unmarked spoilers. You Have Been Warned!
- Aesop Amnesia: After the four humans discover that they were in the Bad Place the entire time, Michael has their memories erased and removes all of the Character Development they accumulated throughout the first season. No matter what Michael does, they all continue to grow and change and become better before they figure out that they are in the Bad Place. Chidi lampshades this in "Dance Dance Resolution", making a point that them suffering hardships and learning to be better afterwards but unable to benefit from the experience is a type of Hell in and of itself. The repetitive nature of their work had caused Michael's entire crew to leave the experiment, forcing him to forgo the mind-wiping strategy and join the humans out of self-preservation. When their memories are erased in the Season 2 finale, he and Janet's memories remain and they are able to manipulate their friends behind the scenes to their benefit. This is also weaponized in the Season 3 finale, when Chidi volunteers to have his mind erased to better their chances of the Medium Place Experiment's success .
- Always Chaotic Evil: Employees of the Bad Place predisposition towards being bad causes them to not only be intentionally obstructive to humans and each other, but they have been taking advantage of back-channels and flaws in the system to their benefit at the expense of mankind, Shawn having known about the massive flaw in the system and did nothing to fix it because it gives the Bad Place more humans to torment. However, their existence is a necessary evil for the moral balance of the universe, their adherence to the Celestial Bureaucracy meaning they are supposed to be Lawful Evil but the flaw in the system (plus Shawn just being a Bad Boss in general) led to their purpose being perverted into needless cruelty. Before Michael found out about the flaw in the points system, Shawn was the only person to notice this and chose not to tell anyone. When Glenn discovered that Shawn was more interested in cheating the system rather than fulfilling the Bad Place's true purpose, he tries to warn the Soul Squad of Shawn's mole. This combined with Michael's HeelFace Turn in only a matter of months makes their inherent evil more of a question of Nature vs. Nurture.
- Be Yourself: Both Eleanor and Jason hate pretending to be other people - more specifically, people who are way better than they ever were on Earth. However, as they slowly realize, they shouldn't aspire to be the people they were on Earth since they might have enjoyed themselves more, but they were also just terrible people who made the lives of everyone around them miserable. Eleanor is the first one to decide to try and change for the better with Chidi's help, first just to save her own ass from ending up in the Bad Place but later out of a genuine desire to atone and become a better person. Jason, meanwhile, isn't interested in improving himself at all until Eleanor verbally castigates him and he's forced to realize the hilariously massive stakes he's dealing with and his need to atone for having been an awful human being. In summary, one shouldn't "be themselves" if when they're themselves, they're not making anyone else's lives better and they're making themselves miserable.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment/Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Bad Place's torments are hilariously sadistic, childishly petty, and cheerfully Cross the Line Twice at every available opportunity. However, the cruel creativity seen behind these many punishments (i.e., people being attacked "bees with teeth" and "butthole spiders") is because the denizens of the Bad Place have been torturing humanity for all of eternity and have just gotten so damn bored of the whole song-and-dance by now. After all, it's not like the Bad Place employees are really seen doing almost anything else aside from tormenting humanity - They're as sick and tired of the constant grind of endless torture as their own prisoners are. What's the whole point in torturing someone if it just goes on and on forever and neither side really gets that much entertainment out of it? Sure, Evil Feels Good for demons in this universe, but even they have their limits. Michael's Fake Good Place Neighborhood project was started with the goal of having the prisoners torment each other and was given such leeway & support because everyone (Michael especially) is getting so tired of the same old thing that they're chomping at the bit for any possibility for trying something new. Even Shawn eventually admits to Michael that his personal vendetta against Team Cockroach is the best source of drama and humor that he's had in effectively millennia. It's in the final season, when the Bad Place is effectively turned from a generic "eternal hell" into a makeshift Purgatory (where instead of endlessly torturing humans, they selectively torment humans in psychological gambits until they go through enough Jerkass/Heel Realizations to figure out their flaws, move past them, and become truly deserving of the Good Place), that the Bad Place Employees seem to finally reach a state where they're genuinely happy and are glad to be doing something that's actually productive and not just pointless. Pain and suffering needs to have a purpose for it to be worth anything - Otherwise, it's worse than useless.
- The Ditherer: One of Chidi's defining character traits is his indecisiveness. His complete inability to make any decision not only gave him non-stop anxiety his entire life, but it also sent him to the Bad Place because no matter how good his intentions were, he was sent to the setting's equivalent of Hell because it made the people around him miserable.
- Easy Road to Hell: The show exposits that the moral point system is incredibly exact, with every single action a person takes no matter how small (like eating a sandwich or buying a trashy magazine) matters in the fate of one's eternal soul. You make enough points, you go to the Good Place and enjoy paradise. You don't make enough points, you go to the Bad Place to be tortured for eternity. At first it is believed that Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani went to the Bad Place because they were too flawed and were deserving of Hell. In Season Three however, it is revealed that no one has gotten into the Good Place in 521 years. The system itself operates on Black-and-White Morality standards applied to a Grey-and-Gray Morality moral Earth, turning the idea of living ethically in the modern age into nothing but a glorified Morton's Fork. While the trope is normally applied to a typical "Humans Are Bastards" Aesop, here it's the system that is to blame and not mankind.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Throughout the series, the Good Place has been described in vague terms, the neighborhood Michael designed to torture Team Cockroach based around what he had only heard what the Good Place was like and having the threat of being kicked-out and sent to Hell being their incentive to stay, the torture coming from that looming threat and simply being around each other. When the gang finally get there in "Patty", it is everything they ever thought it would be... and it sucks. Or rather, it was designed to be the ultimate Utopia where everything they could ever need or want is given to them. Forever. Give the humans there enough time and they'll run out of things to do and the overwhelming positive feelings they are constantly bombarded with loses its novelty. The Good Place Committee had it just as bad, struggling to come up with new ways to keep their residence happy and content, unaware that humans are more complicated than that and need that diversity of experience. By the time Team Cockroach enters the Good Place, Hypatia of Alexandria is an easily distracted mess and everyone else are all lumbering zombies deprived of any passion or meaning because they had already experienced every good thing the Good Place had to offer with nothing but time to kill, and the Good Place Committee leaves Michael to figure it out himself. To coin a metaphor, the Good Place's inhabitants are basically all the Player Characterss in a video game with infinite lives and all the cheats enabled - Sure, it's incredibly easy... but where's the challenge that makes continuing on worthwhile?
- Foil: Michael chose the original four for his Good Place experiment specifically so that they would torture each other with their conflicting personalities, he and the rest of the Bad Place employees meant to subtly push them together to make them miserable as glorified props. Tahani would make Eleanor miserable for being more successful, Eleanor would make Chidi miserable by making him contradict his own ethics trying to keep Eleanor from being discovered and be forced to teach her philosophy, Chidi would make Eleanor miserable by making her contradict her own base instincts to do bad things, Chidi would make Tahani miserable because they seem to be compatible to each other yet he would prefer to be with Eleanor (or "Real Eleanor"), Jason simply being Jianyu made him miserable (something exacerbated by Tahani wanting him to talk to her) and Jason making Eleanor and Chidi miserable for fear of his idiocy blowing their cover. What Michael did not count on was for their personalities complimenting one another, as not only do they become friends in-spite of (or, to be honest, in part because of) their conflicting personalities, but they complete and benefit each other as well, Eleanor becoming a better person and outing herself and derailing his plan. When they repeat the experiment in the Medium Place, the Bad Place sends humans who where specifically chosen to conflict with the original four's personalities.
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Most Sitcoms are made to be family-friendly and accessible to general audiences, so cursing is usually made nice, clean and PG-13. Here, it is made into an In-Universe mechanic as using real curse words is made physically impossible in the Neighborhood to make it as wholesome as possible. With the reveal that the Neighborhood is actually in the Bad Place, this makes it is a subtle means of torture by way of not allowing Team Cockroach to use them for catharsis. When the gang makes it to the real Good Place in Season 3, this is used as a sign that they really are in the real Good Place.
- Humanity Ensues: At the start of the series, Janet is less a person and more of an abstract character archetype of The Pollyanna, being incapable of expressing any emotion other than optimism and store-clerk politeness. After being rebooted over 800 times, she becomes more and more sophisticated and begins to behave more and more like a real person. This has many drawbacks, as this gives her many emotions that she literally was not designed to feel (genuine love, anger, depression, heartbreak, etc.) which causes massive problems with her capacity to serve her purpose and run the neighborhood.
- Lawful Evil: The Employees of the Bad Place are demons who's existence in the Celestial Bureaucracy is to represent evil in the moral balance of the universe, their job specifically to punish humans who failed to gain enough points for the Good Place. However, their natural state is being evil, so of course they will be generally unpleasant to themselves and each other as well as the humans they are torturing. The setting's equivalent of Satan Shawn adheres to his Character Alignment by doing nothing to identify the flaw in the system just so that the Bad Place has more humans to torture, making a mockery of the Bad Place's purpose. However, when word gets out of the truth, Glenn defects and tries to help Michael and the humans because he actually believes in the Balance of Good and Evil, seeing Shawn trying to cheat as an affront to this. According to Michael, maintaining this balance is a commonly held belief in the Bad Place, so if knowledge of the system's flaws becomes common, there would be unrest among them.
- Lawful Good: Employees of the Good Place represent the "good" side of the Celestial Bureaucracy, meaning while they are all nice, thoughtful and fun-loving, it also makes them Super Gullible. Team Cockroach manages to run circles around Gwendolyn, and Michael was able to steal Janet from the Good Janet warehouse because they did not think anyone would try stealing one. Not only that, but they are also the most dedicated in following the rules of the Celestial Bureaucracy than anyone else regardless of whether it is ethically right, thus Team Cockroach has to lie to them as a matter of necessity and the Good Place Committee's desire to remain as impartial as possible in dealing with the flaw in the system will result in thousands of innocent people to be sent to the Bad Place in the meantime.
- Lawful Neutral: Neutral beings like Gen (The Judge) and Neil (The Head Accountant) allowed a massive flaw in the afterlife's system to go unnoticed for over 500 years out ignorance in their dedication to remain "impartial" in a universal moral system they hold absolute faith in. Not only that, but being neutral means that they are not meant to deliberately help or hinder anybody, Gen willfully holding back her omniscience under the assumption that it makes her fair and Neil allowing Matt's deteriorating mental state go unnoticed.
- Status Quo Is God: In most sitcoms, the basic establishment of a premise and its characters tend to stay the same episode-to-episode to make it more accessible to newer viewers and make it easier to prolong the show's run. Michael created his neighborhood experiment under the assumption that humans are Static Characters, so he is thrown for a loop when Character Development happens and Eleanor defies all of her instincts and outs herself, leading to them discovering the truth of their Ironic Hell. Michael erases their memories back to square one, but no matter how many times he does this, they always learn and change and figure him out.
- Even moreso? This show lacks a Status Quo! Not only does every episode move the plot forwards, but come Season 2, the group is constantly being pushed forwards, and things are changing. Even in Season 1, after the Episode 7 twist, things started changing rapidly! The memory wipes are shown in a mere 12 minutes!
- By the finale of the show it has gone from being about one woman trying to become good enough to earn her accidental place in heaven, to being about that one woman and her friends new role in fixing the entire structure of the afterlife which allows human souls to earn a place in heaven rather and also to end their existence once they no longer feel it has anything to offer.
- Take That!: Weirdly enough, yes. Overlapping with Easy Road to Hell, there's a Running Gag of what are pretty obviously petty annoyances or personal bugbears of the series' writers being all-but automatic tickets to the Bad Place (i.e., being a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). This might seem to be just amusingly petty/childish jabs in the moment... but as the series goes on, it turns out to actually be Foreshadowing of the points system for the afterlife being horribly screwed up and completely incompatible with modern-day life. In reality, consigning someone to go to Hell for all eternity just because they enjoy a band that you don't like isn't just immature and cruel, but downright sadistic and insane, showcasing how the protagonists need to get the afterlife's management team (i.e., Gen and the Accounting Department) to properly understand the consequences of their actions in order to save both themselves and the entirety of the human race.