The Good Place, This Is Us and Lost: We Had to Go Back

TV Features The Good Place
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The Good Place, This Is Us and Lost: We Had to Go Back

Whether it’s callingcamp Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt “a feminist Mad Men” or describing HBO’s Westworld as “Blade Runner meets Deadwood,” comparing the new to the classics is the age-old shorthand to get an audience interested. Even Vince Gilligan famously described Breaking Bad as watching Mr. Chips become Scarface.

But sometimes the correlation isn’t always as clear. At the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour last summer, the creators of two very different NBC series each claimed his new program was like Lost. Both Michael Schur, whose The Good Place follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell), an unexceptional woman who ends up in a blissfully perfect afterlife, and Dan Fogelman, whose dramedy This is Us uses intersecting storylines and time jumps to show a family’s history, believe their series evoke the beloved ABC series. Of course, neither of these new shows has a four-toed statue, polar bears or a hatch (yet). But to truly determine which of these series is most like Lost, we have to go back and examine the evidence.

The Good Place
The claim: The Good Place creator Michael Schur told critics, “The model for this show, in some ways… is Lost. I love that show. [Lost co-creator] Damon Lindelof was one of the first people I called when I had the idea. And I took him out to lunch, and I said, ‘We’re going to play a game called ‘Is This Anything?’ where I pitch you an idea and you tell me if it’s anything.’ And he gave me a lot of wonderful advice. And the reason I called him and wanted his advice is because the way I was imagining it going… in a Lost way of cliffhangers, and kind of big events, and dramatic things that change the course of the characters’ lives and stuff like that in every episode.”

The Evidence
Producer overlap: Lost writer and producer Drew Goddard directed the pilot and is an executive producer of The Good Place. (Schur says this hiring was a result of a Lindelof recommendation).

The cast: Call sheet rankings and salaries might beg to differ, but this is pretty much also an ensemble comedy where Bell, one of the show’s most famous cast members, gained notoriety for starring on Veronica Mars, a show geared to teenagers. (Peep Lost’s Matthew Fox rocking flannels and a half-mullet on ‘90s Fox drama Party of Five for more background).

Supporting characters: Lost’s dear Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ) and The Good Place’s Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) are both from Nigeria. One was a Roman Catholic priest. The other is an ethics professor. Both are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. As a child, Mr. Eko was willing to kill a man for the Nigerian guerrilla fighters in order to spare his little brother from having to break the sixth commandment. Chidi is risking his own chance at being able to spend eternity in the Good Place in order to save Eleanor from ending up in the Bad Place. Showcasing Mr. Eko’s other career is Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), a drug dealer posing as a Buddhist monk.

Poor little rich girl: Much like Lost’s spoiled Shannon Rutherford (Maggie Grace), The Good Place’s Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) also has more to her than just being pretty and entitled. Except this time we learn the character’s backstory right after she dies.

The setting: While Lost always toyed with the mythology of the afterlife, leaving many audience members to assume the survivors were actually in purgatory despite the creators insisting otherwise, The Good Place quite literally is set in heaven. Or, at least a version of it dreamed up by Schur, a man whose resume includes co-creating Parks and Recreation. (That Emmy nominated comedy featured, among other things, its residents’ deep devotion for a miniature horse.) Schur’s concocted immortal universe is actually a mix of many different religions. You know, like the word dharma. (And we don’t mean the concept of dharma Eleanor wrote about for the paper she turned in at Chidi’s “school”).

There are also reports of others who are in the Bad Place while the character Michael (Ted Danson) may not be able to leave this world. (Granted, he is the one who designed it).

Dialogue: Eleanor says “dude” a lot. Not as much as Hurley (Jorge Garcia) did, mind you. But then, few people do.

Vortex of suck: Where Lost had its smoke monster representing the bad Man in Black who could happen upon an unsuspecting islander, The Good Place has its sinkhole that can pull an unsuspecting inhabitant down to the Bad Place.

Time jumps: There are plenty of flashbacks to Eleanor’s questionable track record as a good Samaritan when she was mortal.


This is Us
The claim: This is Us creator Dan Fogelman told critics : “I describe it as a dramedy version of Lost where you have to understand how everyone’s connected and then kind of explore these people as they move forward. So they’re interconnected. [Actors] Milo [Ventimiglia] and Mandy [Moore]’s storyline jumps around in time. You can see that. There’s going to be different looks we play with. And the only way I can describe it is I sometimes think about the fact that I have a great-great-grandfather out there somewhere who[m] I never met nor do I know his name. But in his own way, he’s kind of affected my life because he raised my grandparents, who raised my parents, who have raised me.”

The Evidence
The cast: One of the most well known cast members is Ventimiglia, yet another actor who found fame early on in a teen-geared drama. (This one being Gilmore Girls. #TeamJess) He plays Jack: Just a guy who likes to fix things, is (possibly?) divorced and really commits to his facial hair choices. He also might be dead. Sounds like another Jack we know.

Supporting characters: There’s also a brunette named Kate (Chrissy Metz) and a blonde guy who shows off his abs like it’s in his job description. And, in this case, it is. Much to his dismay, Kevin (Justin Hartley) stars on a sitcom where plot points routinely require him to take off his shirt. Josh Holloway, who played the frequently bare-chested Sawyer on Lost, was also a hit with fans.

Casting overlap: Katey Sagal, who was the on-again/off-again girlfriend of Terry O’Quinn’s John Locke on Lost, plays Kevin’s power agent on This is Us.

Time jumps: This is Us’ scenes fluctuate from being set in modern day to various time periods in the 1980s and 1990s. As viewers see how the central siblings grew up, expect the series to bounce around the decades quite a bit.

Literary references: While Lost actually had a character named Sawyer (and also one named John Locke, if we’re being fair) the This is Us writers have so far been more obvious with their shout-outs to favorite writers. The the work of civil rights author Dudley Randall is a significant story point.

Daddy issues: Just about all of the Lost characters had some trouble with their parents. So far, this has really only come up for Randall (Sterling K. Brown). The adopted child turned self-made man has a lot of pent-up feelings to unleash on the biological father who abandoned him, William Hill (Ron Cephas Jones).

Cats: Although the feline has yet to be seen, apparently William owns a cat named Clooney. And while there was a brief situation with a cat in Sayid’s (Naveen Andrews) backstory on Lost, this is really a chance to celebrate one of the best fan-created tributes to a show that has ever gone viral

The verdict

While there are certainly parallels in each series (particularly in regards to This is Us’s character names), we’re chucking these up to, at most, a nod of appreciation. Both new shows have their own rulebooks and neither are Penny’s boat.