The Good Place
Season 1, Episode 1 & 2
This is a first look review of NBC’s The Good Place starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.
“You’re like the worst part of Superman!”
NBC has been left without a good set of comedies since the endings of Parks and Recreation and The Office. The Carmichael Show and Superstore filled the void but the scheduling for both shows was too far apart for the network to make a dent. With the introduction of Michael Schur’s The Good Place, NBC looks to be heading back to its own good place.
When the show begins, Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop is sitting on a couch in a large waiting room. Ted Danson’s Michael calls her in to tell her everything that’s happened. Eleanor has apparently died and was granted acceptance into the titular Good Place -- a neighborhood made up of some 300+ people, each paired with their soul mate. The rest of the cast is rounded out with William Jackson Harper (as Shellstrop’s soul mate, Chidi), Jameela Jamil (the much condescending Tahani), D'Arcy Carden (the Good Place’s resident AI-type, Janet) and Manny Jacinto (quiet monk and soulmate to Tahani, Jianyu).
But before the first commercial break, the audience learns that Bell’s Eleanor is the wrong person to be there. It seems that she’s supposed to be in the Bad Place (which we learn via Janet’s only available information a la terrifying exact moment audio is very, very scary). And after that initial slip, true characterizations for the cast are displayed. Bell’s Eleanor is crass and boorish, punctuating most of her sentences with an attempt at cursing (which she can’t do in the Good Place so instead she says phrases like “fork” and “shirt”).
The rules of the heavenly afterlife are almost set in stone but are laid out periodically via jokes and shorthand exposition. One of the best instances is when Eleanor requests that Chidi help her. He responds that his stomach hurts. Or, at the beginning of the second episode, Eleanor wakes up to everyone wearing the same zig zagged blue and yellow get up while giant bugs and trash rain from the sky. Chidi eventually comes to the conclusion that her being there is destroying the once perfect world. To add to that, personal attributes carry over from past lives. Jamil’s Tahani is gratingly snooty but she means well in the end. Jancinto’s Jianyu maintains his vow of silence as well.
It’s all genuinely smart and should invite several story elements for future episodes. But I do fear that it could grow old. Perhaps the second season could deal with Michael accepting Eleanor and her becoming a mentor as well. In the end, there appears to be a season long arc as Eleanor receives a note informing her that someone other than Chidi knows she doesn’t belong there. While that’s the least interesting plot point, it should help with cohesion.
And I also want to acknowledge the production of the show. It’s very bright and colorful, echoing Pushing Daisies to some extent. The inclusion of elements like being able to wish up anything you want should make this comedy soar. Oh and there’s flying. The direction of both episodes -- “Pilot” from Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield series) and “Flying” from Michael McDonald (MADtv) is wonderful. The same can be said about Schur’s pilot script and the follow up thanks to Alan Yang. That’s top tier talent right there.
Should you watch The Good Place?
100% yes. This is fall 2016’s first bona fide comedy hit. There are some small issues here and there (Bell’s character is tough to like all the way) but not enough to warrant not watching. Danson is great as the wanting to please his master craftsman Michael. And Harper performed admirably as Chidi. There’s going to be a lot of stories to tell about the Good Place.