10:45am PT by Daniel Fienberg
Take Me to the Pilots '16: NBC's 'The Good Place'
[I'll remind you at the top of every single one of these: These entries are not reviews. They're gut reactions to not-for-air pilots that could change in big and small ways between now and September or October or midseason. Full reviews will come then. They'll be longer. And more carefully considered. The opinions may even change. Who knows?]
Show: The Good Place (NBC)
The Pitch: Since Albert Brooks' collected works just arrived on Netflix, this one is easy ... it's Defending Your Afterlife.
Quick Response: Comedy premise pilots don't get much premise-ier than The Good Place, which is 23 minutes of, "Here are the rules and regulations and culture of the afterlife," delivered in monologues, an orientation film and one long-running sight gag after another. Creator Mike Schur and pilot director Drew Goddard have packed the pilot with an amount of information — expositional, visual, textual, you name it — that verges on Simpsons-esque, and there were at least a half-dozen times that I had to pause or rewind my screener to catch a secondary or tertiary joke that I missed because I was concentrating on the primary joke. I didn't always laugh at the jokes I went back to catch up on, but I laughed at a lot of them, especially the complicated calculus that gets people in or out of The Good Place, but really at a bunch of the details that have been layered in. Punchlines predominate here, but there's limited "plot" to speak of and I'm sure there are test audiences who might call Kristen Bell's Eleanor "unlikable," because she's a "bad person" (albeit one accidentally filed in "heaven"). Fortunately, Bell is the perfect actress to make irredeemable characters redeemable, which basically mirrors the show's story. From overt laugh lines like her frustrated inability to swear to reactive, dialogue-free details that come as she's observing this new world around her, Bell's got a great role — Schur knew how to write for her on Parks and Recreation and still does. Ted Danson is well-cast as an over-eager, angel-type figure, and I like the energy William Jackson Harper brings as a guy who actually earned his spot in The Good Place.
Desire to Watch Again: High-but-curious. This is not the first installment of a TV show. It's the first act of a 95-minute movie. Based on the initial trailer, I wasn't even sure if it was *that,* but I kinda see what the short-term story is now. It's Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady [or, if we're being brutally honest, Selfie]). This feels like one that needed an hourlong premiere and one where I'll really, really want multiple episodes before reviewing.