'The Good Place': TV Review
Michael Schur's breezy new comedy on NBC stars Kristen Bell as a terrible person who mistakenly ends up in heaven.
There is no lack of entrants in the race to make television's darkest half hour. You will find plenty of shows on the air that can fill 30 minutes with a lot more drama than comedy. Black humor, searing indictments of society or relationships and relentlessly bleak plot developments and themes have moved into the 30-minute neighborhood to such an extent that it no longer seems weird to watch 26 minutes of something and not laugh. The erasing of the notion of the half-hour sitcom is in full effect.
Which, of course, makes the arrival of NBC's delightfully breezy comedy The Good Place all the more welcome. As great as some of that other fare can be, sometimes you need a respite. The Good Place is sunny and funny and delivers immediately even if, over the long haul, it still has to prove that there are more jokes to find here other than variations on the main one.
And that main one is perfectly simple — Eleanor Shellstrop (the wonderful Kristen Bell) — has died and gone to the Good Place and not the Bad Place. That's good news for her. Even better is that she apparently beat the insanely high odds against anyone getting there — and part of the early fun of the show is having creator and writer Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) explain the intricate math that goes into the process of finding each human being's percentage of, you know, doing good things rather than bad things and getting a high enough score to get into the Good Place, while name-checking all the people who didn't make it, including a lot of alleged sure things.
"Hug a sad friend = +4.93. "Stiff a waitress" = - 6.63. It all adds up. Every thing you do. "Remain loyal to the Cleveland Browns" = + 53.83. "Tell a woman to 'smile'" = - 53.83.
However, in a world where everything is perfect (you are united with your "soul mate" there — they really exist but they may have been on the other side of the world) and percentages are exact, a huge mistake has been made.
That mistake is Eleanor, who is a really terrible person. She's selfish and mean (Bell is hilarious at bringing out all her faults) and her arrival in the Good Place is like a rip in the space-time continuum or, at the very least, a real blunder for Michael (Ted Danson), who is the architect of the Good Place.
Part of the premise of The Good Place is that Eleanor is the ghost in the machine, the impossible mistake and how does that discombobulate everything Michael has created? Of course, if the show were just about how Eleanor ruined what amounts to heaven/perfection each week, the joke would get old, so it's safe to assume she's not the only glitch in the system.
That could make The Good Place the kind of comedy that can branch out — and that might be necessary as early as, say, the fourth or fifth episode. Because as good as Bell and Danson are — and also William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Eleanor's soul mate and an excellent foil for her terrible behavior — the show will need to expand its world view to remain interesting.
The good news is that Schur is pretty brilliant at everything he does and The Good Place has some intriguing supporting characters (and no doubt more coming) who can take the show to the next level. In the meantime, it's a comedy unlike anything else on TV right now and part of that is because it seems so effortlessly fun. Jokes are plentiful and original and the show hums along delivering a lot of welcome joy. It might not be fall-on-the-ground funny, but you can definitely see a strong hand here in the creative writing and spot-on performances, which could prompt the old "season pass" from DVRs across the nation. The hard part comes a little bit later when the series will have to prove it's got more to offer, a few clear alternative directions that flesh out the concept. Otherwise, if it doesn't grow, it will end up in the worst place of all — piling up on the DVR or lost in the onslaught of everything else.
Cast: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto
Created and written by: Michael Schur
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (NBC)