Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delightful afterlife comedy
Cons: Takes a couple of episodes to build; theological issues
The Bottom Line:
As Eleanor tries to stay
“Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Mediocre People Who Are Lying About Their Identities?”
Despite being a fan of Kristen Bell, I decided I wasn’t going to watch The Good Place. I wasn’t interested in a comedy about the afterlife, and my experience with single camera comedies has been decidedly mixed. Yet I finally gave in over the summer and started watching the first season on demand. It wasn’t long before I was hooked.
We meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) on the day she died. She finds herself being greeted by Michael the Architect (Ted Danson). He explains that she has been good enough to make it to the Good Place. It’s not exactly anything she’s heard about while she was alive, but only one human really got the afterlife right. Michael is excited since she is part of his first neighborhood. It is filled with frozen yogurt shops and people who have all been good. Everyone there even has a soulmate, and Eleanor quickly meets hers, Chidi (Willian Jackson Harper). She also meets her new neighbor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Tahnani’s soulmate, Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a Buddhist monk who is keeping his vow of silence even into the afterlife. They even have a robot personal assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), at their beck and call.
There is just one problem – Eleanor is not qualified to be in the Good Place, and she knows it. She confides to Chidi, who begins to help her in her attempts to become good. But can they keep her secret? Will she be able to continue fooling people about who she really is?
Now, let me be clear from the outset that, as a Christian, I have huge theological issues with the premise of this season. That was the reason I wasn’t planning to start watching the show, and I was completely correct about that. In no way is my endorsement of this show an endorsement for a merit based view of the afterlife. However, viewed as a fantasy comedy, this show is pretty funny.
It takes a couple of episodes to lay the groundwork for the show, but once it does, the show makes me laugh. This isn’t a laugh a minute sitcom, but takes some time delivering some of the jokes. When it does, however, it really delivers. The situations are outright hysterical at times as things continue to spiral out of control for Eleanor, Chidi, and the others. And that’s not to say that the characters don’t get witty lines as well. There are plenty of jokes in the dialogue.
Unlike many half hour sitcoms, or at least the half hour sitcoms I watch, this one had a definitely story arc for the first season. That leads to some great cliffhangers at the end of the episodes as things get worse for our characters. Remember, I was watching this via On Demand after the first season had finished, and I was trying to watch just one episode a night. If I had the time, I often found myself watching more than one because I had to know what would happen next.
We do get flashbacks to our character’s lives before they died, and they provide some interesting background to what we are seeing now. Still, I actually found these to be a weak point of many of the episodes, mainly because I found Eleanor after death to be sympathetic, while the Eleanor before death was a royal jerk. This definitely proves she is correct that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place. The other characters weren’t as funny before they died, either.
Obviously, Ted Danson is best known for his comedy over the years, and I knew Kristen Bell could be funny from her work on Veronica Mars. I wasn’t surprised that they pulled off the comedy in this show perfectly. I wasn’t familiar with the rest of the cast, but they are just as perfect. Even when things take some seemingly strange turns, everyone’s performances keep things real for us, and their reactions are some of the funniest things in the show.
Since this show deals with the afterlife, we get more special effects than we would normally think of for a TV comedy. While a couple are obvious computer effects, for the most part, they work to further pull us into this world.
The creator of the show had mapped out a thirteen episode arc for the first season, and that is exactly what we got. (Considering the ratings could have been better, I don’t know what the network might have gone for.) That means there really is no filler, each episode propels things forward to the season finale, which wraps this first season up perfectly while leaving us dying to know what happens next. Trust me, I was thrilled I only had to wait about five weeks for season 2 to start, and since we are fast approaching the half way point of season 2 (NO!!!!!!!), you can watch this and then jump into season 2 with no waiting. Trust me, you’ll be glad about that.
The thirteen episodes are included in this two-disc set. They are wide screen and full surround, which is how the show originally aired. In the way of extras, we get two commentaries with two actresses, the creator, and one of the executive producers, a look at the special effects, a gag reel, and a table read.
I’m glad I gave this comedy a chance. The Good Place is delightfully funny and surprising. I hope more people find the show so we can get many more years laughing at these characters.
Season 1 Episodes:
3. Tahani Al-Jamil
4. Jason Mendoza
5. Category 5S Emergency Doomsday Crisis
6. What We Owe to Each Other
7. The Eternal Shriek
8. Most Improved Player
9. …Someone Like Me as a Member
10. Chidi’s Choice
11. What’s My Motivation
12. Mindy St. Claire
13. Michael’s Gambit