The next project from successful showrunner Mike Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is here, and it’s not like anything you’ve seen before. In one of the more original new series of Fall 2016, The Good Place veers away from Schur’s typical (and hugely successful) workplace comedies and tackles the afterlife. But can a show touch on a subject like this, find good ways to handle issues like religion and morality, and still manage to stay funny? Find out if The Good Place is worth visiting.
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What It’s About
The Good Place explores life after death, in the supposed afterlife for do-gooders of Earth. Not exactly called heaven, “The Good Place” is where the good people of Earth go to live out eternity. Getting here is determined by the architect, Ted Danson’s Michael. He tallies up every good and bad thing you did during your time on Earth to see which one outweighs which. Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop ends up in The Good Place due to a processing error. They mistake her for a death-row lawyer with the same name who had a heart of gold. Bell’s character, on the other hand, is the opposite side of the spectrum. She lived life selfishly and treated people (hilariously) poorly.
Now that she’s made it to The Good Place, she’s got no plans of leaving. She must now con the rest of this small-town community into believing she is who they thought she was, while still calling out eccentric, but good-natured people. The show isn’t perfect, but shows rarely are in the first few episodes, especially with a highly ambitious plot like this. That being said, it feels pretty safe to say this series will find its way.
Ted and Kristen Know What They’re Doing
Neither co-star Ted Danson or Kristen Bell are newbies to television, let alone comedy. Danson is best known for his sitcom roles in Cheers and Becker, but the dry humor in The Good Place is more in tune with his role as himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Though he’s not seen nearly as much as Kristen Bell, some could argue that Danson is what gives this show the extra oomph to make it. His scenes always work (be on the look out for hilarious Easter eggs in all of them) and his one-liners become something you eagerly wait to hear when he appears on screen.
Kristen Bell has this charisma on-screen that makes you want to root for her. Even in this new show, where her character is kind of a jerk and would seem to be the least likeable person you’d meet up there, you can’t get enough of her. It’s not even really in a “love-to-hate” way, but more in a “love Kristen Bell always” way.
Both these actors pull off the delivery in all of their scenes and each clearly have enough experience to carry a show by themselves. Their scenes together are well-performed as well. Danson and Bell have a chemistry together which we haven’t seen on TV in a while, but is all too familiar with a Mike Schur show. However it is he gets actors to seem genuine with each other, he’s clearly perfected it. When a show can pull off chemistry like this right off the bat, it’s usually a great sign for its longevity.
The Ensemble Needs Work
While Bell and Danson seem to have mastered the chemistry already, the rest of the cast still needs some work. William Jackson Harper, who plays Eleanor’s soulmate Chidi, works well playing off of Bell’s energy, but perhaps his character needs a little more substance. In fact, most of the rest of the cast feels pretty one-layered at the moment, as The Good Place citizens are all seemingly the straight-men to Bell’s Eleanor. This makes sense, given that they’re all the goody-goods who are supposed to end up in heaven, but for the show to grow, it would be great to see a little more humanity in them. We have confidence that this will happen though, and minor characters’ backgrounds are sure to develop. As we’ve seen in every Mike Schur show, his casts are made up of equally vital characters.
Small Town Comedy
If you look at just the plot of this show, you may not think it has the legs to go the distance. How long can a series about a girl in heaven who isn’t who people think she is actually last? Just until she’s exposed right? Even having strong seasoned co-stars like Danson and Bell isn’t a surefire recipe for the series. We’ve seen shows with similar star combos fail after just one season (look at Grandfathered and The Grinder).
The biggest hope we have for this show is that Mike Schur is able to work some Parks and Rec magic on The Good Place. One of the most endearing things about Parks and Rec was its fictional town of Pawnee, full of strange-minded weirdos. The Good Place has the potential for this and much more. Given no gates on his imagination (I mean, it’s set in the afterlife, for God’s sake), Schur can create as strange and entertaining of personalities as he can dream of for these characters. The show could even shift to make Bell more of a straight-man to the rest of this crazy town’s inhabitants, or balance somewhere in the middle.
Once Eleanor is inevitably exposed as a fake, the show can easily still live on with this in mind. Mad Men soared long after Don Draper was exposed as Dick Whitman, because at that point, it didn’t matter. There were so many other things going on. So, while having big names and a gimmicky plot aren’t always enough to tune in to a show, good chemistry and a lot of heart definitely are. The Good Place is definitely worth checking out.
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The Good Place premieres Monday, September 19 at 10pm on NBC.
(Image courtesy of NBC)