Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Good Place? More Like The Food Race!

The Good Place begins with a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop being introduced to The Good Place, the heavenly afterlife that is her eternal reward after a lifetime of good deeds. There is frozen yogurt everywhere, her house is designed specifically to her tastes, and everything is wonderful.

Except that the Eleanor Shellstrop who did all those good deeds...is not her. This woman was not a very good person at all. She does not belong here. This is the first surprise Michael Schur throws at us, and it is far from the last.

On the surface, The Good Place looks like a silly sitcom about a bad person trying to act good so she doesn't get kicked out of heaven. And some showrunners would be happy making that show, but this show is much, much smarter. Which is not to say it isn't also deeply silly—so much of the humor and fun comes from the ludicrous conception of The Good Place and the absurd goodness of all the other residents, especially in comparison to Eleanor. It's a comedy with a great deal of worldbuilding, and almost every single episode reveals some new aspect of this creative cosmology. A point system here, a strange rule there. Luckily, Michael, the architect of The Good Place, is here to explain how the world works, as is Janet, the delightful helper A.I. who can also magick you some clothes because, hey, this is paradise! A paradise now tainted by the presence of Eleanor Shellstrop. How long can she remain undetected?

It's high-concept as hell, but Schur and his diverse team of writers are up to the task, managing to take a fantasy comedy and use it to explore philosophical and ethical conundrums every week, examining the very nature of morality and introducing the layperson to terms like "consequentialism." It contains the funniest joke about Aristotle on network television or any television, and also someone gets killed by an air conditioner. That's just the kind of show this is, and it wouldn't work if the characters pondering what makes a person good or bad—and why someone would deserve to be in The Good Place versus The Bad Place—weren't so damn endearing.

Eleanor consistently shows herself to be kind of a shitty person. Not an evil person, just a shitty one. But Kristen Bell makes you like her anyway, and sells both "Eleanor is trying to be good" and "Eleanor is trying to be good but hoo boy" equally well. Her soulmate/ethics tutor Chidi is a bundle of neuroses I can relate to; he and Eleanor make a wonderful odd couple. William Jackson Harper is a gift, taking the art of exasperated and/or confused reaction to new heights. Tahani initially seems like a cloying, condescending bench (sorry, you can't curse in The Good Place), but Jameela Jamil finds that perfect balance between UGH and AWW. Her soulmate/Buddhist monk Jianyu has taken a vow of silence, but Manny Jacinto still shines. I will pretty much love any A.I. character, but D'Arcy Carden as Janet is comic gold every time she's on screen, her perky, straightforward delivery nailing the joke every time. Finally—notably the only white man in the main cast—Ted Danson is utterly charming as Michael, who of course has no idea he's got a rogue in his perfect construction, and as much as you don't want Eleanor to be found out, you also don't want Michael to be sad. It's a fantastic cast from top to bottom, all the more impressive given that most of them apart from Bell and Danson are relatively unknown.

The Good Place starts out strong and gets better with each episode, and by episode five or six, it's firing on all cylinders, really finding its groove. It's a serialized tale with a clear story to tell, and it's extremely binge-able thanks to its constant cliffhangers. Seriously, a show should not be allowed to surprise you this many times in one forking season. In thirteen episodes, you witness six major character arcs that culminate in a finale that's easily one of the best of all time, a brilliant conclusion to an intricately constructed narrative. I was on a Great Television High for hours afterward, I was so impressed. What an incredibly clever, smart, thought-provoking, funny, heartwarming, fucked-up season of television.
Tags: kristen bell, new show squee, the good place, tv
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