TV: The Good Place (Season 1)

January 23, 2017

The era of Peak TV may be dominated by dark visions, but fortunately there’s still room for upbeat fare like The Good Place, an unusual, smart, and effervescent genre comedy about the afterlife. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) awakens in Heaven, which turns out to be a bright, relentlessly pleasant neighborhood full of pristine people with spotless track records from their former lives. As the village’s architect Michael (Ted Danson) explains, only the very best people get to go┬áto the Good Place, where they’re paired with their soul mates to live out eternity in perpetual happiness. Everything would be great, except that the Good Place seems to have confused Eleanor with someone else. She’s actually a pretty terrible person who totally doesn’t belong in Heaven, a fact that starts to unravel the very fabric of the afterlife.

In some respects a conventional sitcom, The Good Place has a unique feel thanks to playful fantasy worldbuilding. Anything can happen in this malfunctioning, malleable corner of the afterlife, and so of course it does, quite unpredictably. Unlike creator Michael Schur’s other work like Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the show doesn’t generate laugh-out-loud moments so much as sustain a pleasant, happy grin. Its twenty-odd minutes go by very quickly thanks to a speedy pace and jam-packed plotting, which culminates in an ingenious finale. Kristen Bell is terrific in the lead; indeed, this may be the perfect vehicle for her. But she’s matched step for step by William Jackson Harper, who plays her frustrated ethics professor soul mate Chidi, and Danson, whose sitcom timing is as strong as ever. Jameela Jamil, D’arcy Carden, and Manny Jacinta provide consistently amusing support. It’s a great show that deserves a lot more eyeballs, and hopefully a renewal. We could use a few more insightful shows about ethics these days.