Plot: Eleanor (Kristen Bell) is recently deceased and in the afterlife, finds herself in The Good Place, a neighborhood for those who lived kind, ethical lives. This is a wonderful place where happiness abounds, you’re partnered with a soulmate, and eternity just sees like a dream come true, so of course Eleanor is thrilled. But she also knows she doesn’t deserve this eternal destination, as her life was filled with pettiness, rudeness, and a general negative presence. Her arrival in The Good Place is due to some kind of clerical error, but she plans to make her stay a permanent one and hide her past misdeeds well enough to stay under the radar. She elicits help from her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and expects him to guide her in the ways of being a good person, though of course she doesn’t often soak in the lessons. Meanwhile, architect Michael (Ted Danson) is going off his rocker trying to keep The Good Place in proper order, which is no simple task given the situation. Will Eleanor be found out and sent to her rightful eternal locale, or can she prove she belongs in The Good Place?
Entertainment Value: This premise might not be all that original, but The Good Place proves to be an interesting program and turns out to be a nice change of pace from the usual sitcoms on television. The key difference for me was that these characters aren’t all one dimensional stereotypes, so the humor can really be diverse and I appreciated this approach. At the same time, it also means that it might take a couple episodes or more to forge a connection and pick up on a character’s quirks and motivations, which is not a common trend. I think that holds true of The Good Place overall, perhaps not a show that hooks you from the jump, but if you invest a few episodes, it will likely keep you reeled in at that point. But some viewers are likely to just go based on the first episode, which might not sink in the hooks that well. The humor is still mostly broad, so it isn’t that far removed from the network television prototype, but it does inject some depth here and there to keeps things fresh. In any event, I appreciated the well developed characters and how that depth paid off in later episodes, if just as a nice break from the archetypes that tend to dominate television comedies.
The cast centers on Kristen Bell, who goes against type and plays a not so nice role for a change. She seems to relish this shift in tone and embraces the darker side, which of course amplifies the humor involved. A half hearted effort would have tanked the material, so I’m glad she ran with the chance to be the bad girl. At the same time, her sweetness still shines through and that is also important, since we are supposed to like her, or at least consider liking her at this point. She is a capable lead and carries the show well, though her supporting cast is more than solid as well. Ted Danson is fun as the oblivious architect, while Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, and D’Arcy Carden have colorful, interesting roles to bring to life. As I said, some of these roles have a nice amount of depth and so even if you don’t connect with them right off, just give it a few episodes. While this show does offer some fresh spins on television comedy, it is not likely to win over those who don’t typically watch the genre, as it still remains true to the basic blueprint in most cases. But if you’re on the fence, give it a few episodes and if you’re a tv comedy fan, you should find a lot to like here.