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Every year comedies come along that try to wow us in a wide variety of ways. Some of them try to make us laugh in the simplest of ways with some good, old fashioned physical comedy, while some shows revisit the classic workplace or family situation comedy. But, on occasion a show tries to milk laughs from deeply flawed individuals, and if we're lucky those shows get the magic combination of the ridiculous situations the people get themselves into and them trying to work things out just right. They can't grow too quickly or the reason for the comedy gets sapped, but they also can't stay exactly the same forever without things getting at least a little stale.
Series like You're the Worst and Difficult People try to mine this combination for comedy and generally succeed. Now we have NBC's The Good Place trying for the same type of comedy, but without the bite of those other shows, and it manages to make it (basically) work even while being way sweeter than either of those shows. All in all, this trip to The Good Place is a nice one that'll leave you wanting more.
The Good Place focuses on the very recently deceased Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) who's just awoken to find herself dead and being introduced to the Good Place by heavenly guide Michael (Ted Danson). Once Michael tells her how she ended up in what is essentially heaven, Eleanor realizes that he has, somehow, mixed her up with someone else, and she's actually not supposed to be there. She confides in her soul mate (everyone gets one in heaven eventually), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a truly good person who spent his life studying and teaching ethics, and resolves to become a better person who's worthy of the Good Place so she won't end up getting found out and being sent to the Bad Place.
All the while, Eleanor's every instinct is telling her to do the wrong and, frequently, selfish thing, and the main focus of The Good Place is how she screws up and then tries to fix things when situations get hairy. As with most shows where the protagonist is seriously flawed the fun is in watching Eleanor fail and then work to get it right. And, Eleanor does fail, a lot.
To borrow a phrase from Eleanor, no one "royally forked up" (no once can curse in her corner of heaven) while putting together The Good Place, but the lack of bite does, perhaps, soften what would have been the edges a bit too much. Creator Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and executive producer Drew Goddard (The Martian, Daredevil) have given us a show that feels way more comfortable than I believe it should.
We need to look at Eleanor's behavior and cringe while we laugh, instead everything she does just seems like par for the course; nothing she does is particularly shocking, and that's where I think the show goes wrong most of the time. I was hoping for actions so outrageous that I couldn't help but laugh at how wrong Eleanor is; instead, I flashed a lot of warm smiles of gentle recognition. So, it's not an out of the park home run, but The Good Place will make you feel, well, good.
Despite being sort of soft around the edges, it's hard not to enjoy The Good Place. Kristen Bell is perfectly cast as the worst person in heaven; her version of a self-absorbed woman who thinks she knows the limits of her kindness is fun to watch. She actually sparkles a little in the role, lighting up the show with her scenes and making viewers want to watch her more. Ted Danson has dependably thrown himself into the role of Michael, a functionary in heaven who's proud of the neighborhood he's created, but can still see the problems and is trying desperately to fix them and keep heaven a perfect place.
Of the four episodes I watched, I can tell you that the show does get funnier and even more likable as it goes on, and, when I stopped watching, I did want to know what would happen next. Some of this is because a major reveal is made that makes it impossible not to want to know more, but a lot of it is also because the rest of the cast is perfectly suited to their roles as well. William Jackson Harper is a standout as the constantly frustrated Chidi, as is the reliably perky D'Arcy Carden as a sort of information officer of heaven named Janet. If you try The Good Place, and I think you should, you'll probably find that it makes you feel like you're wrapped up in your favorite robe, comfortable and cozy. And, sometimes, that's a great thing to get when you watch a TV show.
The Good Place debuts with a special one hour premiere on NBC at 10 p.m. EST Monday, September 19, and then moves to it's regular time slot of 8:30 EST on Thursday September 22.
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