The only problem with The Good Place, so far, is that it’s such a wild concept that by the time it gets done establishing the largely unknown parameters of what’s going on… there’s no way to know what’s going on. How episodes are going to play out is anyone’s guess, which throws an unusual spin on figuring out if you want to keep watching.
Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) suddenly finds herself in a waiting room, but before she can get her bearings, Michael (Ted Danson) opens an office door, and tells her to come in. It turns out, Eleanor is dead, but there’s nothing to worry about, because she’s in The Good Place.
Apparently, whatever the afterlife consists of (according to Michael all religions have things about 5% right), the uncountable hordes of humanity are broken up into neighborhoods that best fit who they are, and are put together with their actual soul mates, and whoever else may be properly disposed to live in the same setting. (Eleanor and her ilk are keen to live in a small, village taken from a theme park, that is overloaded with Frozen Yogurt stands.)
Once Eleanor meets her soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and her neighbor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil), she confesses to Chidi that she isn’t actually the person Michael thinks she is, and isn’t supposed to be here. Not that she was a horrible person, though she wasn’t real high on the ethical spectrum, but now that she’s here, she realizes that the standards seem outrageously high, and The Bad Place is really bad.
With few options open to her, she decides that she’s going to fake her way through, and she’s going to need Chidi’s help. That makes for a dilemma for him (who knew the tough choices weren’t over?), because he wants to be honest, but she needs help. What’s a supergood person to do?
It’s an idea that’s just crazy enough to work, but how does it keep moving? There are a few hints pretty quickly, not the least of which being that Tahani seems a little too interested in entertaining, and being impressive to have put a lock on her own spot in The Good Place, but how long can a show keep spinning the idea?
The show drags you along, making the most of the pure outlandishness it’s throwing at you, and you’re going to laugh, but for the first few episodes, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be comfortable with your own evaluation of the show. When it could go anywhere, at any point, it could jump off a cliff at a moment’s notice.
What will keep you interested won’t be the clowns, the curiosity of getting drunk in “Heaven,” or the general attitude inherent in a semi-mean girl reacting to nirvana. Instead, it will be the more tangible assets the show has going for it. There’s something to be said for having a long career in sit-coms behind you, and Ted Danson is able to play just the right balance in a role that is deceptively complex. Bell is in the same boat, and does just as well. This is a brand of comedy that isn’t for everyone, and selling “bonkers” as an overall theme is something most actors and actresses just aren’t capable of, because one false step, and it all goes stupid.
This leads to the other positive the show has, which people shouldn’t ignore, and that’s creator Michael Schur. Schur, just to give a visual, played Dwight’s brother, Mose, on The Office (and wrote several episodes), and he also co-created Parks & Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The latter may theoretically have the benefit of episodic fodder related to being in a police precinct, but they are both shows that turn “wacky” into comedy gold.
The Good Place turns things up a few notches, and that’s from a place that was already pushing the envelope of what people might write off as silly, and what might easily become silly, which makes Danson all the more of a necessity.
There’s a certain The Odd Couple feel to the angle the show seems to be working, as viewpoints collide, and the more it embraces the subtlety along with the outlandish, the more likely it is to become a hit.
For now, this is one that you absolutely have to give a chance, because once this can settle into a rhythm beyond trying to get you to figure out what’s going on, the odds are that it will be the most fun you can find on television.