Tag Archives: The Good Place

The Good Place: Off to a good-but-not-great start

I wasn’t at all sold on The Good Place based upon the previews, but it looked just weird and whimsical enough that I felt like I had to check it out anyway. I’m glad I did, because The Good Place is genuinely good, with the potential to be great if it continues to play upon its strengths and gives up on a couple of it’s more irritating quirks and doesn’t avoid delving into some of its darker themes.

Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor Shellstrop, an asshole who dies (tragicomically, of course) and is mistakenly sent to The Good Place because she shares a name with a woman who works as a lawyer rescuing inmates from death row. Hijinks ensue as Eleanor is introduced to—and promptly confesses the clerical error to—her soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a professor of ethics who is now faced with a major ethical dilemma. Ted Danson is Michael, the neurotic architect of the theoretically-perfectly-designed afterlife town in which they find themselves residing, and Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto are Tahani and Jianyu, the next-door neighbors. D’Arcy Carden rounds out the main cast as Janet, a sort of magical Google whose perfect discretion seems to have her slated to be Eleanor’s sometime-accomplice as Eleanor tries to ensure that she gets to stay in The Good Place. It’s a decent cast, and Danson and Bell both do a good job of performing without overshadowing the relative newcomers they share scenes with.

The pilot episode is largely dedicated to exposition, starting with Eleanor’s death and launching right into a tour of the neighborhood, the introduction of her soulmate, and a hilariously informative orientation video that details some of the point system by which souls are judged. It’s a lot to take in, and it does at times feel a little info-dumpy, but it’s a worthwhile use of time that gets a lot of the important exposition out of the way right up front, hopefully keeping it from getting in the way of storytelling later on. It’s also very, very funny, with the exception of the running joke about Eleanor not being able to curse, which wasn’t even very funny the first time.

In addition to giving us the outlines of the show’s high concept, the pilot also introduces its big idea, which is a simple question: What does it mean to be Good? It’s obvious from the start that the show intends for us to understand goodness as something far more complex and nuanced than any numerical score can really calculate, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep examining and reexamining such a simple idea in interesting ways week after week. Eleanor’s road to redemption as she works to earn her place in paradise promises to be a rocky one, with plenty of laughs along the way, but I’m not entirely certain it merits a television series.

Secondary ideas like the concept of “soulmates” have been introduced as well, and the exploration of that idea could be fascinating. Bell and Harper have an easy, if somewhat sexless, chemistry, and it’s obvious that Eleanor stimulates Chidi on an intellectual level; I loved the scene where he is gleefully planning out a curriculum for Eleanor’s ethical education. Even more interesting is the relationship between Tahani and Jianyu, both of whom seem to be completely miserable in their assigned partnership. They’re obviously mismatched, and Tahani in particular has a sort of subdued desperation when it comes to her interactions with her soulmate that is at odds with her otherwise garrulous personality. I’d love to see that looked at in more depth, in no small part because it would rescue Tahani from being little more than a caricature of clueless philanthropic posturing.

Honestly, my biggest concern with this show is that I don’t know if the half-hour sitcom format is going to give these characters and themes the time they need to grow in the depth they’ll need to keep being interesting. There’s not a whole lot going on here, which is fine—I like a show that knows what it wants to be and sticks to it—but is twenty-ish minutes going to be enough for it to be successful? The jokes are funny, but barely enough for a half hour. However, the themes have enough potential that they could easily drive an hour-long dramedy.

Also of concern is the sheer derivativeness of every aspect of the show so far. Charitably, I could call it a mash up of a lot of beloved tropes and aesthetics. Uncharitably, I’d say it relies far too much on its similarities to other shows in order to build good will with the audience. There are shades of Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and every other death-related show or movie of the last fifteen years. The kitsch of the setting is fun, but it doesn’t do enough so far to set itself apart visually from either common conceptions of heaven or bucolic television small towns like Star’s Hollow. It’s fine, if you like that sort of thing (and I do), but it’s certainly not winning any awards for originality.

Still, I’m cautiously optimistic about this show’s prospects. I don’t think we’ve got a hit on our hands, but I do think it’s going to be a few hours of fun that probably won’t make its audience think too hard (although perhaps it ought to). There are some amazing comedic moments in these first two episodes, and the capable cast seems to be having fun, which is infectious and endearing. So far, The Good Place is likeable enough for me to want to watch more, even if it doesn’t have me terribly excited.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • That orientation video begs for frame-by-frame analysis.
  • I really hope the show continues to let Tahani’s rather desperate unhappiness peek out from time to time.
  • I feel like The Good Place is obviously a dystopia, and I hope that this is proven out over the next few episodes. The sort of enforced cheer of the place’s residents needs to be looked at.
  • Ted Danson kicking that dog into the sun was genuinely surprising and probably the biggest laugh of the first two episodes for me.
  • I like that Chidi is blunt with Eleanor about her terribleness, but I do worry a little that this sort of cheerily calling out of racism understates the issue. I’d like to hear what POC think about the way Eleanor’s racist behavior was handled, so if you have an opinion or have seen an opinion, let me know.

The SF Bluestocking 2016 Fall Watchlist

After a summer of not watching much at all–though I did finally check out Stranger Things–I feel like September has really just crept up on me. I realized yesterday that I’d been unaware of the premiere date for Son of Zorn, one of the few new shows that I’m even moderately interested in this year, and that’s when I sat down to work out what I’m going to be watching this fall. Sadly, some of my favorite shows (notably The Expanse and iZombie) won’t be back until 2017, and the same goes for the new shows (American GodsPowerlessStar Trek: Discovery) that I’m most excited to see. So, this fall definitely is a season of slim pickings. Still there are a few things I’ll be following.

Son of Zorn
September 11 on Fox

I don’t have super high hopes for this show (in fact, I’m somewhat confused about how this one got greenlit in the first place), but it’s got several people involved in it who I really like. The pilot was watchable and moderately amusing, but it was dedicated almost entirely to basic character introductions and setting up its frankly silly premise. Tim Meadows pulls his weight, but Artemis Pebdani is the real highlight of the pilot as Zorn’s new boss, Linda. The rest of the cast is fine, and I really love Jason Sudeikis, but I’m just not sure this show is going to work. I’m here for it, though, at least for a few more episodes. I expect this one to either sink or swim quickly.

Lucifer Season 2
September 19 on Fox

Lucifer is one of my favorite problematic faves, and I’m very much looking forward to its second season. Adding Tricia Helfer to the cast can’t hurt, and D.B. Woodside and Lesley-Ann Brandt killed it last season. My biggest hope for it is that it gets some better, or at least more consistent writing instead of simply relying on Tom Ellis’s considerable (possibly infinite) charisma to save the show from mediocrity. Also, more Trixie, please.

The Good Place
September 19 on NBC

I like Kristen Bell, and the show claims to be from the same creator as Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Recreation, two of my favorite comedies in recent years. However, the trailer for this one isn’t great, and it seems like it could be taking its concept to a place that is a little more cartoonish than I normally find funny. Still, I’ll check it out for an episode or two at least.

The Exorcist
September 23 on Fox

I’m not that into horror, as a general rule, because I don’t like things that are actually scary, but I’ll watch this for Geena Davis.

September 23 on CBS

MacGyver is the most profoundly stupid-looking and completely inexplicable reboot of the year, and there is no universe in which I don’t check out at least a couple of episodes of this train wreck.

Luke Cage
September 30 on Netflix

Full disclosure: I still haven’t watched the last couple episodes of the first season of Daredevil, but I absolutely loved Jessica Jones, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to watching Luke Cage. I’m not sure that I’ll like it, since I’m not really that into super heroes, and I was turned off of this show a little by an early trailer (the SDCC one maybe?) in which not a single female character was even visible. However, it’s on my list.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2
October 2 on Starz

The greatest virtue of season one of Ash vs. Evil Dead may have been that it was only a half hour show, so it never overstayed its welcome. It certainly made some missteps, most notably in the treatment of its female characters, but it was nevertheless a fun watch, enough that I’ll be tuning in for a second season, anyway. I’m sure it’ll be worth watching just for the artfully spraying gore, if that’s a thing you like watching (and I do).

October 2 on HBO

So, Westworld, is apparently a television adaptation of a 1973 film by the same title that I’ve never seen, but that some people are outraged is being rebooted because that’s how these things go. It’s HBO, so I expect it to have high production values and good writing, but I also expect it to have problematic elements and a similar tone deafness to certain issues that characterizes other HBO shows. That said, it looks good, and I’m always happy to see more serious sci-fi being made even if I do wish we could get more original content–or at least shows based on material written in this century.

October 3 on ABC

I’m not sure the world needs another hard-living anti-hero lawyer show, but if it really must be done I guess casting Haley Atwell is a good direction to go.

Supergirl Season 2
October 10 on CW

I really liked the first season of Supergirl, but it’s a show that was bogged down time and again by poor writing. Sadly, I don’t expect this to improve with its move from CBS to the CW and the correspondingly smaller budget that comes with that. Calista Flockhart has already been downgraded to guest star, which is disappointing as Cat Grant’s relationship with Supergirl/Kara was for me one of the best parts of the show. We’ll see, though. Maybe the smaller budgets will bring a new back-to-basics mentality to the writers’ room, and we’ll see some more coherent storytelling. Melissa Benoist is an amazing Supergirl, and it would be nice to see her get the type of writing she deserves.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
October 20 on Fox

I am unabashedly excited for this.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 2
October 21 on CW

I almost never watched this show because I hated the title so much. I still hate the title, but the show itself is amazing, and I cannot wait for season two.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
November 25 on Netflix

I mean, obviously.