Below is a spoiler-free-ish* review of The Good Place: Season One. If you’ve seen this season feel free to delve into the spoiler section after the review.
Created by Michael Schur of Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a NBC sitcom but it’s unusual in its serialised nature. Oh, and it also takes place in the afterlife. So that’s new.
Each episode starts with Chapter One, through to Chapter Thirteen. Episodes are semi-self-contained but rely on the main narrative string to keep the momentum. The creator is here, the world building is here. But Parks in heaven this is not. At least, not yet. Remember, season one of Parks and Rec wasn’t that hot, and there’s actually a lot to like about The Good Place in it’s initial showing.
First of all, this is a high concept. The afterlife. While it’s mostly toned down and limited to a number of sets (probably budget constraints), there is the occasional goofy CGI, like the flying in episode two which you can kind of look over, when it’s really about your main cast of characters.
A lot of the writers on The Good Place have written for Parks and Recreation and it shows. The humour is great, ranging from the high concept jokes such as not being able to swear, and Janet, the all-knowing AI, to just solid character humour like Chidi’s indecisiveness and Eleanor’s bullheadedness.
Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, who wakes up in The Good Place hearing she has died. She soon learns she has been mistaken for another Eleanor, and doesn’t actually belong. She spends the season trying to hide the truth and learns ethics from her mentor Chidi to be a better person.
Ted Danson simply goes by Michael, a heavenly architect. He got his big break to design The Good Place, a neighbourhood in the afterlife, and unlike many other architects chose to live inside it, to make sure everyone is happy.
The cast is diverse and and plays well together. Of course Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are the big name players, but the regulars also include:
William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye, the aforementioned indecisive ethics teacher and Eleanor’s soulmate (there’s a whole thing about soulmates which I won’t get into here). Chidi learns Eleanor’s secret early-on and starts teaching Eleanor ethics to make her a better person in hopes of letting her stay in The Good Place.
Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil, an overly cheerful philanthropist and neighbour to Eleanor who is infuriated by her niceness.
D’Arcy Carden as Janet, the aforementioned AI, a programmed guide to The Good Place who can be summoned just by saying her name, and can answer almost any question. The show plays with Janet in a number of ways, and Carden’s performances always elicit a chuckle from me.
Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza – *spoilers for end of episode three, but Jason is initially called Jianyu Li, who like Eleanor wound up at The Good Place by accident and is pretending to be a silent Buddhist monk. He’s really a DJ bro from Florida.
The Good Place, it’s well, uhh.. good. Come for the quirky fantasy, stay for the endearing cast of characters. If you liked Parks and Recreation (oh btw, Adam Scott makes a guest star appearance) and have been missing the inhabitants of Pawnee, you might find something to like here. I’m hopeful for a Season Two. As of writing a renewal has not been announced.
I was weary of what would happen once Eleanor was allowed to stay. What would happen to the premise of the show? So much hinged on that fact, or at least that’s what’s The Good Place told us. And then the finale happened. Which was fun. But I have some issues for what this means for the show.
Firstly, Michael’s character is now completely erased, who was so endearing as an architect higher-being that stressed and loved and just wanted to do good for his people. Now we realise this is actually The Bad Place and his goal was to be a tormentor. I feel lied to, and not in a good way (yes, sometimes twists can be good!). There were no hints that this was that kind of show, Michael Shur is playing the J.J Abrams card and whisking the carpet out from under us. Do we blame executive producer Drew Goddard? Goddard who has written for science fiction before might have got bored with this afterlife premise and wanted something deeper? I’m just speculating here.
There were the flashbacks to the times of the main characters’ lives where they made bad choices, and I suppose it adds up.. kind of. Tahani’s motivations were wrong which made her a bad person, I guess? But does that make it a better show?
Then, in the closing scenes everyone’s minds are wiped. I suppose that’s one way to continue the series? But again, you’re erasing all the characters! So if they start the next season with this amnesia I hope it’s only for the first episode. I was looking forward to the world building continuing on The Good Place, but the world they created was a lie. We’ll just have to stay tuned to a possible season two to find out what Michael and co have planned.
Side note: Huh, I just clicked that the creator of the show is named Michael, and so is the architect of The Good Place. Coincidence? I blame the Illuminati.