Hit or Sh**: NBC’s THE GOOD PLACE
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
THE GOOD PLACE features a scene in which Ted Danson kicks a dog into the sun. Maybe hearing that immediately turns you off from the show, but for me, it was a sign that this new, weird comedy just might have legs.
THE GOOD PLACE is a new single-camera comedy from PARKS AND RECREATION co-creator Michael Schur. It’s a “big mystery” show, but also a situational comedy. It’s got a “likeably” unlikeable protagonist in Kristen Bell’s con artist Eleanor and a big weird world to explore. It’s messy and sort of all over the place, but it’s almost certainly NBC’s next big thing (other than its critical darlings THE CARMICHAEL SHOW and SUPERSTORE).
The hourlong pilot aired by NBC is actually the show’s first two episodes, “Chapter 1” and “Chapter 2.” It’s notable because THE GOOD PLACE is structured similarly to LOST. Its episodes have traditional comedic A and B plots, but riding in the C and occasionally dipping into the other two is a big old dose of serialized mystery/sci-fi/fantasy. For every joke the show slips in, it also pushes on the edges of its absurd world, explaining a bit more about how it works and how a character like Eleanor could end up in it. Which is good, because as the show makes very clear, she does not belong.
The series may or may not just be an excuse for Ted Danson to wear an increasingly more elaborate set of bespoke suits
The Good Place in THE GOOD PLACE is a sort of secular afterlife: a utopian world divided into a variety of “neighborhoods,” in which only the best of the best from life on Earth are allowed to frolic and eat frozen yogurt (a good joke that the show doubles down on nicely). Each person who makes it to The Good Place is partnered with a “soulmate” who they live with for eternity in a house and lifestyle perfectly matching their life on Earth. Eleanor awakens in a room and is mistaken by Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of The Good Place, to be a just defense attorney who got innocent people off death row, all while helping Ukrainian orphans. As Eleanor reveals to her “soulmate” Chidi Anagoyne, (William Jackson Harper) she actually isn’t that nice or good, she’s just a saleswoman from Arizona.
This conflict and dichotomy forms the basis of the show. Chidi, a professor of ethics and moral philosophy in his past life, tries to teach Eleanor how to be a good person, while Eleanor tries to figure out why she was sent to The Good Place in the first place. It’s simple, but because of the complex nature of the world, allows for a lot of variety and a ton of comedic premises.
Kristen Bell considers the composition of the afterlife/relative popularity of frozen yogurt
It’s worth noting the performances of THE GOOD PLACE, as they are one of the few things tying the show to anything sort of recognizable. Bell has found a killer character in Eleanor, being just the right kind of casually despicable. Danson, as always, is a joy, bringing a subtle dark weirdness to Michael that seems to embody the underbelly of The Good Place itself. And finally, William Jackson Harper and Jameela Jamil as Chidi and Tahani play the perfect angel and devil to Eleanor, both equally good, but for very different reasons. It’s a good ensemble that seems poised to grow in some interesting directions.
If THE GOOD PLACE is not the smash hit NBC hopes it to be, or its ideas run out before it can even think about getting a second season, it will still be worth it because it is weird. In these uncertain times, major networks want safe bets, bankable premises that can support at least 22 episodes and several seasons. THE GOOD PLACE is not that. If not for the track record of its creator or stars, it would not be the kind of a show that gets picked up for a full season. But that’s why it’s worth supporting. It’s a high concept comedy, which isn’t something we really see anymore outside of the realm of animation. It’s a rare breed and that’s why, even though I have concerns about its longevity, I can confidently say it’s a hit.
THE GOOD PLACE airs on NBC on Thursdays