It sounded like a horrible idea--a sitcom set in heaven. Heaven is a place where only good things happen, and drama is based on conflict. Actually, one reason I tuned in to The Good Place
was to see how they get around this problem. Another is that it's created by Michael Schur, of Parks And Recreation
and Brooklyn Nine-Nine
. Also, it stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, two talented and charming actors.
The NBC show starts with Eleanor (Bell) waking up in the afterlife and being assured she's made it to the "good place." Explaining this to her is Michael (Danson), who's designed the particular neighborhood where she and 321 others will live. Turns out very few get into the good place--the vast majority end up in the bad place (but don't worry, that's their problem).
Eleanor moves into a house specially designed for her, where she meets her soulmate, Chidi, who was a Professor of Ethics and Morality. (That an ethics professor would be considered a good person is apparently not meant as a joke.) There's just one problem, and here we get the conflict: they've got the wrong person. Eleanor has been mistaken for someone else. In fact, based on the flashbacks we see, Eleanor was a pretty terrible person, and even average people don't make it to the good place. She confides in Chidi and now he's got the moral dilemma of whether or not he should turn her in.
We meet some of the neighbors, who were all super-altruistic in their lives. (I recently read an article about people who overdo altruism--they feel so bad about not sacrificing as much as possible that it's almost a mental illness.) In particular, we meet Tahani--who did a lot of good but is rather vain about it--and her soulmate Jianyu, a monk who has continued his vow of silence in the afterlife. So we understand just because people are good enough to get in doesn't mean they can't be annoying.
Next thing you know, horrific things are happening to the neighborhood, and it would seem to be due to Eleanor's mistaken presence. Michael is distraught, especially since this is the first neighborhood he designed. Chidi decides to teach Eleanor to be a better person, which might solve the problem. Meanwhile, someone else (we don't know who yet) discovers Eleanor isn't supposed to be there.
So what drives the series--at least for now--is will Eleanor be found out, and what will happen if she is. Schur claims he knows where he's going with the show. I hope so, since the basic concept doesn't seem like enough for a long run.
One other problem is, aside from Eleanor and Michael, the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Maybe that'll improve as things move forward. But the setting is novel and good for a few jokes, so I'll keep watching, at least for a while. Sooner or later, however, it's got to get deeper, or more clever, or I don't see how it can continue. Jokes about how good everyone is and how bad Eleanor is can only take us so far.
In other evidence that the TV season has started, Kevin James returns to CBS in the sitcom Kevin Can Wait
, where he plays a recently retired cop. I didn't watch his first show, The King Of Queens
, and now that I've seen the pilot for his latest, I'm pretty confident I'll never watch it again.