Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Heaven Can't Wait

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would be improved by having nudity*

*But not Ted Danson

9:03 AM, September 21, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depends who this good place is for.

10:49 AM, September 21, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

The twist is she is really in hell because these other characters sound unbearable (I assume if they didn't make that joke during the pilot, they will at some point this season)

4:25 PM, September 21, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

A lot of people are already speculating on twists, which is probably a good thing for the show.

The show can't help but raise many deep philosophical questions, but I don't this it's too interested in answering them.

In the pilot, there's a video featuring Ted Danson's character explaining the point system for getting in to the Good Place. Some have published screen grabs:

Ending slavery gets you a lot of points, while maintaining composure in line at a water park get you a few. Other things, from committing genocide to rooting for the New York Yankees loses you points.

7:41 PM, September 21, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Watched the pilot last night. We found it very entertaining, though clearly it will be a comedy with a serious streak (I guess like M*A*S*H, or the old Barney Miller show). One of my favorite films of all time is Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks & Meryl Streep), so this should be right up my alley.

For NEG, I think part of what will make this show work is precisely that the characters we've met so far are to one degree insufferable. There will be a twist, and that will probably keep me coming back for more until it is revealed. I hope the writers actually know what it will be, and won't be making it up as they go along.

9:13 AM, September 22, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

By the way, looking at the screen shots, some of these are pretty pointed!

I like "Be Commissioner of Professional Football League (American) = -824.55. One of the writers must be a Patriots fan.

9:21 AM, September 22, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other owners dislike him too (because he otherwise favors the Patsies)

1:30 PM, September 22, 2016  

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