Michael Schur has made a career out of making workplace comedies nobody knew they wanted and with Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine being the breakout hits that they were, it makes sense that expectations would be high for his next project. The Good Place is not the typical fare one might expect to be served by Schur, however.
Instead of a comedy about an otherworldly government employee trying to manage their corner of “heaven”, we are offered a show about a woman who has found herself at the beginning of her afterlife and she might not deserve to be there. Though, I would not be surprised if there was an original draft of The Good Place out there told from the former’s perspective with Ted Danson as the lead. I probably would have watched that show too.
Note: The first two episodes of The Good Place aired together as a one-hour premiere, so I will be reviewing both episodes as they were delivered—as one complete package. Keep this in mind if you’ve only watched “Pilot” and not “Flying” as well.
Despite ending up in the “Good Place”, it is made exceedingly clear from the start that Kristen Bell‘s Eleanor Shellstrop is not a very good person. In fact, she might not even be an okay person. However, while we are introduced to the handful of people that do belong in the Good Place, most of them are obnoxious caricatures of the super do-gooder; the type of people who would give up both of their kidneys to a stranger on a bus because he needed them. Sure, that’s beyond saintly in terms of good deeds, but is that anywhere near relatable?
That’s where Eleanor comes in—she might not be good, but at least she is someone the audience can relate to. Eleanor may have been a slimy salesman praying on the sick and elderly in her days on Earth, but she was also a slimy friend who would get drunk before all of her friends showed up at the bar to get out of having to be the designated driver for the night. Everyone has been there, right ..?
If Eleanor and her actions leave a sour taste in your mouth, don’t worry. Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Eleanor’s designated “soulmate”, is here to freshen things up. While he might not be the love match that Eleanor was hoping for, he is just what the doctor ordered for her troubling predicament. With Chidi’s help, Eleanor might be able to stick around the Good Place.
Eleanor can’t really bear the entirety of the blame for the clerical error that landed her in suburban heaven. No, that great honor goes to her “neighborhood architect”, Michael (Ted Danson). We are introduced to Michael as the benevolent caretaker/curator of this particular block of The Good Place which just so happens to be his first attempt at constructing a neighborhood. Unfortunately for Michael, it looks like this might also be his last attempt.
Eleanor is in the Good Place—she shouldn’t be.
Sure, there is a bit more to it than that, but all of the troubles and interesting bits of the series can directly be attributed to Eleanor’s presence in the Good Place. Just existing in the handcrafted utopia seems to cause it to unravel at the seams and that is (understandably) an issue for everyone who has to share the neighborhood with Eleanor. Hopefully, that won’t always be the case.
I am sure I have reviewed this show before.
The Henry Higgins / Eliza Doolittle relationship has been served in plenty of flavors since Pygmalion, but I don’t think I have ever seen it delivered with stakes this high before. Professor Higgins might have had to pay for his own experiment if he couldn’t transform Eliza into an upper-class lady with a few phonetics lessons, if Professor Anagonye fails to turn Eleanor into an upstanding citizen, she’s probably going to end up in the Bad Place—which doesn’t sound all that fun.
This change in circumstance is just enough to make The Good Place seem like a fresh experience even if it is adapting the premise from a story that has been told for over a century by this point.
By season’s end, Eleanor will meet someone she knew in life and she’ll have to show them how she’s changed or pack up and leave.
The series finale will see Eleanor trying to give up her spot in the Good Place to the real “Eleanor”, but they’ll let her stay.
While there isn’t much competition at the moment, The Good Place is easily the most promising pilot that I have reviewed this season (read: Cody reviewed Atlanta). Even setting that limited metric aside, it is also Michael Schur’s best opening episode to date. The first season of Parks and Recreation was lambasted for being a poor copy of The Office (which he also wrote for) and underwent so many character changes by the second season’s start that many fans recommend skipping the first season entirely.
I would be very surprised if the characters in The Good Place changed that much (barring actual character development) from now to the shows end-game and that is a sign that Schur is clearly growing as a show-runner. So, even if this one doesn’t end up being for you, I’d keep your eyes open for what comes next.
If you’re interested in the series, The Good Place airs Thursdays on NBC. If you’d like to see what else Daniel is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.