“The Good Place,” NBC’s new fantasy sitcom about a deceased saleswoman from Arizona who enters the afterlife, premiered on Sept. 19. “The Good Place” is funny, clever and has just the right amount of wit that makes it perfect to air on NBC. Thankfully, there’s nothing like it on TV right now, which makes it refreshing and worth watching for at least the first episode.
The first episode introduces Eleanor Shellstrop, played by comedy gold Kristen Bell, in “the good place,” newly dead after being hit by runaway grocery carts and a truck with, hilariously, an erectile dysfunction ad on the side of it. Eleanor wakes up in the office of Michael, played by Ted Danson, and is informed that she has been placed in “the good place” for her good deeds of getting innocent people off death row. It’s not until she meets her eternal soul mate, Chidi, a Nigerian professor played by newcomer William Jackson Harper, that she confesses her secret: surprise, surprise, she is most definitely not supposed to be there.
Though Eleanor admits that she led a not-so-saintly life, the audience can see how “devilishly” (pun intended) bad she was through a few flashbacks – Eleanor ditching her friends at a bar to hook up with a hot bartender is just one of the foul actions she did while she was alive. Eleanor coaxes Chidi, who is ironically an ethics professor into helping her be “good” while keeping her secret. Chidi gives her a chance to redeem herself but, as expected, it doesn’t take one day for a person to erase years of bad behavior.
Episode one ends with Eleanor’s misbehavior manifesting into a nightmare-like chaos of shellfish and giraffes. Episode two further shows that Eleanor has a lot of work ahead of her to prove that she is worth being in “the good place.” NBC premiered both episodes in one night but cleverly left their biggest twist for the end of episode two: Eleanor received a note that read, “You don’t belong here.”
The cliffhanger was a nice addition to the end of episode two and added a little mystery while giving the audience a chance to discuss who could know Eleanor’s secret (the go-to guide, Janet, anyone?). “The Good Place” should be a success and that is mostly due to the writers. The writers play on what it means to truly be in “utopia” – endless frozen yogurt and your favorite animals but the people are still obnoxious and incredibly pretentious. Everybody believes they are in pure happiness yet there are still problems, albeit most of them are caused by Eleanor, but how long can Eleanor be blamed for something going wrong in “the good place?”
Kristen Bell embodies Eleanor so well because she makes her relatable, a character that is not at all good but an average person just trying to get through life. Surrounding Eleanor with these other “good” characters – Chidi, Michael and the wealthy British philanthropist Tahani – makes the audience evidently aware of their flaws. It would be interesting to see how far Eleanor can keep up this good persona and attempt to be satisfied with it. Let’s just hope NBC doesn’t make the mistake of canceling it before we find out.