When I was looking at new shows for fall 2016, I found that there are the usual ones that feel like rotten apples out of the gate, and then there are those that have very unique concepts going on. The Good Place feels like the latter, and it is a situation comedy that takes place in heaven. This is an honest review NBC's newest comedy, and I'll be looking at it from a Christian and a critic's point of view.
Did The Good Place Get Heaven Right?
I'll go ahead and start and say that yes, this show is not the doctrinally correct Christian point of view of heaven, but I'm sure that should surprise no one. Yes, there are no throngs of angels and believers singing the praises to Jesus, but I believe that the point of the show is how one deals with the culture of paradise rather than a correct view of paradise itself. After all, the Bible only discusses brief glimpses of eternity that will last forever, and I've always been curious about how those in heaven will actually live.
The Good Place begins on a great note as Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) opens her eyes and she sees a wall that reads: "Welcome! Everything Is Fine." Personally, that is the first thing I would love to see when arriving at heaven. Eleanor is then greeted by Michael (Ted Danson), who is presumably an angel, who tells her what the afterlife is like.
The show decides to make its disclaimer early as it states that every religion is both a little right and a little wrong about what heaven actually is. There is even a great joke about a stoner who came up with an explanation while high, and he was 92 percent correct. Now I don't care what religion you are, I find that joke very funny.
What is interesting is that the first question Eleanor asks is if she is in the good place or the bad place. She is not only told that the bad place really exists, but apparently, her good place is the best place. Michael explains to her and the rest of the heavenly inhabitants that every deed in life has a certain positive or negative point system, and the ending result determines judgment.
There is nothing new about this explanation, as most people believe this is how heaven and hell is determined. What is funny is that the show gives a brief examples of good or bad deeds, and apparently, using "Facebook" as a verb is negative points. Again, I can't help but laugh at that.
There is also a scene where Eleanor is talking to people at a party in heaven, and these people have done amazing things in their life. She feels so out-classed that she heads to the bar. This is also pretty funny, actually.
Yes, for a show that doesn't take the afterlife too seriously, but I am pretty amazed at some facets of its worldview. Apparently, Eleanor is in a place where the top good-pointers are. She is even told that certain famous moral people, like Florence Nightingale, didn't make it. Now, it could be that there are "lesser good" people in another version of heaven, but it is strange to see how this show treats hell.
On the pilot episode, Eleanor wants to see what "the bad place" is like, and a character named Janet (think of her as a personified Siri in heaven, played by D'Arcy Carden) can only play her an audio of what is happening in realtime. The show doesn't hold back on the screams of agony that would come from hell, and it is rather unexpected. So, there are some things about hell and heaven that honestly are quite true.
Does The Good Place Work as a Show?
The basic premise of The Good Place needed a huge rework. Apparently, Eleanor Shellstrop was not a good person, so she is in heaven by some cosmic mistake.
This concept has been done before in film in television. It is usually based around the idea that the powers that be can misplace paperwork just like humans, resulting in funny hijinks in the afterlife. There was an attempt at this with Ghost Dad, and that Bill Cosby film is infamously bad even before recent allegations against its lead actor surfaced.
Eleanor shares her secret with her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), because apparently heaven pairs you with your perfect soulmate so you are never alone. Chidi wants Eleanor to come clean, but Eleanor fears that she could be kicked out of the good place and end up...you can see where this is going.
The one question that has only been addressed once is what happened to this other person who is supposed to be in heaven, the person that Eleanor has been mistaken for. If she is in the bad place, then Eleanor is even a worse character than her depiction.
What I didn't see happening is that apparently Eleanor's presence in The Good Place is causing some serious chaos to happen. She wakes up one morning and finds that all kinds of surreal things like a giant ladybug and giant shrimp are terrorizing the good place. Honestly, I felt the show was going too far with this.
Personally, I liked the lavish sets and minimal special effects set-up of The Good Place, as it felt a bit more down to earth, even with a story about heaven. The lavish effects, even if they were rather low-budget, seemed very out of place with what this show appears to be doing with a character-driven comedy-of-errors.
The worst part was in an episode when Michael feels that he isn't doing a good job. I am not certain if Michael is supposed to be the archangel Michael, but if he is, I just dropped a major spoiler. He apparently constructed the part of the good place that is seen on the show, but since it is coming apart, he blames himself.
At one point, Michael sees a dog that he feels is not accounted for in his plan, and kicks the dog into the sun. You heard me right, Ted Danson, playing an angel, kicks a dog into the sun. Oh, and the dog explodes. At that point, I had to just yell "what am I watching here!"
As much as this show occasionally wins, it has its sad moments of epic fails. Most of them occur during scenes where we see Eleanor's former life in flashback. It is done using short scenes that feel like cutaway gags from Family Guy, and don't really add much to the story. It would be better if these scenes were not shown, as the audience figured out that Eleanor was not a nice person already.
Can The Good Place Be Saved? (Or At Least Renewed for Another Season?)
The big question is will The Good Place last, or will it be one of those new fall shows that people reject for very good reasons. So far, the show has a 7.4 rating on imdb, which is not bad, but not great either.
The issue is that the show is in danger of having the same plot every week. Episode 3 shows big sinkholes appearing, presumably leading to hell? I get the feeling that Eleanor's presence is causing the chaos, and it's only a matter of time before this wave of a done-to-death, "a liar revealed" storyline will crest.
As far as how long it will last, that is the big question. I'm actually surprised that Kristen Bell took this TV series role, as she has had a lot of recent success in film. She seems to have enough charm to pull off the lead role, but I wouldn't be surprised if the series was written with Amy Poehler in mind.
After all, the creator of the show is Michael Schur, who created Parks and Recreation and wrote many episodes of The Office. The Good Place has that same millennial sitcom vibe, but without the confession cams. It is being given a Thursday night time slot, and this could actually keep this show on the air for many years.
Honestly, The Good Place can end only two ways:
1) The Good Place isn't really the best good place, and it turns out that is some sort of purgatory, and Eleanor's admitting that she isn't all the good is just a test before she really does arrive at the real heaven.
2) Eleanor didn't really die, but she is in a coma, and she will eventually wake up and change her life for the better.
It is possible that however this show ends, it will have a fun ride. Most shows start out very awkwardly, and then eventually get their footing. If the show can avoid this weird special effects twists, then it might be able to make the most of this plot of being marooned in paradise. In fact, I feel that the story of someone being trapped in a pastel and saccharine world but has to remain because of the literally hellacious alternative could make for an interesting story, and possibly a great series.