THE GOOD PLACE, the newest sitcom from Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur, lives up to his name. There is a barely a moment in the first two episodes that doesn’t bring out a smile or a chuckle.
Kristen Bell stars as the recently deceased Eleanor Shellstrop, who has just arrived in the “Good Place,” or the afterlife for the best kind of people. The inner workings of the Good Place are explained by the seemingly cool and collected Michael (Ted Danson) and are equal parts understandable and hilarious. Basically, someone has to be exceptionally good to be accepted there. Everyone else gets sent to the Bad Place, which no one talks about.
Eleanor goes through the orientation, gets placed in a tiny cottage next to everyone’s else mansions, and is finally introduced to her soulmate, Chiti (William Jackson Harper). Chiti is (was) a professor in ethics and morals and is just so excited to meet his soulmate – until she reveals to him, that she was definitely placed here by mistake. In a beautiful role reversal from Parks and Recreation, our protagonist is a mediocre at best person surrounded by the most morally superior people in the universe.
Ever since Veronica Mars, we have been lucky enough to have Kristen Bell on the silver screen, and her return to a leading role exceeds expectations as Eleanor’s less than perfect ways begin to manifest themselves. Flashbacks show Eleanor in her life as a pretty despicable person, not even in a major way, but in the way any normal human would be. These flaws combined with Bell’s talent and sharp writing make Eleanor both relatable and oddly charming. Our sympathies are torn between her and Chiti. Harper and Bell play off each other well, with Chiti’s confusion and moral dilemma about whether or not to report Eleanor drive the story. Both his naïveté and frustration make him likable and funny. His pure looks of confusion are executed perfectly and drive a lot of the laughs.
Another great source for comedy is Michael, who loses that cool and collected nature pretty quickly when he reveals that this section of the Good Place was his first time designing and he’s so glad it’s going well. Danson has the nervous energy of a kid on their first day of school, with all the charisma of a seasoned professor. He is also clearly not human, as demonstrated in an excellent sequence of him forgetting what sweat is and how to deal with it. “Do I lick it?”
Michael’s rookie status is confirmed when things start to go terribly wrong in the Good Place, all due to Eleanor being mistakenly placed there. Giant bugs, flying shrimp, and rains of garbage are just some of the things that Eleanor’s existence are causing. Her solution: to make Chiti teach her how to be a good person. Poor, sweet, ethics professor Chiti spends the majority of the second episode deciding whether or not to take Eleanor up on her offer or to report her. He makes her clean up trash instead of getting to fly, which is just a real bummer for her, and basically anyone who would have to be put in that situation. Except, of course, all of the holier than thou members of the Good Place.
Eventually, as we all would, Eleanor ditches the trash to get up in the air, only causing that aforementioned rain of garbage. Plagued by guilt and memories, she goes out in the middle of the night to pick of the trash. Chiti finds her doing so, and reluctantly agrees to help her on her journey to becoming a good person. The rest of the season will probably follow the format of him trying to finagle a sense of ethics into Eleanor, with what can only be many many mishaps.
Schur’s greatest strength in his shows is making characters that people want to root for and get extremely emotionally invested in. Just two episodes in, The Good Place seems to be well on the road to following this, and it will be exciting to watch these characters grow. We also have the expansion of this odd little world to look forward to, and to see all the consequences play out in delightfully surprising ways.
Season 1, Episode 1-2 (S04E01-02)
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 830PM on NBC
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor