Saturday, September 9, 2017

Well Worth The Second Viewing: The Good Place Season 1 Is Fun!

The Good: Funny beginning, Good performances, Decent plot development/use of tension
The Bad: Middle feels repetitive and changes to a very serious tone, Erratic character development
The Basics: Smart and well-developed, the first season of The Good Place does a generally good job of creating an original story of a bad person mistakenly sent to an afterdeath intended for good people.

When it comes to dramedies about the afterlife, the niche market has been dominated in the past by works by Bryan Fuller. Fuller created Dead Like Me (reviewed here!) and Pushing Daisies (season 1 reviewed here!), which were quirky shows that effectively blended comedy and drama and featured characters who had fantastic relationships with death. Fuller has been busy the past few years, working on Hannibal and then laying the groundwork of Star Trek: Discovery, which allowed Michael Schur to break into the niche with The Good Place.

The Good Place Season 1 is a dramedy about the afterdeath that has thirteen episodes and it is a season that begs to be watched at least twice. For a first season show with an original idea, The Good Place starts strong and develops well. While the show begins to feel a little repetitive in the middle of the season, the show moves toward a powerful and surprising climax; this is a show that leaves viewers guessing as to where it is going. As a film critic, being surprised by a show's arc is a big deal for me and The Good Place Season 1 has a set-up that implies something deeper is going on and when the show reveals its own truth in the first season finale, it appears to come out of nowhere, but make sense. As a result, viewers have an entirely different experience watching the first season of The Good Place the second time and the season holds up remarkably well!

Eleanor Shellstrop is dead. She finds herself immediately in the office of Michael in The Good Place, essentially the afterdeath for people who lived good and virtuous lives. At a town meeting of the neighborhood (made up of 322 good people), Michael tells everyone that their soulmates are in the community and When she is shown memories from her life, she realizes instantly that Michael has her confused with someone else. Eleanor confesses to Chidi, her soulmate, that there has been a mistake and he pledges to help her.

Chidi begins to teach Eleanor ethics after it appears Eleanor's negative thoughts violently manifest in the environment of The Good Place. After getting the neighborhood cleaned up, Eleanor is found out by someone else . . . Jason Mendoza, another resident who does not belong in The Good Place but has managed to pass as he poses as a monk who has taken a vow of silence. When Eleanor and Chidi become concerned that Jason might expose himself publicly, Eleanor inadvertently creates a sinkhole in the neighborhood's restaurant. The disaster brings Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani (Jason's soulmate and Eleanor's neighbor) closer together, but soon Michael realizes that something in the world he created does not belong and he enlists Eleanor to help him find the cause of the irregularities in his neighborhood.

The Good Place Season 1 is very well-constructed, much like a seasonlong version of . . . actually, there is an exceptionally good film analogy but right as I wrote it, I realized that saying it in a review of the first season would be pretty spoilerific. Check out my second season review for that because it will be impossible to discuss the second season of The Good Place without revealing what the reversal at the end of the first season is! As such, viewers who are wowed by where the first season of The Good Place ends will be able to rewatch the first season for clues to what they now know is actually going on. The delight of the second viewing of The Good Place Season 1 is that the writing, acting, and directing supports the ultimate reveal.

For a better understanding of the first season of The Good Place, it helps to understand the characters. The essential characters in the The Good Place Season 1 are:

Eleanor Shellstrop - Recently dead, she worked selling fake medicine to senior citizens and immediately realizes that she does not belong in The Good Place. She blames her terrible life on her divorced parents. She enlists Chidi to teach her ethics in order to become a better person so she might stay in The Good Place. Eleanor's subconscious begins to have an effect on the neighborhood and she is put in a bind when Michael asks her to he his assistant in finding the neighborhood's flaw. Chidi's ethics lessons begin to pay off and that leads Eleanor to take a drastic step that has profound and unexpected consequences,

Chidi Anagonye - Eleanor's assigned soulmate in The Good Place, he was an ethics professor in his life in Senegal. Almost immediately after meeting Eleanor and learning her truth, he develops a stomach ache. He begins teaching Eleanor ethics and finds himself most comfortable when doing that, as he rejects all of Michael's attempts to get him to take up another hobby. He is essentially good, but as he becomes more insecure and upset, he becomes more indecisive and he begins to pine for an actual soulmate,

Tahani - An arrogant former fundraiser, she instantly gets under Eleanor's skin. She has a mansion next to Eleanor's tiny home. She tries to organize the community and volunteers several of her peers to clean up the community after the storm. She talks constantly and is a raging egomaniac. When she realizes her soulmate is not who she thought he was, she begins to latch onto Chidi for emotional support,

Jianyu Li / Jason Mendoza - Tahani's soulmate, he was a Buddhist monk who is still observing a vow of silence. He quickly reveals to Eleanor that he, too, does not belong. In life, he was actually an amateur d.j. and douchebag who died while committing a crime. He has a little man cave and when Tahani finds it, it creates even more complications,

Janet - The interactive information system in The Good Place, she is able to provide information to the residents of the neighborhood. She is a neutral automaton that Jason begins to develop feelings for. She is the only one in the neighborhood who has the power to leave the neighborhood and journey to other places in the afterdeath. She is omniscient and somewhere in the neighborhood is a kill switch for her,

and Michael - The Architect of the neighborhood, this is his first attempt to make a neighborhood in The Good Place and he is the only architect who lives with his dead humans. He is thrilled by humanity and is looking out for the residents of the neighborhood. He is alarmed when his reality begins to fall apart and he tries desperately to hold the neighborhood together when it becomes clear that something does not belong in the community.

The Good Place stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and Bell manages to embody one of her most unlikable characters of her career. Bell is hilarious when she plays Eleanor as an utter narcissist. Ted Danson manages to pull off a performance on par with . . . well, the lead actor in the movie that is a great analogy to the first season of The Good Place. Of the supporting performers, D'Arcy Carden rocks The Good Place with an amazing consistent deadpan that defines Janet.

The first season of The Good Place has moments in the middle that are tiresome to watch. Tahani is, essentially, a one-trick pony of a character. She is a raging narcissist who is sickly sweet and entirely false as she does good things with the goal of getting praise and recognition. Similarly, Jason is basically an idiot and near the middle of the season Chidi begins to develop to become paralytically indecisive. While Chidi's backstory is revealed to have indecision in his past, the early episodes have him making many snap decisions . . . which he becomes unable to make in the latter half of the season. William Jackson Harper plays Chidi well, but the character seems problematically rendered.

As well, the middle becomes somewhat repetitive and drawn out in the plotting. The episodes become bogged down in delaying characters telling the truth and waiting for the metaphorical shoe to drop starts to feel forced. Fortunately, the last few episodes manage to recover the momentum and move the show toward an exciting climax.

Ultimately, The Good Place Season 1 is a good addition to a rather narrow genre niche that is distinct and clever and it is quite enough to make viewers enthusiastic about rewatching the season and look forward to the second season.

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Twin Peaks - Season 3 ("The Return")
Doctor Who - Season 10
American Gods - Season 1
Glow - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 5
House Of Cards - Season 5
The Flash - Season 3
Supergirl - Season 2
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4
Sense8 - Season 2
Dear White People - Season 1
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 2
The Walking Dead - Season 7
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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