Fall TV Preview
The Good Place Photos Season 1

The Good Place Review: Kristen Bell's New Comedy Is Almost Heaven

TV Review Grade B+What happens when we die? It’s a big, complicated question that doesn’t really lend itself to a jokey sitcom. But NBC’s breezy new comedy The Good Place (previewing Monday, Sept. 19 at 10/9c, before calling Thursdays at 8:30 home) manages to tackle thorny issues like morality and religion while still delivering the most laughs of any new series this fall. In short, it’s a godsend.

Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor Shellstrop, who opens her eyes in a pristine white room and is informed by the kindly Michael (Ted Danson) that she has just died. (In an embarrassing parking-lot accident involving Lonely Girl Margarita Mix For One, in fact.) Eleanor now finds herself in the afterlife, and because she was such a model citizen on Earth, she’s in “the Good Place” — not exactly heaven, but close enough.

There’s just one problem: Eleanor isn’t the saint they think she is. She’s actually a selfish monster who ended up in the Good Place by accident, mixed up with a death-row lawyer with the same name. Now she’s the lone rotten apple in an afterlife filled with squeaky-clean do-gooders. Kristen Bell helps sell the premise; she’s been a thoroughly charming TV presence since her Veronica Mars days, and her natural appeal helps us root for Eleanor here… even though she’s kind of a jerk.

RELATED Kristen Bell Reveals Veronica Mars Miniseries Status, Hails The Good Place

Danson is great, too, as Michael, the Good Place’s benevolent caretaker. In an inspired sequence, he explains to newcomers how every action they took in their lives, positive or negative, was tallied and used in their ultimate judgment — mathematical karma, if you will. The flurry of positive and negative actions displayed on screen (“End slavery” is good; “Tell a woman to ‘smile'” is bad) is just one of the fun Easter eggs packed into the pilot; get ready to wear out your pause button trying to catch all the gags.

The Good Place Photos Season 1

Those tightly packed jokes and the show’s smart, irreverent tone are all thanks to creator Michael Schur, who earned a lifetime pass from me with Parks and Recreation. After seven seasons of grounded small-town comedy in Pawnee, Schur gets to let his imagination run wild here, and he’s clearly had a lot of fun building a heaven-like universe with frozen-yogurt shops on every corner. Plus, he’s recruited a promising supporting cast to join Bell and Danson, highlighted by William Jackson Harper as Eleanor’s innocent soulmate Chidi and Jameela Jamil as the annoyingly chipper Tahani.

Now if the show’s premise reminds you a bit of the 1991 Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life, well, you’re not alone. The Good Place’s utopian surroundings (a clothing store called Everything Fits!) and Eleanor’s nagging self-doubt are indeed highly reminiscent of that film. But you have to admit: It’s a meaty premise with lots of fascinating possibilities to explore. And hey, Defending Your Life: The TV Series sounds pretty good to me.

The pilot does veer off in a strange direction in the final act, though, with Eleanor’s unauthorized presence in the Good Place leading to some surreal (and terrifying) consequences. It’s not clear just how special-effects-heavy the show will be on a weekly basis (only the pilot was available for review) — and it’s also not clear how Eleanor’s story can be stretched to a full season, let alone multiple seasons.

But NBC has already announced The Good Place‘s first season will be just 13 episodes, so that gives Schur and company a nice, compact space in which to tell their tale. And with the comedy dream team of Schur, Bell, and Danson on board, I’m looking forward to spending eternity at least six and a half hours in this magical wonderland.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for laughs this fall, The Good Place is a good place to start.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

19 Comments
  1. kate says:

    While the Olympics has made me feel obligated to This is Us and Timeless, this has been what I have wanted to watch since the upfronts. Unfortunately, my DVR will not acknowledge that far ahead in time.

  2. Dennis says:

    CANT WAIT LOVE KRISTEN BELL YAAAAAS

  3. Ted says:

    No laugh track, correct?

  4. melaniedhi says:

    I really don’t see how this can have any longevity.

    • Kay says:

      They are literally working with an eternity worth of storylines ;)

      Seriously though, I’m not sure how they’ll make it work either, but if anyone can do it and keep it fresh and fun, Michael Schur can!

  5. Joey Padron says:

    Looking forward to check out the show. I’m a fan of Mike Schur shows. Like Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.

  6. DJ Doena says:

    So, they tally every good and bad deed against each other, every throwaway line, ever attempt to cheer up a woman who looks a bit sad but when it comes to final judgment they’re as good as TSA/FB/NSA as keeping two people with the same name apart?

    Dear god in heaven…

    PS: :-P

  7. Marco says:

    Well, now we know what happened after souls passed on in Dead Like Me…

  8. Mary says:

    Sorry my Thursday night are already booked up, but maybe I will DVR it and see if it is worth keeping on.

  9. Nero tTVFiddler says:

    NBC may have the inside track this season with new shows with great potential – Good Place, Us and Timeless are the three I’ll be wanting to watch. Perhaps a couple of new shows to check out on CBS… ABC and FOX, still checking their lists, not certain.

  10. sunshine says:

    I am a huge fan of limited edition shows. Tell the story and the end. Defend Your Life was adorable, I’d watch one season of that sort of thing but probably not more.

  11. HAP says:

    Such a big fan of Kristen Bell. Don’t understand the limited order, unless neither she nor Danson were interested in a long time commitment to another TV series.

  12. Joe Guenther says:

    I lost too many people close to me to find a sitcom about heaven to be funny. Just not interested. TV is intended to escape reality not remind us of our own mortality.

  13. LeAnn says:

    Loved The Good place. Only one plea no more kicking dogs please.

  14. Jay says:

    Not THAT bad. I watched two episodes. I can’t stand the continual ‘Fork me’. ‘Im forked’ ‘ah fork!’ Really. Annoying. Now they’ve thrown in ‘aaah, shirt!’ Is this supposed to be cute? Changed the channel.

  15. Linda Price says:

    Just my opinion but I thought this was awful!!