WIRED Pilot Program: The Good Place
Each fall, most of the broadcast and cable networks debut a ton of new shows in the span of a few months, making it difficult to sort out which ones to make time for and which to skip. So we’re starting the WIRED Pilot Program, where we highlight what you should continue watching, and what you can just let sit on your DVR until it automatically deletes. Today’s entry: The Good Place
The Show: The Good Place (Mondays, NBC)
The Premise: Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in an office across from Michael (Ted Danson), who informs her she just tragically died after getting hit by a truck. But not to worry, since she led such a noble, generous life, she ended up in the titular Good Place. Everyone lives with his or her soulmate in a house perfectly designed and decorated to fit the couple’s personality, there are tons of frozen yogurt places, and everyone can drink as much as they want without ever getting a hangover. There’s just one catch: Eleanor wasn’t a kind or generous person at all, and she’s been mistakenly allowed into The Good Place. Only her “soulmate” Chris (William Jackson Harper) knows the truth.
The Pilot Program Take: The Good Place features Bell’s return to broadcast television for the first time since her breakout on Veronica Mars on the CW and her Stepford-esque visage is put to good use here, looking smart while pointing out the elitist one-upmanship that runs rampant among the “best” people who made it to this cushy afterlife. Meanwhile, Danson’s Well-Meaning Rookie vibe works for Michael, the man responsible for designing the community Eleanor and Chris find themselves sorted into at the start of the show. He’s a n00b community designer who may have flubbed letting Eleanor into this version of heaven in the first place, and the tension of whether he finds out, if he has superiors that he needs to keep it a secret from, and what the fallout will be when the truth eventually gets out to everyone, will likely form the basis for a longer arc over the course of the season and beyond.
Once viewers get past the metaphysical concept, it’s a domestic sitcom along the lines of ABC’s short-lived but excellent Suburgatory. It just comes with a very specific vision of the afterlife that doesn’t conform to any one religious idea of heaven. Since the pilot doesn’t fully explain how the world works, it’ll have to get teased out over more episodes, and that’s the first big problem. The situational comedy—Eleanor pretending to be who everyone thinks she is while talking smack behind everyone’s back to Chris—has to share time with teasing out the logic of the show.
The Verdict: The pilot of The Good Place cuts off at an odd place, just as the questions begin to mount about how the world can continue to function. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the broadcast running time. It’s easy to imagine something like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s distribution—being on Netflix, where consumption of an entire season’s story is impossibly easy—working to its advantage. But with a few more weeks to expand upon the premise, and the comedic talents of Danson, Bell, and Harper, it should sort out the bugs and get on to the funny part.
TL;DR: Keep watching.
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