Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New TV Show Mini Review: The Good Place

The Good Place.

It's not.

Let me say that I am a huge fan of Kristen Bell.  I think she is an incredibly likable actress who can play comedy and drama with excellence.  That is why I wish that she would choose better material.

The Good Place is brought to us by the same people who gave us the great Parks and Recreation and the very enjoyable Brooklyn 99.  The show is high concept:

Eleanor (Bell) wakes up in the afterlife.  She is greeted by Michael (Ted Danson) that she is in the good place: an idealized neighborhood of only good people where they get to live out eternity in idealized comfort.  She is even paired with a soul mate: Chidi (William Jackson Harper), an ethics professor from Nigeria.  This afterlife is a reward only for the truly good people of the world.  There is only one problem: Eleanor is a terrible person.  She is selfish, vulgar, hedonistic, and mean.  She is in the good place by accident.  And her presence begins to unravel the order of the place causing horrible chaos.

The concept sounds like rich territory to explore for comedy and insight.  Unfortunately everything about the show is so off-putting that it chokes out all of the laughs.

The show does eschew almost all traditionally Christian views of heaven.  In and of itself this is not a flaw.  A number of years ago Albert Brooks wrote, directed, and starred in a movie called Defending Your Life which also took a rather unique, irreligious take on judgment and the afterlife.  But the departure from the Christian beliefs about heaven did not seem like an insult, but simply posed itself as an inoffensive thought experiment.  The Good Place doesn't have that feel.

There is a nastiness to The Good Place that sours the entire project.  Anyone not in the good place is in some version of hell.  So the intended inhabitants of this "heaven" are those who lived by the idealized moral life that the producers imagine.  Again, not in and of itself the problem, but the inference is that anyone who does not live by their moral code is condemned to everlasting torment.  And the secular morality that this show espouses feel devoid of any larger, transcendent element.

The challenge is already very large: take an incredibly unlikable person as the main character and get the audience to care about their journey.  This opens the door for long-form character development, but if you cannot find something about the main character to latch onto, the whole project will be for nought.

And as charming as Bell is, she cannot overcome the horridness of her character.  In addition to this, the other supporting characters are also not that likeable.  Mike is a fumbling functionary.  Chidi is moralizing intellectual.  When he decides to help Eleanor become a better person, he turns to philosophy texts to begin her moral training.  This overly cerebral approach to morals feels so incredibly cold that Chidi feels more like someone who isn't so much a moral person as he is a moralist.  The rest of the populace are either overly bland or annoying that an eternity in this place doesn't feel like much of a reward.

The long and the short of it is this:  The Good Place is not good.

No comments:

Post a Comment