#NBC's latest comedy, The Good Place, has one of the oddest premise of any show. Set in the afterlife, the show centers around a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop who, following her death, accidentally gets sent to the "Good Place" (the show's version of Paradise). #TheGoodPlace stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor, and Ted Danson as the Good Place architect Michael. The comedy, created by Parks and Recreation's Mike Schur, just ended its run on January 20th. The show, which is divided into 13 "Chapters," is probably one of the smartest comedies made, with a strong focus on story and characterization as well as comedy.
The Good Cast
The Good Place is reminiscent of a show that itself is so often referencing: Friends. Meaning that's it's lead by a good-looking cast, something that — as 30 Rock's Tina Fey mentioned in her 2008 book Bossy Pants — is something very hard to get right in comedy. There's Bell's Eleanor who is vain and narcissistic to the point that she isn't a "medium person" as she'd like to be, but rather a bad one. Still, Kristen Bell finds a way to make us root for her flawed character. Also present is her designated soul mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper at his best), an ethics professor who agrees to help Eleanor blend in The Good Place. Then there's the perfect Tahani Al-Jamil, a diseased philanthropist who donated up to 60 billion to various charities around the world. Played by newcomer Jameela Jamil, this Pakistani-British socialite is good natured to the point of being annoying. There's also Jianyu Li (Manny Jacinto), Tahani's soul mate, who's a silent Buddhist monk from Taiwan. D'Arcy Carden plays Janet, a human looking AI robot who has all the knowledge in the world and is easily one of the best aspects of the show. Lastly, there's Ted Danson playing Michael, the neighborhood facilitator who is asked to create a neighborhood for the deceased for the first time and is very involved in the lives of The Good Place's occupants.
Sound boring? It's not. Most of the characters are multidimensional and through flashbacks and reveals, we learn about what they're really like and how they ended up in The Good Place. And while I can't explain much - lest I spoil the watching experience for you with too many spoilers - one can rest assured that this comedy is as much brains as it is humor.
The Great Cliche Avoidance
Comedies have recently started becoming really bold. Atlanta, Blackish, Fresh off the Boat, The Mindy Project to name a few have really defined how inclusive the comedy genre is. The same is the case for The Good Place, where there really is no stereotype. The young blond character isn't dumb (as one will discover at the finale of the show), the black character isn't all muscles (he's the nicest and smartest of the bunch), the Pakistani woman is a stylish feminist to the core and the Buddhist monk is... well, he's pretty dope. Often TV show's put an LGBT character or a person of color around the main white characters to make the cast seem diverse and relatable without giving them good material to work with. The Good Place not only gives these colorful characters a home, it gives them the meatiest roles, unafraid of whether they may outshine the leads or not. The show is also very conscious about not filling itself with clichés like love triangles, and even when circumstances demand it, it skirts itself from the annoying aspects of the trope, such as two chicks fighting over the same guy and ruining their friendship. This is a trend that only a few shows including The Good Place, Girl Meets World and the upcoming #Riverdale have recently embraced.
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The Grand Story
As #Deadpool proved that superhero movies could have heart as well as brawn, and La La Land proved that musicals could be a perfect way of storytelling, #TheGoodPlace proves that even a half hour comedy can work wonders solely on its optimism and sharp story telling.
Comedies - especially half hour comedies- are usually shallow, on the surface, and to an extent mundane. Sure, there are some wild cards like Shameless, Atlanta or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that are generally ahead of the curve but it's important to remember that all of them occupy 40 minute time slots in their respective networks. The Good Place, with its 13 episode arc, each only 20 minutes long, shows exactly how to pack a masterful story in such limited frame. It's not that The Good Place is a half hour show with twists, it's that all its twists work, generally managing to pull the floor beneath the viewers feet. The Good Place is at times a mystery, its simultaneously light and dark, goofy and smart but it's never unpredictable. Not only does each episode end on a cliffhanger, but usually the said shocker is something the viewer had considered briefly as something the show would probably address in the finale or perhaps next season. And in the age where Reddit users can crack seemingly every incoming twist of a show, pulling one over them and the viewers, is always a monumental feat.
So, Why Is The Good Place Such A Great Show
The Good Place is a wonderful example of how brilliantly a show can be executed sheerly on the basis of great writing. The show had given itself a tough setup from the beginning, and it had the danger of being too confining, once the novelty had worn off. Luckily the writers' knack for taking liberties with their characters and the story made this show a must-watch. It also helped that the diverse and skillful cast were able to deliver a powerful narrative which, despite all the twists and turns, at it's core, was a simple story of a person trying to self reflect and turn herself into a better person. And considering what has happened in the world this past year, shows like 'The Good Place' don't only provide us with good entertainment, but they also remind us the reasons why we need to be good people.
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