TV Review | The Good Place | Season 1
Season Summary: Eleanor Shellstrop, a recently deceased young woman, wakes up in The Good Place, a heaven-like utopia designed by Michael, in reward for her righteous life. Eleanor realises that she was sent there by mistake, and hides her morally imperfect behaviour (past and present). (Wikipedia)
It’s hard to write about The Good Place’s first season without spoiling it, which – annoyingly – is itself a spoiler that something big happens that can spoil things. All of which is strange to say about a comedy show. Although, it’s not really just a comedy show either.
There’s unquestionably a lot of very funny stuff in The Good Place, from the inability to swear – which frustrates Eleanor endlessly – to seeing Ted Danson’s Michael punting a dog into the sun. And that’s just the first two episodes.
But the show’s a little more philosophical than that, with a strong focus on what makes someone a good person from an ethical standpoint. And that’s not something you see in many shows at all, never mind one that makes you laugh so much.
Sometimes it does feel a little odd. Not in a bad way, but the show feels pleasant or nice, rather than particularly hilarious for a lot of each episode. Just to repeat: not a criticism. It’s still fun to watch, with a likeable cast and some fun situations.
If anything, it actually makes the funniest moments feel so much better. Because you’re in such a good mood the rest of the time, it does make it easier to laugh when the show really goes for the funny bone. Well, apart from Manny Jacinto’s character.
The Good Place does have one flaw and it’s his character. When he’s first introduced, he seems like he could be quite an interesting character and possibly a running joke based around a certain lifestyle choice. Then we learn more about him and he goes off the rails fast, easily being the worst thing about the series by far.
Apart from Jacinto’s character, there really is little else to do but praise the show. The structure also works perfectly for the over-arching narrative of the season, but also in how it almost does the same thing to the audience that the plot does to the characters.
It’s hard to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say that the first half of the season makes the show feel like it’s one thing, before a certain character makes a big announcement at the end of episode seven and the story becomes much, much more serialised.
(Continuing to avoid spoilers, I just want to take a moment to pat myself on the back for half-figuring out what was going to happen by the second episode. I doubted my prediction a lot as the season went on, but got a lot right in the end.)
Lastly, I want to praise the cast because of how well they work together (beside Jacinto’s character).
Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are the two ‘name’ actors and are both fantastic, especially Bell. Yes, the flashbacks to her life show that she would have been infuriating to know, but she pulls off the change in Eleanor so well that you don’t even realise it’s happening. A legitimately fantastic performance.
Danson is reliably brilliant as Michael, with his previous work in comedy so obvious with his perfect timing and often-incredible line delivery. In a lesser actor’s hands, Michael would have been a lesser character regardless of the writing; Danson is terrific.
But I also want to praise Jameela Jamil and William Jackson Harper as Tahani, a “sexy skyscraper” according to Eleanor, and Chidi, the man Eleanor turns to in order to try and become a better person.
Harper’s performance actually deserves a little extra praise as his character is a type that usually comes across as annoying in lesser shows, but is written and performed so well that you’ll enjoy seeing him on-screen and empathise with his struggles to cope with the moral vacuum that is Eleanor.
The Good Place’s first season is legitimately great, remaining highly entertaining and utterly watchable at its worst. Almost the entire main cast have likeable characters that get even better as we learn more about them, and the show has an amazing season-long narrative for a comedy show.