Have you ever wondered what happens when you finally cross into the Great Beyond? Are you a believer of heaven and hell and all that is in between? Maybe you’re like me, a seriously lapsed Catholic who is constantly being harangued to be a better person, but always being made to feel guilty for being an ash-hole? (Not a misspelling, you’ll see why in a bit.) Or are you the type that just hopes to get to The Good Place?
We’ve all seen movies depicting different versions of the afterlife. Heaven Can Wait, Ghost and Always are a few that quickly spring to mind. Movies that are typically on the sappy side. The dead person on a journey to make amends and gain entrance into the heavenly kingdom. Movies that always end with that guy crossing into the white light, ending his journey and beginning anew. Yeah…those kinds of movies.
The Good Place turns that premise upside down. Kristen Bell is Eleanor Shellstrop, a truly despicable and horrible woman. She has no filter. She was a total shirt-head in high school, telling all the students the first day she abhors them all and wants absolutely nothing to do with them. At her call center workplace, she lacks empathy for anyone around her and hates to interact with anyone, even the customers calling in. Eleanor has no redeeming qualities, whatsoever, and couldn’t give two shirts about it.
“Welcome! Everything is fine.”
Yup, you guessed it. Eleanor dies. She doesn’t remember how or even where she is. She is suddenly sitting on a couch staring at a wall with “Welcome! Everything is fine.” staring her in the face.
Eleanor soon discovers through Michael, the “Architect”, that she’s in the Good Place and will be rewarded for eternity for being such a wonderful person on Earth. No sooner than she can scream “What the fork???” (It’s physically impossible to curse or use profanity in the Good Place and makes for some hilarious moments), she realizes something is amiss. She shouldn’t be here. Eleanor knows how horribly she acted and cannot fathom how it’s even possible she arrived here. Michael advises her to just kick back and enjoy the afterlife, after all, he created the Good Place.
The Good Place is exactly that. Everyone has a soul mate, the sun is always shining and you can eat all the frozen yogurt you want. Eleanor soon realizes that there has been a huge mistake and everything is definitely not “fine”.
If you’re anything like me, you are horny hot for Kristen Bell. I’ve been in love with her since her Veronica Mars days. She has just the right amount of snarky sarcasm and bubbly cuteness. I would watch her cut cantaloupe for 2 hours if only to serve it to me naked afterward. That devilish lazy eye draws me in every time. She is amazing as Eleanor and crazy smart. It doesn’t take her long to figure out things are not as they seem.
Television staple Ted Danson is great as Michael, the “Architect” who created and oversees the Good Place. He is responsible for meeting everyone who arrives and gets them settled in. I’ve loved him since Cheers and Becker and he shines through here just as well. He comes across as the sweet, bowtie-wearing grandfather, but he may have a hidden agenda.
The rest of the cast I was more unfamiliar with, but after watching the first few episodes, they all are fantastic in their own ways. William Jackson Harper is a wonder as Chidi, Eleanor’s soulmate and a worrisome bundle of nerves. He is indecisive, twitchy and just seems totally uncomfortable in his own skin. You feel yourself just getting uneasy and nervous watching him, he rubs off on you that quickly.
Jameela Jamil is Tahani, a spoiled, poor-little-rich-girl socialite who has to nauseously let everyone know all the wonderful deeds she performed on Earth. She plays it to a tee, pretentious British accent and all.
Jianyu Li is a monk who has taken a vow of silence and is so committed to his beliefs that he continues his silence in the afterlife. Manny Jacinto is hilarious in a role that is minimalistic in it’s portrayal. He comes across as a Gandhi-type figure, but who is he really?
Last, but definitely not least, is Janet, Michael’s virtual assistant. She appears when you say her name and is the living “Google” of the Good Place. She has infinite knowledge and is always a cheerful, syrupy happy intelligence. Played by the perky D’Arcy Carden, she always put a smile on my face when she was called upon and owns every scene she’s in.
My wife had started watching The Good Place well before me and, as good wives do, kept prodding me to watch it. I’m glad she finally broke me. The sharp writing and characters are easy to invest in. With all the other withering crap on television these days, this series is a refreshing change. I mean, if the best the networks can do is bring back Will & Grace and Roseanne, you are in for a big treat if you’re looking for something different and clever. Between Netflix, Hulu and Amazon upping the ante to provide quality television, NBC has a winner on their hands.
You don’t have to die to watch The Good Place. It will quite possibly make you feel more alive than ever.