The Good Place, brought to you by Parks and Recreation and The Office’s Michael Schur, is a sitcom in which Kristen Bell finds herself dead as shit and stuck in a very curious afterlife filled with lots of possibly blasphemous creative touches and rules that will remind you very much of Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life.
The show premieres on NBC this fall, but we lucky suckers at Comic-Con were treated to a showing of the very first episode. A lot of pilots have to spend some time setting up the world within which they inhabit, but The Good Place has a lot of extra work to do in that regard. It has an entirely made-up afterlife to explain, which is why it opens with both an interview between Kristen Bell and head honcho Ted Danson and an informative video before the first commercial break. This pilot is Exposition City.
Let me break it down as economically as possible. You die. Every good or bad thing you ever did is given a numerical value. If your score is high enough, you go to The Good Place. If not, you are super fucked. Most people (the pilot goes out of its way to specify that this includes almost all artists and every president except Lincoln) go to The Bad Place. All we know about The Bad Place is that it is very awful and no one is allowed to discuss it, or so the people in The Good Place say.
The Good Place is pretty good though. If you’re good enough to get there, you are treated to the home of your dreams, the neighborhood of your dreams, and even your soul mate. It’s like the people in charge take a look at your brain and engineered a best case scenario for the rest of your eternity.
That sounds like a pretty drama-free sitcom setup, luckily Michael Schur has you covered. After being praised for her humanitarian efforts on Earth, getting the keys to her dream home, and meeting the kind of guy she’s wanted her entire life, Bell’s character admits that she’s actually a piece of shit who doesn’t like any of this nonsense and only got into The Good Place probably due to some clerical error.
Should she fess up? That’s the main narrative thrust of the pilot. She chooses not to, but her overall negativity has extreme consequences in this utopia meant only for the best of humanity. As the episode ends, The Good Place is overrun with giant bugs, destructive chaos, and some strange outfits all thanks to mean things Bell’s character says throughout the episode. Obviously, her lack of nobility and altruism throws a wrench in The Good Place’s system. She could explain herself and leave, or she could maybe learn to be a better person instead. She chooses the latter.
And that’s basically it! The Good Place gets by more on narrative curiosity than comedy. There are some funny bits, such as when Ted Danson explains Kristen Bell’s extremely long and pathetic death before she finally cuts him off, and a lot of milage is gained by the fake curse words Bell is forced to use since legit cursing is not allowed on this higher plain. But the show’s main entertainment crux has little to do with laughter and more to do with exploring the setting. During the panel, Schur made it very clear that each episode would begin within seconds of the one preceding it, and that the writing staff made sure that each episode had some kind of revelatory twist regarding the sitcom’s world building. This is a huge departure from what we saw him do with The Office and Parks and Rec.
This will be a good show, and I’m excited to see where it goes as its first season progresses. The pedigree alone is impressive. Along with Kristen Bell’s obvious arc, Ted Danson’s character also has fertile avenues to explore as well. In addition to that, the pilot was directed by none other than Drew Goddard. This is a show with infinite narrative possibilities and people behind it who know what they are doing.