The Good Place: Season 1
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The Good Place: Season 1

One of the greatest imponderable questions which have confounded humanity for the millennium is what happens upon death. Throughout this period a plethora of religions and various spiritual paths have circumvented the lack of empirical evidence with faith-based explanations. Most scenarios of the afterlife hold to a similar dichotomy of a place of eternal reward and punishment and another offering judgment and punishment without relief. Even such a person subject as this has not been off limits for the television networks. Usually, the use of post-life residences are referred to indirectly as with such shows as ‘Highway to Heaven,' or ‘Reaper, ’ but recently a television series has undertaken to provide a glimpse to a possible ultimate destination. ABC released a new series that addresses this often-controversial theme in a format that is exceptionally imaginative and highly entertaining, ‘The Good Place.' The premise is brilliant in its simplicity. When a person dies, their life is judged on a very straightforward criterion. During our lives we accumulate points for every morally positive action we take, any action that is deleterious to others removes points. At the time of death, the points are tallied, and those with the highest scores are relegated to the ‘Good Place,' those unable to cut receive a one-way ticket to the ‘Bad Place.' Throughout humanity’s existence, this system has worked without a hitch, that is until a rather significant accounting error occurred.

Eleanor Shell stop (Kristen Bell), took the news of her untimely demise better than most would expect. Eleanor regained awareness in a nicely furnished office, the news delivered by a pleasant older man, Michael (Ted Danson). He explains to the confused woman about her vitality challenged condition and the procedure that brought to The Good Place. He further explains that all the world’s religions were wrong concerning the afterlife. Only one individual came within a percentage or so, and the photo of this nondescript man hangs in a place of honor on a wall in Michael’s office. The good Place is divided into various ‘Neighborhoods,' each containing the ideal number of people to form a perfect, harmonious community. Every house represents precisely the stylistic preferences of the new owners, and they will spend eternity there with their soulmate. Eleanor notices some problems with her perfect selections. She dislikes the décor h the house, has nothing whatsoever in common with her soulmate, a Professor of Ethics, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper). Most of all, the litany of noble achievements does not reflex an instant of her entire life. In life, she was a saleswoman from Arizona, self-centered, duplicitous and conniving. Obviously, Eleanor does not belong in The God Place but is terrified by the prospect of the alternative.

As Eleanor begins her attempt to fit in with people she would have ridiculed in life, she inadvertently finds one source of assistance in her cosmic case of fraud, Chidi. Despite not being soulmates, the former professor was truly touched be Eleanor’s plight and offers to teach her about ethical behavior. She tries to pay attention to the classwork but lessons concerning saints and philosophers less than enthralling. Still, Chidi is persistent, and Eleanor has no alternative, so their continue perpetrating the ruse. As a couple, they are expected to fit in with the perfect community, so they wind up associating with their next-door neighbors, Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), a deceased, wealthy philanthropist and her soulmate, a Buddhist monk sworn to silence, Jianyu Li (Manny Jacinto). Early in the season, Eleanor discovers that she is not the only mistake made during the acceptance process. Jianyu is a simplistic stoner named Jason Mendoza, a wannabe DJ from Jacksonville, Florida. Together they try their best to keep their true identities a secret. Michael is completely oblivious to the deception in large part due to the importance of success. This was Michael’s first solo project creating a neighborhood. Failure would bring about very unpleasant consequences for Michael. Michael’s side consists of his always on call assistant, Janet. She is an anthropomorphic interface to answer any question. According to behind the scenes interviews, her name refers to ‘Just Another Non-Existent Terminal.' Rather than limiting this character to exposition and another source of humor, the writers demonstrated exceptional imagination by utilizing her as a major plot point that initiates the circumstances necessary for one of the best executed season finale and cliffhangers than I have seen in a network comedy in a very long time.

The blissful harmony of the neighborhood reflects the disposition of the community, the presence of a discordant influence like the unworthy Eleanor launches a series of bizarre metaphysical occurrences. A giant sinkhole appears in the middle of the main street, strange manifestations of Eleanor’s bad behavior and various objects and events out of place in a utopia. Michael mounts an investigation to determine the cause of the disruption ironically asking Eleanor to help. In life, this would be an incredible stroke of luck unquestioned by the self-centered earthly Eleanor. In trying to fit in something unexpected occurred, at least unexpected by the characters, certain not the viewers. The adage "be careful what you pretend to be, you might become it." As Eleanor faked fitting into a community of the world’s best people, the lessons in morality sparked a deep-seated change in her core personality. For a comedy to be truly effective on an emotional level, it must possess that ineffable quality commonly referred to as ‘heart.' Best described as an ability to invoke a personal connection with the audience bonding them to the character. Fundamentally, Eleanor is an extremely unlikable character. The flashbacks of her life paint a picture of a person son concerned for forwarding her self-interest that her life was devoid of true friends or the faintest hope of love.

Her exposure to a group of people that are exemplary human beings, made Eleanor want to be a better person. The core of the series is different from the standard network, thirty-minute comedy. That format is traditionally referred to as sitcoms, situational comedies. While this describes the premise of the show on the most rudimentary level, it is far from the real driving force behind the series and ultimately its astounding success. This is a character-driven comedy eliciting humor from the twists and turns involved during character development. One aspect I found to be most enjoyable is the fact that the emotional journey was not solely intended for Eleanor. A good series might be content with following the effect exposure to decent people has on the reprobate central character. This show transcended that low hanging goal by expanding the focus to include the inexorable effect Eleanor exerted on her new friends, Michael and the community at large. When the truth inevitably is revealed, and the ‘real’ Eleanor Shell stop (Tiya Sircar) is located our Eleanor has become a real member of s community and family to those closest to her. When Michael’s Bad Place counterpart, Trevor (Adam Scott), arrives to make the exchange Eleanor’s friends rally around to keep her.

Normally I do not become invested with sitcoms. I usually wait for the preview copies before the season’s official start of the review copies of the season DVD. I began watching this series because of its cast. Kristen Bell is an incredibly talented actress with amazing range. From her breakthrough eponymous role as girl detective, Veronica Mars, to recent roles in rather bawdy comedies I have always enjoyed her performances. Ted Danson has been a fixture in film and television for thirty-five years after his eleven-year run on ‘Cheers.' He is another proven and consummate performer with an eclectic range. From the first episode, I realized that this would become something special. There is an unexpected twist at the end that creates one of the television’s memorable cliffhangers. Season two is already underway so catch up with some binge-watching and enjoy.

Posted 11/03/2017

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