The Good Place (Mondays 8/7c on NBC)
Most new TV shows have to reel audiences in by asserting what makes them unique. What makes this hang-out sitcom different from “Friends”? What makes this cop show different from “Law and Order”? “The Good Place,” the new sitcom from “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-creator Michael Schur, doesn’t really have that issue. It’s set in the afterlife, which is about as far out of setting a TV series can have. If that alone doesn’t peak your interest, nor its creator’s history, “The Good Place” probably isn’t worth pursuing.
The first episodes enjoy the freedom it has to play in its established universe, unfolding the many rules and properties of its version of heaven without getting so deep as to dispell its mystery. An omnipotent Siri can tell you if someone who didn’t sleep with you is gay or not, Giant jam-jars roll about in times of crisis and flying exists, but “The Good Place” doesn’t get lost in its world-building.
The show establishes its characters from the get go, with Kristen Bell standing out as the habitually-mean Eleanor, who accidentally ends up in “The Good Place” after she dies and must work with her soul-mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper) at becoming a better person if she wants to retain her spot there with Ted Danson, its caretaker, and Michael, a well-meaning celestial being still adapting to dealing with human beings on a regular basis.
Although it hasn’t poked through yet, “The Good Place” exists with the bane of its premise being unsustainable for television. Its pilot concludes on an ominous note that indicates a direction toward unraveling the secrets of “The Good Place,” such as how Eleanor ended up there in the first place and why they aren’t allowed to know anything about “The Bad Place” beyond a soundbite of its inhabitants screaming perpetually in horror.
The central gimmick of its setting in the afterlife limits how much mileage it can get out of the fantastical concept before reverting into a standard, hang-out sitcom with an abnormal setting, or imploding altogether. It’s possible “The Good Place” can maintain its level of discovery mixed with “Parks and Recreation”-style comedic beats for a long period, but television history indicates it’ll burn out half-way through its first season. It’s got a good verve for the moment, though.
Enjoy it while it lasts!