A little show premiered last Fall, and I have to admit the only reason it initially showed up on my radar at all was because of Kristen Bell’s casting. Since my house is a decidedly Pro-Kristen Bell place, there was no debate – it was simply added to the DVR. Then we waited until it magically appeared one night and watched what unfolded.
For those that didn’t see it or can’t remember what it might have been about… I’ll help to fill you in. Mrs. Bell plays Eleanor. Eleanor is having one of those good news/bad news type of days.
The bad news is that she’s dead.
The good news is that she ended up in the Good Place (Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise, etc.).
So while things are a bit confusing, she comes to find out that The Good Place is a place where not only is everything you might have ever wanted right at your fingertips (seriously, check out the flavors of yogurt they have access to!), but you also get paired off with your legitimate soulmate.
However, the twist is that a mistake has been made – Eleanor is not the Eleanor they think she is. No, somewhere in the universal mainframe she got swapped into the spot. So now she has to figure out how to keep up the ruse that she actually is a good person so she can stay.
Because if they find out… the Bad Place awaits (and no one wants to go there).
Luckily for her, her soulmate, Chidi, is an ethics professor. Which means that he is her voice of reason when so many times she just wants to dwell in those less than admirable qualities.
Sadly for Eleanor, being good is a lot of work (and lots of reading homework).
Ted Danson plays Michael, the “architect” of the little community they’re set up in. He is great as the part angel, part community organizer, and part naive grandpa, stumbling along to help foster those people who need it the most. Yet, this is his first opportunity to create a community and for some reason things are going sideways. Sinkholes open and trash falls from the sky for seemingly no reason. We all know this is because of Eleanor’s presence. She’s “ruining” a good thing.
Somewhat simple enough premise which allows for a myriad of little stories to be told about the trials and tribulations of fighting against your own nature. I say simple, but that’s not entirely fair. With such concepts as Heaven and Hell being tossed around, the show does an excellent job with its core tenet:
Can a person really change who they are? Fundamentally do people ever change in any lasting way? And if you change for selfish reasons, do your acts mean anything in the grand scheme of things or not?
Somewhat strange for a TV show to even pose such thoughts. Most of the time shows survive based solely on their illusion of change when no real change for the characters ever really stick. Heck, something like Seinfeld was exactly that in a nutshell. Those were people who were as despicable in the last episode as they were in the first episode.
Superhero comics have this same problem. How do you write about a character for over 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years without them changing in some ways? And if you do have any big changes – will your audience accept them?
The Good Place obviously builds its central conflict around this, and as we learn more about Eleanor, the less likable her life really was. Selfish, mean-spirited, focused on herself to the detriment of anyone else. The viewer is put in a position where we want her to succeed, but in that success we are going to find ourselves without a TV program to enjoy down the line.
It’s a fun show and does well with the ideas presented on a weekly basis, ending on cliffhangers which makes it feel more like a drama than comedy. And had it not been for the big twist at the end, it would have been a show Courtney and I would have continued to watch probably without mentioning it to other people.
The end of the season changed that.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Seriously, if you are going to watch the show… don’t read anymore. If you need a little more convincing, however…:
As things begin to spin more and more out of control, Eleanor reveals that she is not supposed to be there to Michael. And when it is decided that a pair of our main characters will be forced to go to the Bad Place in order for Order to prevail… an argument ensues. It is then Eleanor has an epiphany:
They aren’t in the Good Place… they are in The Bad Place.
Like I said above, the ending changed the whole show for me. It shook up everything we knew. And it made it so that the second season will be very different. If they were never in the Good Place… will there be any reason to truly be good?
I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the answer.
John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.
He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!
And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!
He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.