Friday, January 27, 2017

"The Good Place," Year One

Major spoilers ahead. All of them.

It turns out that Hell is a sitcom, or at least a place where manufactured sitcom dilemmas are part of the torture. I really didn't see that ending coming, probably because I'd grown to like Ted Danson's Michael so much, and was convinced of the innate goodness of Chidi and Tahani, despite some pretty big honking flaws. Frankly, there are some elements of the big twist that I'm not really sure pass muster with what we've seen previously - the definition of "torture" seems awfully suspect - but then a lot of that can be handwaved away by pointing out that this was just an early experiment in new techniques, and Michael is new at being in charge. If Eleanor hadn't figured out the truth, I can see how the situation could have gotten a lot worse for our foursome in a hurry.

The show has overall been excellent for its entire, too-brief first season. It's paced just right, doling out new information at reasonable intervals, and not abusing the cliffhanger endings too much. The characters really grew on me as they revealed new bits and pieces of their past lives and personalitites. Janet and Jason falling in love has been especially fun, and the source of some of the best laughs in the last few episodes. Kristen Bell really sells Eleanor's gradual rehabilitation, and I buy her change of heart. I think Tahani and Chidi still need a little work - their supposed love connection was the least convincing of all the possible matches, but the actors have been excellent. William Jackson Harper's reactions are priceless. Even the smaller, one-shot roles are so well conceived, like Maribeth Monroe's nutty Mindy St. Clair, and Adam Scott's awful Trevor. Not to mention, we have characters referred to as Fake Eleanor, Real Eleanor, and Bad Janet. And is anyone ever going to explain Bambadjan?

The worldbuilding has wisely been kept pretty simple so far, but each new concept has been so well executed, and the humor is just the right amount of wry and self-aware. Mindy St. Clair's's digs in the Medium Place, for instance, aren't really "medium," but a grudging compromise between the operators of the "good" and "bad" places that results in the only available movie being "Cannonball Run II." Janet in love is a wonderful mix of cutesyness and alien oddity. Her wedding with Jason remains a big highlight of the season because it's so enthusiastically wrong. We still don't know a lot of the details about how the afterlife works, and there's a good chance that a lot of what we do know is wrong, because of Michael's scheme. Speaking of Michael, even knowing that he's really a baddie, I still like him. Even when he's being malevolent, and a meta showrunner stand-in, he's still adorable!

In a different show the reset ending would have infuriated me, because it suggests we're going to have to replay a lot of previous levels to get back to where we were, but "The Good Place" has been so unpredictable, who knows where the story is going to go? There are so many tantalizing questions that have been set up, and so many things that need to be reevaluated. This is the first show in a while where I'm seriously tempted to go back and watch several of the earlier episodes to see how they play with the new information. And the twist wasn't even that difficult to guess from the beginning - I saw several outlets bring it up as a possibility right after the premiere - but how they pulled it off was fantastic. On the other hand, how is any subsequent season going to live up to it?

I'm really rooting for the show to come back next year, which is far from certain. Ratings have been decent, but maybe not decent enough. And that's a shame, because as good as television is right now, I'd be hard pressed to name another sitcom that's been doing anything close to what "The Good Place" has been doing these past few months. Then again, this run of episodes is so good, having more might spoil it.

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