Tuned In: NBC’s got a great show with ‘The Good Place’
September 16, 2016 12:00 AM
Ted Danson and Kristen Bell star in "The Good Place."
By Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s “The Good Place” (10-11 p.m. Monday before moving to its 8:30 p.m. Thursday time slot next week, WPXI) offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor.
Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place” is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven.
Kristen Bell (”Veronica Mars,” “House of Lies”) stars as Eleanor Shellstrop, who dies an embarrassing death involving shopping carts and a truck advertising an erectile dysfunction medication. She wakes in “the good place,” which her guide, Michael (1972 Carnegie Mellon University grad Ted Danson, “Cheers”), tells her is not “the heaven or hell idea you were raised with,” and most religions get about 5 percent of the afterlife correct in their conception of it.
But it turns out there’s been an error, and shallow, selfish Eleanor is not the person Michael thinks she is. She’s not a good person who could have accumulated enough points based on her actions during life to merit a ticket to the good place. For now, that secret is kept between Eleanor and her “soul mate,” Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who is instantly uncomfortable with Eleanor’s deception.
NBC made five episodes of “The Good Place” available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes.
In addition to Eleanor and Chidi, “The Good Place” introduces Michael’s virtual assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), and Eleanor’s neighbors, the annoyingly perfect Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and her soul mate, the mute Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). Future episodes explore all of the formerly human characters through flashbacks that inform their behaviors in the Good Place.
Eventually, Eleanor agrees to take lessons in being a nice person from Chidi, who was an ethics professor when he was alive on Earth, but Eleanor doesn’t learn easily. It takes until episode five before she can celebrate a moment of selflessness, and she complains a lot, especially when she has to miss the opportunity to fly in Monday’s second half-hour because she’s doing good works instead.
“We could have gone flying and all you wanted to talk about is morals,” Eleanor complains to patient Chidi. “You’re like the worst part of ‘Superman.’”
“The Good Place” is that rare TV series that mentions philosophers Aristotle and Immanuel Kant but does so in a way that’s not alienating to someone who’s never taken a philosophy class. When Chidi teaches Eleanor about “the concept of the self” and “knowing yourself,” Eleanor takes it the wrong way.
“None of these philosophers is ever talking about masturbation,” he scolds.
Visually, “The Good Place” brings to mind “Pushing Daisies” and Dada art. Conceptually, there’s also a touch of “Daisies” with the notion of keeping a secret, but “The Good Place” is more whimsical. Its combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes “The Good Place” a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.
‘Downward Dog’ casting
Midseason ABC comedy “Downward Dog” is seeking “trendy extras” ages 21-45 for an upscale cocktail party scene shooting Sept. 28. The pay is $8 per hour for the first eight hours and time-and-a-half after that (a typical shoot day is 12-14 hours).
An open casting call will be held today, from 5-9 p.m., at Olive or Twist, 140 Sixth St., Downtown, or visit mossercasting.com to create a profile under the Talent Registration link.
HBO’s “Vice News Tonight” debuts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10. … History’s “Vikings” returns with new episodes at 9 p.m. Nov. 30. … CBS All Access has pushed back the premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery” from January to May 2017. ... The “Good Wife” spinoff that had been slated for May will now debut in February. ... A re-edited version of 2011’s “B.E. Taylor Unplugged” concert program will air at 8 p.m. Thursday on WQED-TV as a tribute to the musician who died last month. ... Dorcas Alexander, an analytics consultant from Bethel Park, will compete Monday on “Jeopardy!” (7 p.m., WPXI). … A team from the French international affairs program “L’Effet Papillon,” which airs on Canal + in France, will conduct interviews locally next week for a four-part series on the U.S. presidential election, including stops at the office of Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto and the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
Tuned In online
Today’s TV Q&A column responds to questions about “The Great British Baking Show,” “Better Late Than Never” and The Weather Channel. This week’s Tuned In Journal includes posts on “Pet Nation Renovation,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Better Things.” Read online-only TV content at http://communityvoices.post-gazette.com/arts-entertainment-living/tuned-in.
This week’s podcast includes conversation about “Better Things,” “Son of Zorn” and highs/lows of summer TV. Subscribe or listen to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette podcasts at iTunes or at https://soundcloud.com/pittsburghpg.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.
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