Oooh, Heaven is a Place on Earth

After such triumphs as Parks & Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you can bet that when I hear the name Michael Schur, my ears perk up. So when they announced he'd be making a show about a foul-mouthed jerk played by Kristen Bell accidentally getting into heaven, I was on board before I knew any of the other details. That trust has now paid off in spades, because the first season of The Good Place has just wrapped up, and it was fantastic.

Indeed, the first focus of the show was on Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell), and how out of place she is in an environment full of people who spent their time on Earth being good-hearted and philanthropic. Everyone is supposed to be assigned a soulmate in the Good Place, and her interactions with ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper) put him in jeopardy as well as her if her presence is ever discovered. There's also next-door neighbors Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and her silent Buddhist monk soulmate Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), both of whom throw wrenches into Eleanor's plans for different reasons. The entire enterprise is administrated by the architect, Michael (Ted Danson), who's fascinated by human behavior, and an anthropomorphized computer program, Janet (D'Arcy Carden), who is there to make the residents' afterlives more convenient, but who has entertaining glitches of her own.

As the season progresses, Eleanor faces her regrets about how she behaved while she was alive, and tries to change her ways, while also rubbing off on the would-be saints she now hangs out with. This is a comedy, though, so the biggest factor should be whether the show is funny or not. Well, good news. It's hilarious.

That said, The Good Place also manages to do something a lot of sitcoms don't even bother to attempt; it builds a sustainable story arc with engaging twists and turns. Other shows are content to reset after each episode, which is perfectly fine, but this one strives for more. It actually creates a threatening situation for its protagonist, and spends the entire season exploring her efforts to overcome those obstacles. To be able to do that while still making me guffaw out loud several times per episode? That's pretty forking cool.

The Good Place - Season 1: A


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