Judging a show based on a pilot is always a weird thing. It’s like judging a book by its first chapter: It might give you an idea about the book overall, but it could very well get better or much, much worse. The other side of this being that if something starts off good, or bad, it will likely continue being that way. But really, a pilot simply gives you an indication of how the show will be in the future.
In that spirit, this is quite encouraging for The Good Place.
This NBC comedy stars Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who has recently died and gone to what is ostensibly Heaven- here called The Good Place. Ushered in by Michael (played by Ted Danson), Eleanor becomes a member of a new “neighborhood” of this paradise- that resembles an excessively gentrified part of Brooklyn- based largely on her work as a lawyer getting innocent convicts off of Death Row.
Apparently the idea we’ve always had of Heaven and Hell is not quite accurate and instead what exists is The Good Place and The Bad Place. Most – probably about ninety-five percent- go to The Bad Place while the best of the best people go The Good Place. These are the ones that have done the most good while on Earth, the most “Mother Theresa” acts that have made the Earth inextricably better- hence Eleanor.
The only snag here being that Eleanor was in no way, shape, or form a good person. She at one point refers to herself as a “medium person” and even that feels like a stretch. In reality, she was a rather despicable woman that sold bad medicine to the sick and elderly, avoided “Designated Driver” as if it were the plague, and by all accounts cursed like she stepped off an HBO set. Now equipped with essentially a free pass into Heaven, however- and not wanting to get kicked out and forced to endure an eternity of never ending torment- she attempts to become a decent person with the help of her newly discovered soul-mate, Chidi (played by William Jackson Harper).
One of the more interesting aspects to The Good Place is its blurring of morality in an otherwise morally binary world. Whereas the few, select souls in The Good Place get to enjoy the eternal paradise that comes with being the cream of the crop, everyone else who does not make the cut of being one of the best people ever have to go to The Bad Place. What makes The Bad Place so iffy is that no one directly associated with The Good Place is at all willing to talk about this “Hell”.
To make matters ever more unsettling, the criteria to get into The Good Place is, at the very least, wildly subjective. An algorithm has been developed by someone, probably an angel (for lack of a better word), and this puts numeric value to one’s morally good or bad deeds. This begs the question: who decides what qualifies as a good deed? And how do you possibly quantify that into mere analytics? Does being a whistle blower at a corrupt company call for a greater or lesser number than saving someone from being hit by a car? The show says that you have to cross a certain numeric line to get into The Good Place. In that case, let’s say you’re a couple numbers away from reaching that threshold. Do you get bumped up to a pass or does it just suck to suck for all eternity? The rules of this world are absurd and a little gross and that’s kind of the point.
It’s a show that makes you uncomfortable just as much as it makes you laugh- and it does both of these abundantly.
All that a pilot can really do is demonstrate what a show is capable. Given that, this a show with great potential and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.