NBC’s ‘The Good Place’ revives the intelligent network comedy

BY STEVEN HERNANDEZ
Contributor

Intelligent TV has become commonplace. Cable networks like AMC and HBO are turning out long-form stories now (Breaking Bad, The Sopranos) that are better than most films, and that is to say nothing about the quality behemoth of Netflix, with recent addition A Series of Unfortunate Events wowing critics.

However, these well-financed cable networks are leaving basic cable networks like NBC in the dust. Sure, NBC had 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, but the intelligent, hilarious minds of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have left a hole filled by sick star vehicles like Kevin Can Wait and pseudo-intellectual, mind-numbing, trite chuckle pieces like The Big Bang Theory.

So imagine my surprise at the depth created by Michael Schur’s (The Office and Parks and Recreation veteran) new NBC show The Good Place. Instantly establishing a lore of heaven that is both inoffensive to salient religions, and based on utilitarian principles of morality, The Good Place is set in The Good Place, where only the spectacularly moral are allowed access to the afterlife. Now imagine again what would happen if you placed an accident in heaven. Due to a clerical error, Eleanor Shellstrop (played by Kristen Bell), an all-around “bad person,” has been placed in The Good Place, while the woman who shares her name (who spent her life saving sick children in Africa) is condemned to The Bad Place. Top it all off with a soulmate who spent his life as a philosophy professor of ethics, and the maelstrom of transcendent consequences due to a “bad” person being in The “good” place, and we have a potential masterpiece for character development in a conceptually boring, perfect land.

The cast is led by the aforementioned Kristen Bell with Ted Danson playing the angelic/creator role of Michael. Newcomer William Jackson Harper plays Eleanor’s soulmate, Chidi Anagonye, and is a welcome addition to an already talent-addled cast. His moral deliberations are refreshing in a world of supposedly objective, but alternative facts.

The seeds are lain for truly spectacular character development in The Good Place with Lost-esque expository flashback scenes interwoven between the current events unfolding in each episode, and what’s even better, it’s actually funny. Poking fun at the esoteric and incomprehensible nature of philosophy in Chidi’s ethical manuscript, the upbeat but emotionless omnipotence of The Good Place guide and assistant, Janet (played by D’Arcy Carden, another spectacular fresh face), and the pretentiousness of Eleanor’s next door neighbor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) all left me with more than a smile on my face.

The Good Place convinces me that fresh ideas can still be broadcast on broadcast networks, and that intelligence is being catered to in the realm of television. It will make you smarter, and it might even make you a better person.

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