Pilot: “The Good Place”

New comedies have it tough. How to get people to laugh at genuinely funny moments? So much has been done before, but most of it in the worst way possible. Yet, season after season, there’s a whole new crop of comedies that think what’s driving them will be enough. Usually it’s not. It’s not just in the lack of anything funny, but the story itself. You need both in order to even stand a chance.

The new NBCUniversal Television Distribution series “The Good Place”, is a surprisingly funny comedy, with a clever approach to its story of the afterlife and those who end up there.

This comedy series stars Kristen Bell (“Bad Moms”, “House of Lies”), William Jackson Harper (upcoming “Paterson”, “How to Telll You’re a Douchebag”), Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden (“Broad City”, “CollegeHumor Originals”), Manny Jacinto (“Roadies”, “Wayward Pines”), and Ted Danson (“CSI: Cyber”, “Fargo (2015 TV series)”).

It was created by Michael Schur (upcoming episode “Black Mirror”, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”).

It originally aired on Sept. 19, 2016 on NBC.

A new season, with new shows. How does one pick? I don’t know. Sometimes I’m just watching a pilot because it’s the pilot. I’m not expecting something good, but I’m looking for confirmation. When a new series features actors you like, it’s even harder to resist. You want so much to like it, as you want to see them on TV again, but at the same time, it could just be terrible. No amount of love for any given actor should be the reason you suffer through a terrible series. I’m looking at you Geena Davis (upcoming “The Exorcist (TV series)”. Fortunately, I’m confident in this new one. It takes a lot to get me to laugh and like comedies, but this new show could be perfect for me! Hopefully enough viewers agree with me. If not, well it could be the best 13 episodes I’ve seen of a comedy series in some time.

The pilot certainly gave me what I wanted. Sure it felt weird going through the first few minutes, but that’s probably because there was a lot of silence, no musical cues, and the type of comedy is just different. It was all still funny, whimsical and different, so this odd feeling wasn’t really an issue for long.

If you watched the pilot, or at least the trailer, then you’re well versed on what this show’s about. And I must say, with all the footage shown over the last several months, I still found it funny. Everything about his new world just feels fresh. Perhaps it’s because Schur made sure not to go with typical names for heaven and hell and approaches for how one gets to either of those, among other things. We learn through orientation that there’s a point system in place, that determines if you end up in The Good Place or The Bad Place. Even this quick moment’s execution is perfect! Really when you look at all of the whimsical elements of this show, from characters, sets, to even the manner in which The Good Place functions, which is like one never ending ride of brilliantly executed comedy, you’re always getting something truly refreshing.

I also must commend Schur for how much thought he put into every little aspect of The Good Place (the place), as it only makes “The Good Place” all that better. You can see the potential. However, that being said, I think there’s some work that needs to be done. Somehow things seemed to feel off during the second episode (the pilot was really two episodes), and while I still enjoyed it, it made me realize this show could fail from its own lack of originality. You can only do the same thing, or the next closest to the same, for so long before people start to abandon ship.

That sounds strange. For example, one thing I love about the show, which is seriously having it out with “Battlestar Galactica” and “Firefly”, among other shows, is when it comes to the creative use of swearing. Instead of classic foul language, you get gems perfectly delivered by Bell, such as, “Why can’t I say fork?” or “Motherforker.” Included in this running gag are, “bullshirt”, “ashhole” and “What a bench.” I could go on and on, but then I’d be doing exactly what the one hour premier did. Seemingly wear out the fun of this take on language. I love it, but it may get tiresome. The joke, even if I still laugh at the moments that Bell uses the words, will get old. I’ll admit, at times I just wanted this gag to end, but it didn’t. We’ll see if I like that later on.

The next thing, that makes this comedy work wonderfully, not to mention make it enjoyable, are the cast and the characters they play. Sure Jamil is already an obnoxious bench, but there’s other facets of her character that make the commentary on her particular character even funnier. Sadly, however, I really don’t know if that’s something that can be fixed for me to like it week to week.

Bell, well, she’s Bell. You just expect some great stuff from her. And while she delivers, it’s mainly the writing that does this. We’ll see if she and Schur can create a relatable, likable, and even redeemable character in Eleanor Shellstrop.

Her “soulmate”, yes, soulmate, is Harper, whom I’ve never heard of, but he delivered. Oh my god! That chemistry between he and Bell is what makes so many of the antics worth it. They work to balance each other out, which yes seems to be the point of the characters, but with Harper, it’s even better.

Danson, well, the first half hour he was great. Eccentric and weird, like the show itself, but in a good way, but I can’t get a read on how he’s going to be beneficial week in and week out. The second part saw his character become so neurotic over a design flaw, and with good reason, that it did start to wear thin. I liked it, but it just needed to stop. The point had been made.

And all the other characters, I know I’ve forgotten a few, plus the guest stars/extras, they’re perfect fits. Whimsical all the way! Each one was just a hoot in some way! By establishing so many different and eccentric characters this way, coupled with actually funny comedy, Schur’s ensured that in some way, you’ll always be laughing.

Comedies seem to have a really tough Kobe these days. Getting people to laugh. The jokes have to be there, but in order for a vast majority of jokes or work, the story itself has to be interesting and one worth following. That itself is hard as there’s only so much that can be done. If you always have a comedy simply centered around family, which is great to some extent, you’re going to run out of ways to create genuinely good comedy. Granted you could also just have a staff of writers, and a creator, not to mention a network, that doesn’t know when something isn’t funny. The fact that I’ve been excited to this new show, watched an hour of it, and now love it, means that creator, Schur, must’ve done something right. I truly hope it works out, because this show could bring something TV’s been missing for some time. Firstly, a big dose of originality.

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