I have a confession to make; I really don’t enjoy sitcoms all that much. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking I do not watch the half-hour comedy shows and much prefer my procedurals or serials. But sometimes a premise comes along that’s so enticing it’s difficult not to check it out.
Enter The Good Place.
The story follows Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) who has somehow accidentally ended up in Heaven after dying. Of course, being the selfish person she is, instead of admitting it, she pretends that she belongs. Unfortunately, her presence has a strange impact on her Heavenly neighborhood, and whenever she does something bad, it manifests blatantly and physically, throwing the neighborhood into disarray. Her soulmate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), who was formerly an ethics professor, knows her secret and decides that he is going to try and help her become good enough to earn her place in Heaven rather than turn her in.
The show has a wicked sense of humor and really great writing. Bell pulls off the highly self-centered Shellstrop incredibly well, and Harper plays a great foil to her with his character’s earnestness. Ted Danson, who plays the neighborhood’s creator Michael, is an amazing veteran presence. His character is an angel who has taken on human form and is trying his best to run his very first neighborhood correctly, even as strange things go wrong all around him.
Then there is Jameela Jamil, who I had not seen in anything prior to this show, playing Shellstrop’s neighbor Tahani Al-Jamil who was a wealthy philanthropist during her lifetime. Jamil was an inspired choice and plays an amazing flighty, British aristocrat type. Her character is oddly perfect and very well liked, and this drives Shellstrop crazy because she finds Al-Jamil to be incredibly condescending.
I think it’s this combination of different personalities that makes the humor of the show pop. Bell’s character is of course very selfish, almost ridiculously so, trying to think about how any given situation could benefit her. Harper’s character is more of a straight man but is also humorous due to his weird quirks and general nervousness. Jamil brings a kind of posh, pseudo-British humor, and Danson brings that fish-out-of-water humor element, as his angelic character doesn’t fully understand how to interact with humans correctly.
On top of that, I find the premise to be more fun than most sitcoms, which are almost entirely based on “real life” scenarios. I also really enjoy that the premise and trouble revolves around Shellstrop keeping a secret, but one that she has to keep because the stakes are incredibly high if she is found out (at least for her). I find most sitcoms rely on miscommunication between characters or information being withheld for no real reason to generate their tension, and I’m not a big fan of that as a story premise.
If you haven’t seen this show and are looking for a great comedy, I definitely recommend checking it out. The first three episodes (the pilot is a double episode) are still available for streaming on the NBC site. New episodes will air on Thursday nights.