The Good Place: Season 1 – DVD Review (2017)
Adam reviews The Good Place: Season 1 recently released by Shout Factory on DVD. Starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson the show created by Michael Schur.
The short review is: The Good Place is forking awesome. Watch it. Now.
The long(er) review:
High Concepts are tricky beasts. Often times a show or film will think it’s enough just to have a cool high concept and try to float on that alone. Sorry, Dollhouse, you have to be more than the concept. The degree of difficulty in keeping a high concept not just going but entertaining, fresh and not relying on the troupe is almost harder than just staying away from them.
It’s a minor miracle that The Good Place created by Michael Schur manages to be not just a high concept but a fully realized world populated by unique fallible interesting characters. To further amaze this is a Network television show. From the moment the show begins it feels nothing like a Network series. Conventional storytelling is thrown out the window in favor for dare-to-be-great go-for-broke writing that favors characters and their development over storytelling conventions.
Schur co-creator of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation has refined the plotless plotting that he worked so hard to define on those two former shows. Here there is no ramp up time; The Good Place is instantly running at full speed. The work done in the pilot is miraculous, giving you everything you need to know and never feeling like plotting or exposition. The hardest kind of storytelling to pull off on TV with style and wit is the character driven narrative (rather than exposition/plot driven).
There are some conventions as this is not an Altman-esque rabble rousing affair. Our heroine Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) though in the Good Place, quickly realizes what The Talking Heads sung about; this is not my beautiful life. Some clerical error has put her in the good place. Rather than retreat to the bad place, Eleanor with the help of her “soul mate” Chidi (William Jackson Harper) begins to attempt to “earn” her place.
This show skews conventions by leaning on the thematic and ethical quandaries at the center of the story; can Eleanor change? Does she deserve to be there? Because Chidi is helping her does he become complicit there for deserves to go to the bad place? These sorts of collegiate level treaties on philosophy and social ethics are never boring and done in a way that is only upon inspection is so intelligent and thoughtful. Schur and the writers manage to create a show that balances its brilliant, intelligent, funny and warm writing with shot of cynical, darkly hilarious cutting observations. At every turn of its 13 Episode first season the series pushes to be more finding its emotional core and voice.
The show would be (literally) an academy exercised if not for the ensemble cast. Though anchored by an top liners Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, that should in no way lessens the contributions by William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden and Many Jacinto. As the central core of this story, each are given characters that allow them to really settle in and bring out well earned character moments and comedic beats.
Kristen Bell shines as the hot mess that is Eleanor. In her hands Eleanor is a fully realized person that isn’t just good or bad. The entire show is focused on Eleanor’s moral core. Bell allows herself to revel in the darker meaner moments of Eleanor as much as she revels in the tiny victories. The work here goes beyond simple moral platitudes of change; Bell plays the arc of someone trying to grip with being a good person and what that means. She does so with the type grace and charm rarely seen in a comedic performance.
The work done by Danson and Harper is no less important and praise worthy. Danson is perfectly cast as Michael the architect of this section of the good play. Harper as Chidi could simply had been “Basil Exposition” but Chidi is an equal in every way as a character to Bell’s Eleanor. Their back and forth recalls the best moments of Bringing Up Baby with its manic rat-a-tat-tat back and forth and aerobatic wit. D’Arcy Carden as Janet the Alexa/Siri of the Good Place is a comedic gold mine. The work that both the writers and she does to give Janet more dimensions than most characters on TV is part of the subversive nature of the entire enterprise. Jacinto and Jamil are both perfectly cast as “Soul Mates” Jianyu and Tahani. Many lesser shows would spend a season or two figuring out how both fit into the fabric of the show but here the writers give Jianyu and Tahani bold arcs that are some of the funniest and insightful of the show.
The show’s first season ends on a delightfully wicked moment that ensures anyone who has invested will eagerly anticipate diving into the second season.
The DVD Extras
The Extras include the following.
- Audio Commentary On Two Episodes With Creator Michael Schur, Executive Producer Drew Goddard, And Co-Stars Jameela Jamil And D’Arcy Carden.
- Live Table Read
- Gag Reel
- A Look At Visual Effects
The commentaries are actually four commentaries for episodes 1 & 2 and episodes 12 & 13 but as Shout has combined them as extended episodes it appears as two commentaries. The 90 minutes of commentary spread across the opening and ending of the season is a lively affair. Creator Schur and E.P. and Pilot Director Goddard have a great back and forth (including Goddard discussing having never seen any of Schur’s work). Both Jamil (who plays Tahani) and Carden (who plays Janet) are on the commentary and bring as much information as both Schur and Goddard do. Though lively and funny the four manage to give out some great information about the show’s production and writing. My favorite being Schur went to Damon Lindeloff for advice on the script.
The Live Table Read is just that a filmed table read of Mindy St. Claire. There’s a nervous energy that’s different than the show and it’s a fascinating watch.
The Gag Reel and VFX break down are standard fare, nothing to write home about.
Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. The Good Place is one of my favorite discoveries of 2017. Do not sit on this one. Get caught up right away. This is one of those shows like 30 Rock or Parks and Rec or Brooklyn Nine-Nine that is only going to grow in esteem. Catch this one on the way up.