sat 25/05/2019

The Good Place, E4 review - episode one trails clouds of glory | reviews, news & interviews

The Good Place, E4 review - episode one trails clouds of glory

The Good Place, E4 review - episode one trails clouds of glory

Michael Shur's metaphysical sitcom about the afterlife combines ethics and hilarity

Heavenly bodies: Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Janet (D'Arcy Carden), Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Michael (Ted Danson)

Welcome to your first day in the afterlife! Everything is fine! Eleanor Shellstrop (a sparkling Kristen Bell) is dead, but hey, that’s cool, because she’s made it into the Good Place. Michael (the divine Ted Danson) is architect of this brightly coloured afterlife with its abnormally high ratio of frozen yoghurt parlours. “People love frozen yoghurt. I don’t know what to tell you,” sighs Michael.

He explains the algorithm for entry to Eleanor: after death, good and bad deeds are weighed up using a “totally accurate measuring system”.  For example, ignoring a text message during an in-person conversation, or never discussing veganism unprompted, win you plus points, while using “facebook” as a verb, telling a woman to smile or poisoning a river are on the minus side. Eleanor’s fine because she worked as a lawyer getting innocent people off death row as well as going on human rights missions to the Ukraine. Or did she?

Michael Shur, co-creator of Parks and Recreation, has created an intricate metaphysical sitcom with an unusual mix of stars and newcomers. Philosophical discussions, moral conundrums and questions about what goodness means sit alongside silly surreal jokes and special effects - and perhaps it's the lack of ethics in public life that have made the show such a hit in the US. There’s a little bit of Groundhog Day in there, a little bit of The Truman Show, but it has its own very specific genius. Eleanor asks Michael who was right about the afterlife. Well, says Michael, Hindus got it a bit right, so did Muslims; in fact all religions guessed about five per cent. But Doug Forcett, a stoner kid who lived in Calgary in the 1970s, got really high on mushrooms one night and launched into this long monologue about the afterlife where “he got like 92 per cent correct. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing.” And who’s in the Bad Place? Mozart, Picasso, Elvis, basically every artist ever, and every US president except Lincoln.

goodplaceThe first three series of The Good Place are on Netflix, and they’re binge-worthy. Series two, where the twists that start at the end of the first series keep on coming, is particularly brilliant. But this first episode introduces the basic premise: there’s been a mix-up (or a fork-up. You can’t curse in the Good Place) and apparently Eleanor (Kristen Bell, pictured right, with Ted Danson as Michael), shouldn’t be here. She’s an amoral, pathologically selfish person who worked in telesales in Phoenix, Arizona, defrauding the sick and elderly by selling them fake medicine. And she was top salesperson five years running.

She also drank to excess and refused to be the designated driver when it was her turn, she threw her coffee cup on the ground and didn’t pick it up, and she's too self-obsessed to listen to other people. Could be worse - she didn't kill anyone, and she sees herself as medium, neither bad nor good. "I should get to spend eternity in a medium place like Cincinatti." But she can’t even remember where her appointed soulmate in the Good Place, Chidi Anagonye (a wonderful William Jackson Harper) is from. It’s Senegal, but she calls it Sensodyne. OK, some of the jokes are a bit feeble, but it’s worth persevering.

Chidi was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy (”Mother-forker!” says Eleanor) so she decides that he can teach her to be good – “Is there a pill I can take or something I can vape?” - and thereby escape being exposed and sent to the Bad Place. Another pair of soulmates enter the scene: Tahani, a posh, name-dropping British socialite (the mesmerisingly funny Jameela Jamil) and Jianyu (the deadpan Manny Jacinto, another newcomer) who plays a Buddhist monk observing a vow of silence (though there's something a bit off about his serenity). The interaction between the couples becomes more crucial and many-layered with each episode. But no spoilers here. It’s enough to say that this is architect Michael’s first solo project, after being an assistant for 200 years. And there are complex glitches in his heavenly plan.

This brightly coloured afterlife has an abnormally high ratio of frozen yoghurt parlours

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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