Created by: Michael Shur
Starring: Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden
Michael Shur is one of the modern masters of quirky TV having written and produced for Parks & Recreation, Master of None, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. The Good Place may very well be the culmination of his quirky experience in TV bringing smart writing and a truly unique look and feel to this series. While that all sounds good, it definitely ain’t for everyone. The series stars Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto as four new arrivals to the Good Place. The Good Place as it turns out, is where people who have lived extraordinarily good lives go after they die. Kristen Bell learns early on that there has been a mistake, another person with her same name is supposed to be in the Good Place while she was supposed to go to the Bad Place, a much more unpleasant outcome. While everyone around her is painfully nice and good hearted she is blunt, rude, and self-focused. Once she is introduced to the man that is supposed to be her ultimate mate, played by William Jackson Harper she convinces him to teach her how to be a good person so she deserves to stay in the Good Place.
Ted Danson plays a new architect in the Good Place. It appears that each neighborhood houses a specific number of people and the architect is responsible for building a place that everyone in said neighborhood supposed to love. All is not well in this good place though. Kristen Bell’s very existence is causing chaos and it appears Danson may not be so good at his job. D’Arcy Carden plays Danson’s assistant, a being that most closely resembles the holographic doctor from Star Trek Voyager, but with much more knowledge, and a corporeal form of course.
While the Good Place is a comedy, it’s more smirk humor than laugh out loud funny. The show is also painfully cute, even when it’s lead is being snarky. With all of its quirky uniqueness the show is still very formulaic in the Friends and Seinfeld model, especially with the music bumpers and transitions from scene to scene. While none of this is bad per se, it just feels a little typical in the space after you get passed the quirky characters and cutie set design. Kristen Bell is immediately likable and the saving grace of a bunch of annoyingly nice and bubble gum characters. Bell has always had that ability to be likable even when she’s trying not to be, and smirk humor is her wheel house having come from Veronica Mars, a show with the same sort of humor if a bit darker overall. Jamil, in her first big acting gig, is immediately a villain and super annoying but she eventually grows more complex and entertaining. The character kind of reminds me of Charisma Carpenter’s character Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As I watched the show the look of it, and some of the production of it, began to remind me a bit of a lower budget version of a Sci-Fi series called Eureka.
The Good Place is a thoughtful observation of what it means to be good. You’d think it’s a deep dive into the afterlife but it isn’t, outside of some very heavy quotes from philosophy books. The show excels in more subtle moments when it uses character development to discuss the gray areas between bad and good and how to be a better person. When the show quotes writings it comes off heavy handed but that does balance with the subtle moments to craft a thoughtful series that’s tragically hip and sometimes a little too proud of how cool it thinks it is. The series finale is rushed, but poignant, and overall a nice end to an emotional character arc for every character. If cute and quirky hipster storytelling is your jam, it doesn’t get much better than The Good Place. Don’t binge it though, if you spread your viewing out over a little time, the elements that feel repetitive will have much less impact and the great parts, Kristen Bell and Ted Danson in particular, will resonate.
There are around seven episodes per disc, which works out ok because the episodes aren’t long at under thirty minutes each. Colors look great and detail is ok for a television series shot on a smaller budget. CGI looks as cheap as it probably was to create and green screen is obvious. It’s a fine presentation with no major artifacts from compression.
The audio is basic TV Dolby 5.1. Dialogue is clean and clear and score and fx are nicely balanced across the front three speakers. Audio is not immersive and dynamics are all absolutely in the middle, not too high and no bass. This is a dialogue driven series and for that the sound is good.
Packaging and Bonus Features
The nine-disc set is packaged in a fairly svelte Blu-ray case. Six of the discs are on hinged plates with the seventh disc on the inside wall of the case. This design is good for a television series but the mounts for the discs are a bit shallow so many of my discs had shaken lose in the box. Sadly, the cover art is just a promo cast picture. Why couldn’t we get something that speaks to the theme or style of the show? What if the packaging looked like one of the philosophy books featured in the series? That would be amazing.
The final disc of the set is where the bonus features are located. We get gag reels and vfx layered comparisons for each season. The gag reels are funny and the vfx stuff is interesting to see but it’s all pretty shallow for a series with so much to say. There’s a comiccon panel and a talk show discussion with the cast. These two featurettes are depthless and the talk show is honestly mostly annoying. Fortunately, there are a couple of audio commentaries on episodes from season one with cast and crew. These commentaries offer solid behind the scenes information for those particular episodes. We need more of these commentaries, or a documentary.
The Good Place is for a hipster crowd that appreciates painful cuteness, but that said, the show is thoughtful and if often strives for ideas on good and bad, and a little on the afterlife.