If NBC’s bold and blithe new sitcom “The Good Place” is to be believed, it’s hard to get into heaven — unless you’re an interloper with a good heart.
That distinction goes to Kristen Bell‘s leading character Eleanor, a wickedly selfish woman who wasn’t so nice on earth but through some sort of glitch, gets into eternal paradise and struggles mightily to stay put.
Ted Danson also stars and plays Michael, Eleanor’s afterlife advisor and the architect behind this particular portion of heaven. Described as a neighborhood, this heaven is filled with humanitarians, frozen yogurt shops and soulmates. Eleanor’s soulmate is a former ethics professor and all-around good guy named Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who likes Eleanor until he discovers that she’s really not supposed to be in “the good place.”
Soon after, Eleanor implores Chidi to help her stay and, being an ethically-driven man with a good heart, Chidi chooses to assist her in endlessly awkward and comedic ways. Eleanor and Chidi also interact with other heavenly do-gooders including Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and her soulmate, a perpetually silent Buddhist monk named Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). Because this is a sitcom and nothing is ever as it seems on the surface, Chidi, Eleanor and of course the TV audience will soon discover that there is more to Eleanor than her boorish behavior and even Tahani and Jianyu have less-than-perfect back stories. Think “Lost” but intentionally funny.
Creator Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation”) must be commended for not only playing to Bell and Danson’s strengths but much like he did with his previous NBC hit, Schur creates a place for lesser-known cast members to truly shine.
Fans of Bell (“House of Lies” and “Veronica Mars”) and Danson (“CSI” and “Cheers”) will be rewarded because no one does snark like she does, and no one does maladroitness quite as well as he. But it’s Harper’s turn as Chidi that truly stands out. Reminiscent of a young Samuel L. Jackson, Harper has the ability to say everything and nothing with his incredibly expressive face and mannerisms. His chemistry with Bell is also noteworthy and every minute they’re not onscreen together feels a lot less meaningful. Jacinto’s Jianyu is the most underdeveloped character but with any luck, he’ll become a stronger contributor as “The Good Place” evolves.
But make no mistake about it, this is Bell’s show and the latest in a series of intelligent career choices the actress has made. Not only does “The Good Place” give her ample room to command the screen and draw viewers in but it heralds the return of NBC as a haven for really smart and relatable comedies. For TV lovers who have missed the Thursday nights the Peacock network built its legacy upon, few partnerships are more heavenly than this.
“The Good Place” premieres Monday Sept. 19 at 10 pm ET before moving to its regular slot Thursday Sept. 22 at 8:30 pm ET on NBC.