Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Good Place 1.01: "Pilot"

“Do you think anybody cared that I died?”
- Eleanor

I came into this pilot with pretty high expectations. Unlike Jen, I didn’t have the allegiance to the creative mind behind the show but we are both pretty loyal to Kristen Bell. That said, I have to admit the pilot was a little slow for me. I understand they had to set up the premise of the show (and it is a pretty cool and interesting one) but it felt like that took up a bit too much time. Still, I’ll take whatever I can get with Kristen Bell on my screen!

We open the episode with Eleanor Shellstrop opening her eyes to find herself in a waiting room, soon greeted by cheery and calm (if a bit quirky) Michael. In a very matter-of-fact fashion, he tells Eleanor that she’s dead and that thanks to all of the tremendous good she did in her life, she made it to the “good place”. Also we get the embarrassing details of her death (she was hit by a driving billboard for an erectile dysfunction med). Not quite the “space toilet” approach but still pretty awkward funny. Michael makes clear that it isn’t the heaven/hell construct she was raised on but it’s sort of similar. Through a series of walk and talks and a silly orientation video Eleanor and the viewer are introduced to how the “good place” works. There are various neighborhoods, each with 322 people in them and specifically designed to make those 322 people feel perfectly happy for eternity. They each have their own house designed for them and the afterlife comes with a soul mate. This all sounds great, except for the little glitch that Eleanor is not a good person. She’s not even a decent person. A fact which she confides in her new soulmate, Chidi. Chidi is a bit overwhelmed by Eleanor’s admission (he was a college professor focusing on teaching ethics and morality). Perhaps there may be a reason for why Eleanor ended up in the “good place’ by accident. At a town gathering, Michael admits that he has been an apprentice for two hundred years and the neighborhood is the first one he’s been allowed to create o his own. He’s super excited by that fact, although I suspect that is part of what’s caused the problem. I did find it amusing just how much they rely on “point values” in assessing how much good or bad someone did in their lives. It was nice to see that things like “telling a woman to smile” raised pretty huge negative points. I think that’s a good way to combat gender issues in our society. Michael also reveals that most of the people in the world don’t get into the “good place”. Cue some horrible screaming as a representation of the “bad place”.

I will say that the set design on the show was amazing and pretty hilarious. Eleanor (the one who is supposed to be in the “good place” loved clowns and apparently hated stairs (as there aren’t any to get from the living room of the tiny brightly colored cottage to the bedroom). Our Eleanor hates clowns. It’s pretty funny though to see her reaction to things. One of the best reactions is when she tries to swear and can’t. According to Chidi, some people in the neighborhood are upset by it so it is forbidden. While Eleanor is wondering how she ended up here, we are introduced to her enemy, a chirpy British woman named Tahani. She never shuts up (and oddly reminds me of Sondra from Baby Daddy). Her soul mate is a Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of silence in life (and apparently in death). It does make me wonder if perhaps they were paired so that he could be a calming influence on her. I am curious to find out what exactly she did in her life to get here. Perhaps she, like Eleanor, was glitch?

Anyway, Tahani is hosting a party for everyone and Eleanor and Chidi attend. Eleanor postulates that everyone in the place has faults and calls Tahani a cartoon giraffe. She also steals a bunch of shrimp (they are really huge cocktail shrimp that shoves down her bra) and has more than a few glasses of champagne. Along the way, Chidi realizes just how selfish Eleanor really is when he tries to get her to tell him just one good thing she did in her life. We do get some flashbacks to her when she was alive (selling fake medicine to sick old people…hey she was proud to be the top salesperson five years running). I am interested to learn more about Chidi and see if we can find some flaws in his past, too. Because really, no one is 100% good or bad. Everyone has a little grey in them.

As Eleanor goes to bed, we find that things are about to take a crazy turn. When she wakes up, things are not right (not even a little bit). Overall, I think the pilot started to pick up steam when it really started to dive into the characters a bit. I will say I understand the need to establish the premise and the rules of a high-concept show and I think they accomplished that. But, it did feel like it dragged a bit at the start. I’m not sure how they could introduced the concept (especially the point system) in a different way (I wasn’t a huge fan of the video orientation set up) but I think they could have found a better way to share that information with the viewer (and Eleanor). I do hope that as the series moves forward, we get to see more character growth and I am excited to explore the world Michael has created. I did have to laugh at the overabundance of frozen yogurt shops in the neighborhood. Ted Danson’s delivery that they are in every neighborhood and he isn’t sure why made me smile.

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