NBC Points The Way To TV Heaven In 'The Good Place'

Excuse me for pointing this out, but it’s not polite to point.

And yet network publicity departments love the “pointed finger” photo -- like the one accompanying this blog post from the new NBC comedy “The Good Place,” premiering Monday night. Yesterday’s example was from the new Kevin James sitcom on CBS called “Kevin Can Wait.”

That title was a play on the old movie title “Heaven Can Wait,” although there was nothing heavenly about the experience of watching the show. By coincidence, “The Good Place” is a comedy about heaven. Or if you’re a pessimist of the “glass is half-empty” variety, you might say “The Good Place” is a comedy about death, which is always a tricky concept to pull off.



In “The Good Place,” a young woman dies and is sent to heaven, where she meets Ted Danson. He plays the man in charge of heaven, but as I understand it, he’s not God. He’s more like a general manager and official greeter (NBC’s press material identifies him as “the architect of the Good Place”).

Kristen Bell plays the young woman. She’s the one doing the pointing in the photo. The target of her sassy index finger is another character, her mismatched “soul mate” (played by William Jackson Harper).

Their “Odd Couple”-style mismatch is the result of a mixup that is the underlying plot point of this show, which is that the Kristen Bell character has been mistakenly sent to “the good place” instead of the “bad” one, when she was much more deserving of the latter than the former.

As a result, all hell breaks loose. Or to put it another way, the architecture of heaven -- a system (as well as buildings) that has been put together by the Ted Danson character -- begins to collapse.

This premise is something new or at the very least, I cannot remember a show like this one. So give “The Good Place” props for originality, which is not an easy feat on TV. Danson is great in it, which is no surprise. He’s a top-drawer television actor suitable for almost anything he’s ever been cast in.

Bell is her usual sunny, perky self. She’s a celebrity who seems to score well with women her age (36) who loved her in “Veronica Mars” and have made her a popular commercial pitchwoman (most notably in the Samsung appliance spots she does with her husband, Dax Shepard). In the celebrity pantheon, she resides right in the sweet spot of the demographic TV always seeks to reach -- women 18-49.

So what’s the prognosis for this heaven-and-death comedy? The show is certainly attractive enough. The settings and special effects they have created for this show are among the most imaginative seen recently on any TV comedy -- network, cable or otherwise. 

With a “high concept” such as this, however, the question always is: How do you sustain this scenario going forward for an entire season of episodes and hopefully future seasons (at least enough of them -- four -- to make it into rerun syndication)? That might prove to be a challenge for a show as fanciful as this one.

I don’t mind pointing out, however, that I liked this one, whether or not it sticks around long enough to enjoy an afterlife in syndication. NBC has shrewdly provided several episodes for TV columnists to preview rather than just the first one. I plan on watching them all as soon as possible.

“The Good Place” premieres with a two-episode preview Monday (Sept. 19) on NBC starting at 10 p.m. Eastern. It premieries in its regular time period on Thursday (Sept. 22) at 8:30 p.m. (until Thursday night football games commence on NBC on Nov. 17).

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