The Good Place Season 1 TV Review

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The Good Place (American TV series, 2016) is hilarious.

The Good Place stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who wakes up in the afterlife and is sent by Michael (played by Ted Danson) to “The Good Place”, a utopian neighborhood he designed to reward a select group of people for the extraordinarily good lives they led on earth. Eleanor realizes she was sent there by mistake, and must earn her place in “The Good Place”. Does she reveal her secret? Does she become a better person? Will she create a Category 55 Doomsday Crisis? Hilarity ensues.

Ted Danson is goofy and brilliant, and his quirky outbursts and slapstick as the fretful Architect are perfectly timed. Kristen Bell is good, but not great. Her “bad past” selves are a little predictable and overacted. Manny Jacinto’s Jianyu Li was a little mean-spirited. D’Arcy Carden steals the show as Janet, an artificial helper being that chirpily appears the second someone utters her name. Her combination of robot-like affect and know-it-all-ism make the perfect deadpan to everyone else’s antics. William Jackson Harper is also fantastic as Chidi, the uptight, indecisive ethics professor trying to help Eleanor become a better person. I particularly enjoyed the train sequences to “The Bad Place” and “The Medium Place”. The unsavory characters from “The Bad Place” are also hilarious.

Spoilers!

The first season goes astray a bit in episodes 9 and 10. All the business about soulmates feels antithetical to the core of the story. It recovers brilliantly in episode 12, with the introduction of “The Medium Place,” and the mediocre coke fiend who lives there. In the final episode we are treated to a straight-up reference to Sarte’s Huis Clos (No Exit). L’enfer c’est les autres; hell is the others. It’s revealed that the characters have been in “The Bad Place” the entire time; the whole thing was an elaborate ruse designed to have them torture each other endlessly by just being themselves.

Best scene in the series

The demon from “The Bad Place” clips his toenails in “The Good Plates” restaurant.

See it for the madcap hilarity and quirky depiction of the afterlife

Compare it to more somber depiction of the afterlife in The Bothersome Man.

Paranoid TV Review

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See it if you can suspend serious amounts of disbelief

I like the fact that Netflix is showing original content. On paper, Paranoid sounds pretty good: it’s a cop show and it has a spunky female lead played by Indira Varma, of both Game of Thrones and Luther fame.

Spoilers!

So, what went wrong? Several things:

  1. Crazy levels of stereotyping. The senior detective, Nina, played by Indira, is a hot, babbling mess. You are either going to think she’s cute as hell, or she’ll grate. For me, she starts off being cute, then she grates. Okay sure, she just got dumped, she’s unexpectedly pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, she’s got some issues. But her boyfriend, whose mother is a pathological liar, holds it together 100,000 times better than she does, and he has every reason to be a hot mess. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it were believable, but not all late-thirties women are in the throes of baby lust.
  2. Ridiculous anti-psychiatry vibe. There’s an all-kinds-of-wrong Jesus statue full of pills. Detective Bobby is a sweaty, paranoid mess, supposedly due to the antipsychotic pills he takes (hint: that’s the opposite of how they work). His beatific girlfriend solves all her problems with sunshine, tea and flowers; no psychiatry for her! And look how well she’s doing. One of the primary bad guys is a psychiatrist who abuses every rule of the profession. And if that weren’t enough, finally, yes, the spoiler: terrible things are happening to innocent people — a busload of children drives off a cliff — because of pills. Which leads me to point three…
  3. Way too aggressive a message. Even if the message weren’t “psychiatry is bad” — let’s say the message is “donuts are bad”, or perhaps less controversially, “murder is bad” — do we really need it to be shoved so aggressively down our throats? A little subtlety would go a long way.
  4. Plot holes galore. Lack of fingerprinting and gloves, shoddy police work, no repercussions when Bobby knocks over the Jesus statue, etc.
  5. Believability issues. Nina dumps her lovely new boyfriend to go back to her snarky, not-nearly-as-cute ex? I’m not buying it. And if she is so willing to have a pregnancy without the benefit of a partner, why not do it ages ago? Why does she act like this one ex-bf is her only hope of getting pregnant?

That said, I did binge-watch the entire series.

I binge-watch tv

I binge-watch tv. As mentioned in a previous post, I recommend that you consume your television as you do your food. Pair up your television choices to maximize your emotional well-being at the end of the experience. I like to pair up a bitter edgy drama with a nice calming popcorn comedy. I like to end the evening on a calm note.

But how often should you watch television? In this age of endless choices, we can watch an entire series in a weekend. In a day, even. I often do. Is this good for me? What do I miss out on when I do? Is it healthy to forgo the art I might have been making, the social contact? Or is tv a welcome intellectual and emotional adventure, albeit 10 episodes at a time? How much is too much?

To give you an idea, I’m a serious binge-watcher. When I had a bad breakup, I watched all episodes of Arrested Development in a row. I never laughed so hard in my life. Good laughter. I am forever grateful for those stupid shows. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but it was a very accelerated period. I watched all episodes of House of Cards in one evening. There was no way I was going to let my eyes turn away from Kevin Spacey‘s creepy mug. I mean, eesh. Here are other shows that I have watched through one episode after another:

In some cases I watched television while doing something else (art, writing emails, paying bills, exercise). It’s only for the highest quality shows that I pay strict attention. In some cases the series spanned such a long time that I binged sections of it at a time in between “life”.

I believe I am making active, intelligent choices about what I watch. One of my favorite activities is mulling over the movie or television descriptions on Hulu or Netflix, reading reviews, and reading about directors. I have rated almost 3000 items on Netflix, so its recommendation algorithm is uncanny. If Netflix and OKCupid combined forces, they’d form one hell of a dating company. Netflix has me all figured out. Also, binge-watching is the only way I can really follow story arc, character development, plot. If I watch episodes separated by too much time, I lose all that. My interest would also wane. I have a short attention span. It’s like picking up some long-lost thing and having to thread the needle again before the story can get going. It just doesn’t work for me.

But still, I am a little conflicted. In my metaphor of television as food, I wouldn’t eat ten meals in a row. I’d have some problems. And am I missing out on art? Exercise? Friends?

Soooo. Hm! Jury is out. I’m probably going to continue binge-watching, but I don’t have a great justification for why it is better than getting off your butt other than “I like it.”

What do you think?