TV Review – The Good Place

The Good Place (American TV series, 2016) is great watching. The Bothersome Man (Norwegian movie, 2006), on the same topic, is also great watching. Read below for comparisons.

Spoilers!

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.

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” clipping his toenails in “The Good Plates” restaurant.

The Bothersome Man (Norwegian: Den brysomme mannen) is about a man in the afterlife who is stuck in “The Medium Place” (not named as such), craves “The Good Place” (where the aroma of breakfast pastries and sound of children on the other side of the wall torment him), and ends up on a doomed bus ride to “The Bad Place” (ominously implied as the bus drives off into the barren snow). It features a bus, not a train, the places are not named, and the movie is sombre, but the theme resemblance is otherwise uncanny. Interestingly, Wikipedia treats the setting as present-day, not afterlife: The story is about a man suddenly finding himself in an outwardly perfect, yet essentially soulless dystopia, and his attempt to escape. … The two dig frantically, in secret, through the wall and discover it leads into a house, presumably back in the real world. 

I disagree, Wikipedia.

The Good Place: See it for the madcap hilarity and quirky depiction of the afterlife.

The Bothersome Man: See it for the sombre and nuanced depiction of the afterlife.

TV Review: Paranoid – Netflix Original

I like the fact that Netflix is showing original content. On paper, the series 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.

See it if you can suspend serious amounts of disbelief

On writing

I am working on a novel. It lacks… cohesion. I need to plot the plot points.

Anyone have any tools that they use specifically for plotting out a story? I already use Scrivener to do the writing, but I don’t like how it does notes on scenes, and I can’t seem to export the scenes into a legible format.

Words I am fond of, this week.

Redolent.
That stretch of beach was redolent of seaweed.
Vermillion.
Shades of vermillion reminded her of urban gardens in the summer.
Verdant.
Olympic National Park is lush and verdant.
Ubiquitous.
The ubiquitous grasslands marked the horizon.
Spasm.
In a spasm of misplaced confidence, she quit her day job.
Crispy.
She might have stayed up for a second all-nighter but she was feeling a bit crispy.
Resonant.
She liked his voice: deep, resonant, and smooth.

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