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.

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