There’s nothing wrong with high concept comedy as long as that high concept doesn’t overpower the humor itself. Shows like Fox’s Son of Zorn is a case of concept overpowering comedy. Where the only reason to tune in is to see if the premise works, not if the show is actually funny. There is, however, an example of a new show this season that gets high concept comedy right. That show is NBC’s The Good Place.
Created by Michael Schur, The Good Place stars Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a recently deceased woman who wakes in the afterlife to discover she’s been allowed to join “the good place,” where the best of humanity's best go to live out the rest of eternity. However, Eleanor soon realizes there’s a problem with her admittance: she isn’t the Eleanor Shellstrop everyone thinks she is. She doesn’t belong in “the good place” at all.
Where The Good Place succeeds is making its premise feel like a world that can be believed (in a fantastical sense). While this is heaven, it’s a very grounded heaven mostly built around funny constructs rather than mystical activities. Some of these constructs include everyone having a house that suits their character perfectly and there being a yogurt shop on every corner.
In “the good place” lies a real chance to succeed comedically, however the series is more sweet than it is laugh out loud funny. Like ABC’s Speechless - though not nearly as flat out great - The Good Place is full of a lot of heart and earnest drive to be something enjoyable. Eleanor’s reaction to the “perfect” world could make for some truly great slapstick moments akin to the prime days of New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That’s as good a place to start as any.
The Good Place is a good comedy that can grow into something we are going to want to spend years with. Kristen Bell is very enjoyable to watch, and the world she’s living in is a place full of story engines that can last for years to come. The real question is whether the series will manage to remain as grounded as possible in its humor, or if it will succumb to relying solely on the tricks of its premise to make it through various arcs over the course of the series. That’s where the show will live or die.
The Good Place premieres Monday, September 19th at 10/9c on NBC.
Australian airdate still to be confirmed.