Owen Tillerman (Leslie Odom, Jr.) is the manager of Central Park in New York City. He’s married to reporter Paige Hunter (Kathryn “Agatha All Along” Hahn) and the father of young kids Molly and Cole (Kristen Bell and Tituss Burgess). The family lives inside of the Edendale Castle in the park and are watched over by the narrating busker Birdie (Josh Gad). Unfortunately, it turns out that local businesswoman Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci), along with her henchwoman/assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs), has decided to start scheming in order to purchase Central Park and turn it into a series of apartment buildings. The Tillermans not only have to deal with their own problems, but now they have to overcome Bitsy’s plans to destroy their lives. Fortunately, they have the power of song… and also a ton of cameos by famous singers.
I was told this show was mediocre and thus didn’t watch it (also, didn’t have Apple+ until recently). The person who told me that clearly had no joy in their soul. This show is everything I wanted and more. Aside from having an absolutely dynamite cast that has multiple Tony and Emmy award winners, the show’s music is absolutely amazing. It includes a wide variety of musical styles, ranging from the big band numbers of old Broadway to the hip-hop influenced music of Hamilton, and it does all of them well. It’s amazing to realize that there are 46 songs in a 10 episode half-hour show, but somehow they managed to pull it off. It helps that people like Cyndi Lauper, Alan Menken, Darren Criss, Aimee Mann, and even Fiona Apple contributed songs to the show.
The characters are pretty varied, although all of them are quirky, much like on Bob’s Burgers. While the Tillermans don’t quite stand out as much as the Belchers, they definitely have a lot of the same weirdness mixed with genuineness to make them eventually become just as lovable. The number of songs does sometimes hinder both the character development and the plot development, but the odds are good you’ll be too hooked on them to care. The guest characters are usually amazing, ranging from people like a tour guide of the deleted scenes of Home Alone 2 to a busker who competes with Birdie for narrating duties. It’s actually a great element that the narrator (who has omniscience over everything that’s happening) also interacts with the characters. It’s like something out of a Greek comedy.
One of the best shows of the last few years comes to a close and I can’t avoid talking about it.
SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free for Season 4)
Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) was an Arizona trashbag who died looking for Margarita Mix. She found herself in The Good Place, a heaven-like neighborhood that is designed by Architect Michael (Ted Danson) and maintained by Sentient Omniscient AI Janet (D’Arcy “Please answer my e-mails” Carden). Eleanor is paired up with her soul-mate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) and introduced to neighbors Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela “SHE DID ANSWER MY TWEET” Jamil) and Jianyu Li (Manny Jacinto). Eleanor quickly realizes that she is not the person that was supposed to get into the Good Place and that she is really bound for the Bad Place. She asks Chidi, a moral philosophy professor, to help her become a better person. After she is on her way, she learns that Jianyu is really Jason Mendoza, who is a Jacksonville trashbag, and encourages him to join her. They’re soon joined by Tahani, only for them to find out that the Good Place is actually The Bad Place, designed by Michael to torture the four humans.
Michael erases their memories and tries to torture them again, only for them to beat him… several hundred more times. Finally realizing that the system is fundamentally flawed because the humans are actually becoming better people, Michael and Janet join forces with the four humans against Michael’s former boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson). After meeting with Gen, the Ultimate Judge of the Universe (Maya Rudolph), the four humans get another chance on Earth to prove that they can become better people. This ends up failing, partially due to demon intervention, so Michael, Janet, and the humans become fugitives until they convince the Judge to let them build another Good Place to prove that the system that judges good and bad is broken. Then Season 4 happens and I don’t want to tell you what happens because you should watch it.
I’ve cried at three television finales in my life that I can remember. The first was Scrubs, because it was beautiful and touching. The second was Frasier, but only when I watched Kelsey Grammer recite Ulysses by Tennyson while I was in a hospital bed next to a plaque my father gave me bearing the same poem. This was the third and it was completely different than the other two. Scrubs ended with a touching moment where the main character saw all of the guests from the show’s run and then witnessed a scene of all of the cast getting their happy endings. It’s celebratory and self-congratulatory, but also emotional. Frasier’s end was touching to me, but similarly filled with patting itself on the back. This show’s end was more like Breaking Bad, pushing to the very end and winding up in the exact spot that, in retrospect, it had to end. Almost anything other than the ending we got would have felt like a cheat. It’s not revelatory nor self-congratulatory, it’s just the last step on the journey.
The thing that I loved about The Good Place was that it was always about the possibilities of the future and the reality that things can get better. People can get better. Almost anyone can get better if you can find a way to really connect with them and find a moment where the unfairness of the world isn’t present. The show essentially took the position that humans are mostly good, something that seems bold nowadays, when we are constantly bombarded with shows that say otherwise. Moreover, the show told us that goodness does not need to be inherent, but can instead be taught through effort and study. It also supposed that the thing which could most compel us to better ourselves was our interactions and connections with others. Again, in a world where dividing lines are constantly being drawn and redrawn, this always struck me as a bold stance.
The show also spent long periods lecturing about various philosophical principles and schools of thought, usually through Chidi having to explain them to the other characters. They spent an episode on Philippa Foot’s Trolley Problem, episodes on the concepts of Existentialism and Free Will, and essentially the entire series on the Paradox of Heaven and Hell. You could probably do an entire dissertation solely on the name drops in this show and how Tahani’s use of them for status is similar to Chidi’s use of them for credibility and authority. Seriously, the number of philosophers that are discussed or referenced in this series is astounding, although I admit that it has a bit of a Western bent to it (Chidi loves Sartre, so that tracks).
While all of this would normally make a show unbelievably dull or preachy, the series managed to make it work through a combination of spectacular writing and amazing interplay between the cast. All of them have defined character arcs, although Janet’s is a little less distinct by virtue of her omniscience and immortality. All of their personalities are simultaneously exaggerated and also relatable, although, again, Janet’s is a little harder to relate to until she develops more human issues. This allows all of the show’s clever lines and emotional scenes to work as well as they did. Also, let’s be honest, everyone on the show is super attractive and that didn’t hurt things at all.
I loved this show, largely for the fact that it was willing to try to tell everyone that humanity isn’t doomed, because we can always get better. It might end up being wrong, but I think they really had a point and I wish everyone would sit through this series, at least once.
Already reviewed one episode of this season, but since they finally put it on Netflix, I’m going to go ahead and do the whole thing. Spoilers, I’m trying to do this so you can watch Season 3 when it comes up, even if you don’t want to catch up on the last two.
Michael (Ted Danson) commences the reboot from the end of the last season, trying a new version of the original strategy to get Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) to torture each other for thousands of years. However, Eleanor placed a note in the mouth of Janet (D’Arcy Carden) at the end of last season, telling her to find Chidi, which quickly leads her to realize that she’s already been in this situation before. This leads to her figuring out that they’re in the Bad Place in a few days, rather than the months in the original run. Michael decides to just reboot them yet again, without the note, but has to conceal this from his boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who told him he only had two chances. Unfortunately for Michael, it turns out that his plan is inherently flawed. Every time he reboots them, Eleanor still realizes that they’re in the Bad Place somehow (although, once, Jason realizes it, something that Michael admits “hurts”).
Over 800 attempts later, the other demons in the fake Good Place finally go on strike, led by Vicky, the “real Eleanor” from the first attempt (Tiya Sircar). She blackmails Michael to take over, but Chidi and Eleanor see a demon out of his human suit and realize they’re in the bad place. They flee to the Medium Place, where Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) reveals that they’ve been over a dozen times before, but each time they return to the fake Good Place and get rebooted. She also reveals that Chidi and Eleanor almost always are together and once even said they loved each other, something neither of them has ever really done. However, in this timeline, they barely know each other.
Michael talks with Jason, who accidentally convinces him to join the human team. As a condition of working with him, Eleanor insists that Michael also take ethics classes, something that doesn’t come naturally to a demon. Eventually, he starts to understand the concept and bond with them. Janet begins to malfunction, and it’s revealed that she’s still in love with Jason from the first reboot, when they got married. She attempts to get over him by creating a rebound guy named Derek (Jason “How did this get made” Mantzoukas), but eventually is forced to realize that she has to deal with her feelings, something no previous Janet has ever really had (Janets become smarter every time they’re rebooted, and she’s been rebooted the most by a lot).
Shawn returns and ends the fake Good Place, believing that it was a massive success and promises Michael a promotion. Michael betrays Shawn, however, and sides with the humans and helps them avoid going to the real Bad Place. Instead, they sneak through the Bad Place and head to meet the inter-dimensional judge who rules over all the matters of good and evil, Judge “Gen” Hydrogen (Maya F*CKING Rudolph). The Judge gives each of the four a test of their growth, but only Eleanor passes. She tells the others that she failed because they’d agreed to all go to the Bad Place if anyone failed.
At the last minute, Michael arrives and intervenes, convincing Gen that, since people can become better by working at it, they should give each of the four another shot on Earth and see if they get better. Eleanor goes back to the moment of her death, is saved by Michael, and resolves to become a better person. However, after it proves difficult, she starts to backslide. Michael pretends to be a bartender (because he’s Ted Danson) and asks her a question: “What do we owe each other?” She Googles this question and finds a lecture series by Chidi, leading her to fly to Australia to meet with him, ending the season.
Okay, do you see how long that summary was? That’s me condensing the hell out of this season. So much happens that I had to double check that each episode, aside from the first one, is only 22 minutes long. Granted, there are less actual discussions about philosophy in this season, because most of it is just so packed, but they still have several episodes dedicated to it, including an episode called “The Trolley Problem” which is about… well, the Trolley Problem. If you want to find out about that, my Grouchy counterpart wrote some crap on it. The season addresses the concept of moral absolutes and moral relativism, existential crises, whether utilitarianism or deontology is better for deciding a course of action, and whether or not throwing a Molotov cocktail is actually a solution to anything. If you didn’t understand any of those things, this show will explain them to you better than I can, and will do them in hilariously entertaining ways that don’t even feel like you’re learning (that way it doesn’t hurt).
The structure of good and evil within the show is also elaborated upon and it is so interesting and yet relatable. Is it wrong for a person to innocuously start a really annoying trend, like a waiter seeing an empty plate and saying “I see you hated it?” Is it okay to murder someone if your intent is solely to make someone else’s life better? Are burritos better when coated with a dash of envy? I didn’t even know I needed the answer to some of these.
The main thing about this season is that it feels like a very different show, while still being almost the same at its emotional core. The characters still relate to each other much the same ways they did during the last season, even if the background behind their connections has changed. They’re going through different challenges, however, and those struggles don’t feel at all like the things they were dealing with in the last season. Then, several episodes even change the setting and the stakes, making a lot of the actions feel more urgent than they were before. It’s a great ramp-up to the finale, which, itself, changes the show’s framework. This isn’t a show where the characters stay the same, they grow and change and the show changes so that it continues to make sense. Brilliant storytelling.
The acting and writing in this season is just as good, if not better, than the last one, so see yesterday’s review if you want to know my opinions on that (hint: GREAT!). Some notable additions are Jason Mantzoukas as Derek, the fake rebound guy that Janet builds, Dax Shepard as Chet, the demon who tortures people with toxic masculinity, and Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen. Mantzoukas plays a character who literally doesn’t follow any laws of human development, since he was spontaneously created, which he somehow pulls off, never seeming even close to a regular person in the funniest way possible. Shepard doesn’t get a huge role, but, like Adam Scott in season 1, he portrays a hilariously douchey take on the traditional demon idea, being not an old-school evil figure, but a more modern version of dickish evil. And Maya Rudolph is Maya f*cking Rudolph, if you need more than that, I advise you to go watch anything Maya Rudolph is in, particularly Idiocracy. She’s amazing and you should pay respect to her.
Overall, when this season ended I was just pissed off that I was going to have to wait a year to watch the next one. If that’s not a sign of quality television, I don’t know what is. The next season starts this month on NBC, so get caught up and watch, people.
This is one of the best shows that anyone ever asked me to review. When I got a request for an episode of the second season of this show, I naturally had to watch through the first season, and it was nothing short of brilliant, even though I think the second ended up far surpassing it. Since the third season starts this month and they just put the second season on Netflix, I’ve decided to give a quick review of the seasons and why I love this show.
Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) awakens in the afterlife to be greeted by Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of “The Good Place.” It’s revealed that, generally, when you die you either go to the Good Place or the Bad Place, according to how much good and bad you put into the world, with Eleanor ending up in the Good Place. Michael shows her clips of her life, showing how she earned her place before she’s introduced to her soul-mate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosophy professor. She then reveals to him a shocking truth: The memories Michael showed weren’t hers and she doesn’t actually belong in the Good Place. In fact, as we are shown flashbacks of Eleanor’s life, she’s basically spent the whole time putting everyone else’s needs below her own. Way below.
She decides that she needs to learn how to be a good person and Chidi agrees to teach her ethics, using his own knowledge and help from the Artificial Intelligence that runs the neighborhood, Janet (D’Arcy Carden). Meanwhile, her bad impulses start causing crazy things to happen in the Good Place, like giant frogs and rains of garbage, which confuses and disturbs Michael. Eleanor also becomes annoyed by her neighbor Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), a rich socialite who constantly seems to be helpful and upbeat. Eleanor finds out that Tahani’s soul-mate, a silent monk named Jianyu, is actually Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), a drug-dealing DJ from Jacksonville, Florida, who also isn’t supposed to be in the Good Place.
As the season goes on, Jason and Eleanor try to learn ethics from Chidi so they can deserve to be in the Good Place, but are forced to do more bad things to keep from being exposed, including sabotaging someone’s one true heavenly purpose and killing Janet (she gets better). At the same time, Eleanor and Chidi start to fall for each other. When Michael finally admits to everyone in the neighborhood that he doesn’t know what the problem is with the Good Place, Eleanor admits that she doesn’t belong there.
It’s revealed that Eleanor got there because another woman named Eleanor Shellstrop, who was a human-rights lawyer and activist died trying to save Eleanor’s life. That Eleanor is currently in the Bad Place and is brought to the Good Place by the demons, who want to take Eleanor (Bell) back with them. On urging from Chidi and Tahani, Michael tries to prove that Eleanor doesn’t deserve to be in the Bad Place. At the same time, Tahani finds out about Jason and also falls for Chidi. Jason and Janet, of all not-people, become an item and end up married. Eleanor finds out from Janet that there is a “Medium Place” and she flees there with Janet and Jason.
At the “Medium Place” they meet its sole inhabitant Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe), while Tahani, Chidi, and Michael plead Jason’s and Eleanor’s case before Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), the Eternal Judge. Finding against the two, Shawn orders that if Eleanor and Jason don’t return, Tahani and Chidi will be sent to the Bad Place instead. They come back, but Shawn decides to let them decide who goes. In the middle of arguing over who should go, Eleanor finally realizes the truth:
They’re actually in Hell.
Michael ends up admitting that she’s right and that this was his plan to figure out how to torture humans in a new way, but Eleanor sabotaged it. It turns out that everyone in the neighborhood but Tahani, Chidi, Jason, and Eleanor is a demon and they were supposed to drive each other insane. Michael asks Shawn for a “re-do” but Eleanor secretly slips a note to herself inside Janet. After the reset, Janet gives her the note, which says “Find Chidi.”
You will never convince me this wasn’t the pitch for this show. I’d actually be surprised if Michael Schur hasn’t admitted it. This seems like it shouldn’t work, but the amount of talent they bring to the show is almost blinding. I mean, it kind of has to be, since this is a show that’s mostly about MORAL PHILOSOPHY. It’s not super deep into it, admittedly, but it’s way deeper than any other network television show would ever even consider doing. Several episodes include lectures on ethics worked into the plot and they’re not only fairly comprehensive (for 12 minutes of discussion, at least), but entertaining.
The writing manages to balance information and discussion with humor and drama, which is walking an extremely difficult tightrope. The editing is also impressive, managing to cut between scenes without ever losing the flow of the A and B plots and also using it to avoid having to actually tell all the parts that the audience already expects. It’s like the Rick and Morty episode “Meeseeks and Destroy,” in that it allows us to skip most of the boring parts that would normally be inherent in a show like this.
Then there’s the acting. My god, there’s the acting. I love Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and have been a huge fan of past shows of theirs, but I never for a second think of them as anything but their characters when I see them within this show. That’d be impressive enough, but Carden, Jamil, Jacinto, and Harper constantly match their performances. The supporting and guest characters are also amazing, particularly Marc Evan Jackson (who I just like in everything), Adam Scott playing against type as a demon, and Tiya Sircar as the “real” Eleanor, whose “out of character” moment made me laugh so hard I flashed back to the few times I’ve done theater and seen a Prima Donna go nuts.
But more than the way the show is done, it’s what the show represents. This is a show whose main tenet is that it wants you to be a better person. It’s slyly telling you all the things that people have considered about ethics throughout history and why we should obey them. In a world where a lot of media, and even journalism, tells you to indulge in all your worst instincts or that there’s no point to anything, this show, which ostensibly is about the afterlife, actually creates reasons why you should care about how you treat others that don’t even require the “Good Place” to exist. It also points out other kinds of bad behavior that we wouldn’t normally consider. Sure, Jason and Eleanor did some pretty bad things, but Tahani and Chidi are also in hell for completely different reasons, namely that Tahani never did anything in her life for a reason aside from showing up her sister and Chidi was so indecisive that he made life miserable for everyone that cared about him (having a ton of different schools of thought to consider all the time). Those aren’t normally traits we think of as being worthy of damnation, but they’re actually things we should consider.
The other thing the show says is something that ABSOLUTELY needs to be shouted from every mountaintop. You can change. You can be a better person. You should try to be a better person because you owe it to everyone else around you. So often television shows, particularly sitcoms, have characters that have terrible traits and the show just writes it off as “that’s the way they are.” This show directly subverts that, even having Michael say that they believed having people become better was “supposed to be impossible.” Yes, the reboot undoes it a little, but even after that’s done, we see the characters, again, work towards being better people. Given how often people in the real world justify their behaviors by saying “that’s just the way I am,” I love the fact that there’s a show out there that responds “but you don’t have to be.” Being good is a matter of willpower and want. It’s not easy, but we owe it to each other, to our families, to our friends, to the people we love, to just be a little better every day. To learn from our mistakes and to grow.
Overall, I loved this season, which is what surprised me so much when I watched the next one and found it superior in almost every way. Obviously, that review will come soon.
Last week, Netflix released their movie Like Father. Seeing as I love Kristen Bell and Seth Rogen, and Kelsey Grammer stars in three of my favorite TV Show of all time (Frasier, Cheers, and Boss), this was kind of a no-brainer for me.
Rachel Hamilton (Bell) is a workaholic who gets left at the altar, leading to her having a minor breakdown. Her estranged father, Harry Hamilton (Grammer), shows up to try and make amends, having witnessed her jilting. The pair get drunk together and wind up on the cruise that was supposed to be Rachel’s honeymoon. They go through hijinks and bonding and emotions and junk and she bangs a guy named Jeff (Rogen).
So, this is the kind of movie where there are a couple of good scenes, almost like vignettes featuring repeated characters, but the transitions between them aren’t always the best. Part of that is that the characters, aside from Rogen, are just a little bit more exaggerated than you’d really believe. For example, Rachel is left at the altar because her fiancé is sick of her work habits, which are so ludicrous that she is taking business calls while the wedding is going on. Hell, after her meltdown, she pretty much immediately goes back to just being a workaholic. What human is that insane? And, if she is THAT insane, why was he still with her up until this point and acting like he’s surprised? This isn’t new information to him. They try to tie this part of her character in with her abandonment issues by having her father say he was just like that, but… it just doesn’t really fit. We need more than one character trait, movie.
Harry, similarly, doesn’t ever quite make sense, even after they really try to flesh out his backstory with a bunch of very emotional scenes. He’s basically the epitome of “I loved you too much to ever be with you if it wasn’t completely on my terms,” which is still one of the most ridiculous clichés Hollywood doesn’t seem to want to stop doing. The movie even points out it’s stupid, and the response is basically “emotional hook, then move to another funny scene.”
And the comedy is… Okay, it’s almost clinically inoffensive and bland. It’s not ridiculous enough to ever really elicit big laughs, nor is it edgy enough to ever feel like it’s actually pushing some boundary. It’s like eating unseasoned rice. Yes, it’s food, yes, it gives me the experience of eating, but… couldn’t you give me some f*cking spices? I’ve seen all of you use spices before, dammit, and they were GREAT SPICES!
Overall, it’s not a bad movie. It’s well-acted, it’s got a lot of beautiful shots in it, and the scenes where they want you to have “the feels” will damned well give you the feels. But it just never really nails any other aspect of the film, despite great performances. It doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t succeed either. This is a movie that everyone can like, almost no one will hate, but I don’t think many people will love. If you just want to grab a bottle of wine/vodka/whatever and cry a little bit, this is an okay movie to do it with, but otherwise, try something better on Netflix. Like Hot Fuzz, which is my next review.
I didn’t intend to see this movie. I didn’t really hear much about this film aside from it existing. But, I was walking back past the theater and it was the next film that started that seemed worth seeing. And I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.
So, I loved the original Teen Titans cartoon. I thought it was well-crafted, well-animated, well-voiced, had great characters that were complex while still being relatable, and had some great plotlines that allowed all those things to shine. But, it came to an end and was reborn as Teen Titans Go! which was… different. Truthfully, I only watched like 3 episodes of the new show (one of which was about assembling a sandwich, another about waffles, and another that was about thwarting a pizza boy, so food is clearly a big thing in the show) before stopping because I just didn’t think it was that funny. It was lighter, to be sure, and definitely was supposed to be a comedy rather than a superhero show, but it was not my thing. Even with the same voice actors (WHO ARE ALL AMAZING), it still just didn’t grab me.
Then I watched this movie. If someone could tell me that the rest of the series after I quit watching was like this film, I would probably go binge it all right now. Hell, I probably will anyway, because this was actually pretty well done. Is it perfect? No, but it was funny and original, which is more than I can give most comedies.
SUMMARY (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE LITERALLY NEVER SEEN A TRAILER)
So, in the Teen Titans universe, every superhero has a movie (and the real ones are parodied and mocked mercilessly) despite also being real superheroes. One person who really wants their own movie is Robin (Scott Menville), leader of the Teen Titans, consisting of Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Cyborg (Khary Payton). The movie consists mostly of them trying to get a movie made, part of which is finding their arch nemesis in the form of Slade (Will Arnett), a villain trying to take over the world, and part of it is convincing Director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make the movie.
First off, this movie is a DC Fan’s dream. There are references to DC comics, movies, and TV series in basically every shot of the city, ranging from the obvious (Mr. Freeze Pops) to the obscure (The Challengers of the Unknown are actually a minor plot point!) to the ridiculous (there’s a poster for the film Jonah Rex, a T-Rex version of Jonah Hex that should totally be real). There are animation sequences designed to mimic the live-action movies, the DC Animated Universe, the Arrowverse TV Shows, and even Superfriends. The cameos are so frequent I think it’s harder to think of a property that WASN’T in the movie than one that was. And so much of them are used as in-universe product placements that it really makes me think that this entire world runs on superheros. If you’re like me and you think that postmodern style mashups between all of these properties can be funny, then you will be laughing throughout… often at jokes that nobody else got. Laugh anyway.
Second, there are the meta-gags. There are so many of these sprinkled throughout, like everyone mistaking Slade for Deadpool (because Deadpool was a rip-off of Slade’s identity of Deathstroke) or calling Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage) a “National Treasure.” There are at least two “this is Nicolas Cage voicing Superman” jokes that I caught and I’m sure there are more. There are countless jokes about how much DC and Marvel are willing to exploit their IP as much as possible. There is a cameo that makes fun of Stan Lee cameos. There are jokes about the fact that people will continually see superhero films at the expense of any other form of entertainment. There’s even a running gag about how overpowered Raven is and lampshading how boring a movie of a character like that fighting villains onscreen might actually be. The jokes just keep coming, sometimes buried under other jokes.
Then there are just the bizarre gags, like having an 80s-style song called “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” by MICHAEL FREAKING BOLTON that plays out like you’re on LSD or having the group poop in a prop toilet on a movie set. They’re mostly for the kids but, like I said, sometimes they’re actually just the set-up for a much better joke. And the last line of the film made me laugh for like 5 straight minutes, because it was just such a bizarre shot at children’s movie moralizing. There are also several that I don’t think I got because I didn’t really watch the show, but the fact that they mostly were still entertaining was a good sign.
It honestly made me think of Arrested Development in the way that the humor was just kind of shotgunned at you from every direction. It just wasn’t quite as clever as the writing on Arrested Development, but, again, it’s ostensibly a kids’ movie. Some of the jokes had to be made for kids, but I don’t think they all really speak down to them. Maybe a better comparison is The Lego Batman Movie: you can enjoy it as is and think it’s funny, but the more you know about the property and the world in general, the more you enjoy the movie. Granted, Lego Batman was a better film in general, but that’s a really high bar.
The casting in the movie is perfect, with most of the characters being voiced not by people who would play them in movies, but by people who just love the characters they’re voicing. It gives even the minor cameos a passion that adds something to the experience.
As to the plot, it comes off less as a traditional film and more a collection of 15-minute episodes that loosely interconnect until the 30-minute finale, but, honestly, it worked out great, because you never got bored nor knew exactly what gag was going to come next.
Overall, the only real “problem” with the movie is that it is still a kids’ film. The humor is either referential or juvenile, without a ton of other jokes for people who don’t love DC and are old enough that a 2-minute fart joke is 90 seconds too long. But, I still enjoyed it from start to finish. Hell, there are probably 3 scenes in it that are so funny that I would recommend seeing the movie just to see them.
If you love comic books or have kids, you need to see this movie. Oh, and if *SPOILER* the end credit stinger is true, and we are getting a sixth season of the original Teen Titans show (which Cartoon Network started re-running last year, so it’s very possible), then just finding out about that early might be worth the ticket price.
Okay, so, I usually don’t do this, but, since this show is relatively new, only just got put on Netflix, is worth watching, and is heavily dependent on continuity, I am going to say this:
There, that’s my warning. I usually don’t care about spoilers because I think that anything that’s worth watching should be good even if you know how it’s going to go, but I’m willing to do it just this once.
Okay, so, The Good Place is a comedy version of the “Nice Place to Visit” episode of TheTwilight Zone mixed with No Exit. It features four people: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto) who spend the first season believing they are in “the Good Place” which is the heaven to which the universe sends good people. The “Good Place” is a neighborhood of ~300 people designed by Architect Michael (Ted Danson) and maintained by the AI system Janet (D’Arcy Carden).
However, Eleanor quickly realizes that she has been sent there in error: Another woman with her name died at the same time and place, so Eleanor, who was bound for “the Bad Place” took her spot. She resolves, with the help of Chidi, her assigned “soul-mate” to become a better person worthy of the “Good Place.” Meanwhile, she finds out that Jason, a DJ and moronic small-time crook, is also there in error, taking the place of a Buddhist monk. Chidi, an ethics professor, tries to teach them ethical behavior, eventually being joined by Tahani, a charity-running heiress. At the end of the first season, however, Eleanor realizes that they aren’t actually in “the Good Place.” They’re in Hell, it’s just a hell designed so that they torture each other emotionally and mentally, rather than demons torturing them physically. However, Michael, their torturer, decides to just wipe their memories and try again, which ends the season.
The first episode of the second season is Michael’s second attempt, which is defeated by Eleanor passing a note to herself from the past run-through. Michael discovers this, hides it from his boss, and decides to try a third time. This episode begins with that run-through.
As the episode begins, Michael, confident that his plan will work, runs through the exercise of trying to get the humans to torture each other again, but finds out that in each run-through, Eleanor figures out that they’re in hell (although, on one occasion Jason does, which Michael admits hurts more, because Jason’s mathematically the dumbest human…ever).
Ultimately, after 802 tries, Michael’s demon staff goes on strike, leading Chidi and Eleanor to realize the ruse almost immediately (rather than after a few months like usual), leading them to escape to the “Medium Place” which is inhabited by the one person who didn’t qualify for heaven or hell (Mindy, a coke-addicted stockbroker from the 80s who designed an amazing charity… but died before it got off the ground). It turns out that they’ve been there many times, which annoys everyone. Mindy reveals that every time they come, they form a plan to defeat Michael and leave “the Bad Place,” but each time they fail. Also, she and Chidi are usually in love by this point (this time, they barely know each other), and usually use the “Medium Place” as an opportunity to hook up.
Meanwhile, Michael’s demon workers have gone on strike, and are threatening to tell Michael’s boss that not only did the second attempt not succeed, but that there have been hundreds of failures which Michael is lying about. Michael talks about his problems to Jason, who tells him a story about how his dance crew “Dance Dance Resolution” was challenged to a dance-off, leading Jason to unite them… in slashing the tires of the other crew. Chidi and Eleanor return to the fake “Good Place” and, together with Tahani and Jason, confront Michael, pointing out that they keep winning, which means that he’s losing. Michael immediately agrees, and offers to team up with them to beat the “Bad Place,” shocking everyone.
Okay, so, first off: I love this show. It’s an expanded, hilarious version of one of my favorite tv episodes and favorite plays, but with an actual positive twist: The reason why Eleanor keeps figuring it out is because Michael has one fundamentally incorrect assumption: Michael believes that Eleanor cannot become a better person. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Eleanor, when confronted with how her behavior impacts people, actually does work on being less selfish. The show points out that none of that counts when done for a selfish reason, but she defies everything by actually becoming more selfless as a result of performing more selfless acts (for the record, this is supported by multiple philosophies which are discussed during the show). In other words, the show treats virtue as a skill which can be practiced until it becomes second nature. You can become good just by working at being good for a long enough period of time, like learning Spanish or lifting weights.
This episode starts with all of Michael’s failures, which is hilarious, given that Michael is immortal and has now effectively had centuries to work on the process (if you estimate from his graph in the following episode, it’s about 400 years over the course of this “Groundhog Day” opening montage). He even has a failure just from forgetting to lock the door and accidentally telling Eleanor she’s in Hell immediately. Not only is he failing to torture them properly, but he actually ends up consistently making them the kind of people that don’t belong in hell. He breaks the afterlife, which really calls into question something that hasn’t been answered in the show: Why wouldn’t this be a better use of the afterlife than shoving flaming spears up someone’s butt? In fact, the episode even points out that, apparently, even demonic beings like Michael and artificial beings like Janet can aspire to be greater than they were, which makes you wonder who is actually running this universe, and what the hell they are thinking.
This show manages to make a ton of philosophical discussions and comparisons interesting, by putting them inside of the framework that most makes them relevant: An actual afterlife. Also, it’s freaking hilarious, especially when Ted Danson is supposed to be an evil mastermind who’s in over his head. So, I encourage all of you to watch this show, and see how this plays out. I know I will.