TV Watch: To my surprise I'm liking "The Good Place," but I'm taking a pass (with surprising regret) on "Kevin Can Wait"
Ted Danson and Kristen Bell talk about their surprisingly appealing new NBC comedy, The Good Place.
With the new NBC comedy The Good Place set to advance to Episode 3 tomorrow night in its regular Thursday 8:30pm ET/PT time slot, I thought I might throw out a note of encouragement. I finally looked at the double-episode premiere (the pilot plus "Flying"), which NBC has give multiple airings, and much to my surprise I liked it. Of course you'll still want to watch those first episodes, via the usual sources, like On Demand or online. (NBC is offering it here, provided you disable your ad-blocking software, you bad, bad ad-denying person.) But you'll get the basic premise from these clips:
There's just one more wrinkle: Eleanor doesn't belong in the Good Place, because she's not the heroically altruistic lawyer the records somehow indicate. She is in fact unusually selfish even by the standards of our self-absorbed culture. She finally confides her awkward secret to her "soul mate" (all the Good Place residents have been paired up with a soul mate), Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), in the hope that he can help her pass for someone good enough to remain there, creating a tough situation for the former professor of ethics and moral values.
Granted, the premise sounds flimsy, but then, most TV and movie premises do. It's what the show makes of the premise that matters, and this is where those first two episodes got me. Kristen Bell manages to be both charming enough to pass for the saintly Eleanor and her real, insatiably graspy self, and also winning enough to hold onto the viewer's attention as she struggles with her awkward situation. And Ted Danson so far also seems to have found a congenial role -- authoritative enough to pull off Michael's not-quite-explained position of authority but also with a winningly bumbling quality that shows through in a charming lack of self-confidence in his own powers.
It doesn't hurt -- in fact, it helps a whole lot -- that at least those first two episodes of The Good Place came to us without "benefit" of a laugh track. By contrast --
I'VE ALSO WATCHED THE FIRST EPISODE OF
KEVIN JAMES'S NEW SITCOM, KEVIN CAN WAIT
It's another fat-guy-with-an-improbably-hot-young-wife (Erinn Hayes) show, and it goes without saying a set of TV-quirky kids, not one of my Top 500 TV-show premises, and I wasn't much looking forward either to the rest of the premise: that Kevin and three cop buddies who joined the force together are now all retiring together, and do they have plans for their to-be-shared-with-each-other retirements! Only stuff happens. I didn't enjoy it much, but as I tried to puzzle out what was going on, it seemed to that the problem is not the premise, which actually seems quite well developed by the creative team, and it isn't necessarily badly acted.
Gradually, I identified the relentless, inhuman-sounding laugh track as the culprit, creating as it does the feeling that it's just a bunch of lousy jokes stitched together which only a machine could enjoy. In fact, though, as I listened closer, I had the feeling that the jokes aren't so bad, that they really do come out of character and advance the story, and it isn't even that the actors are playing them as laff lines. That insistent, inescapable laff noise (you know it's coming again, just as soon as the next "joke" is unleashed on us) that makes the thing unwatchable, for me at least. I'm surprised again to be saying: too bad.
I'm continuing to stick to my theory that without the "laffter" (and maybe if Chale had been given a more human-sounding name) this scene might actually be watchable. I think Mom's line "Honey, that is not a plan, that is literally every stripper's back story," if it the laff track weren't trying to make it sound like a Big Yuk-line, would actually be a sharp, character-driven response to the news that daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) plans to drop out of school to support Chale (Ryan Cartwright).