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Josh Reviews The Good Place Season Three

The Good Place has become my very favorite currently-airing TV show.  I am head over heels in love with Mike Schur’s brilliant and warm-hearted comedy.  (Click here for my review of season one, and click here for my review of season two.)  The third season kept the win-streak going with thirteen fantastic new episodes, including one (“Janet(s)”) which might be the series’ best episode so far.  (It’s main competition would be season 2’s “Dance Dance Resolution.”)

When The Good Place began, it was the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a selfish person who discovered that she had died and accidentally been admitted to “the Good Place” even though she didn’t deserve it.  Of course, that’s not actually what the show was really about.  Season one was one of the most successfully-executed tricks on the audience that I have ever seen on TV, culminating in a brilliant change-up and, perhaps, Ted Danson’s single greatest moment on television ever.  (Yes, the laugh.  Good Place fans know of what I speak.)  If that one great season was all that The Good Place had to offer, dayenu!  (That would have been enough.)  But the show has proven that there’s much more to it than that initial twist.  In seasons two and three the show has richened and deepened in ways I’d never imagined.

This is a show that’s able to examine heady philosophical and moral conflicts in a very serious way, while also deeply exploring its characters in a way that many long-running dramas don’t do in twice-as-many seasons, all the while being hands-down funnier than anything else on TV right now, with jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes.

Is there a show currently in production with a better ensemble that The Good Place?  Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto are absolutely 100% perfect; they’ve each created wonderfully unique and memorable characters; I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing these roles.  I knew Kristen Bell’s work, of course, before watching The Good Place, but the other three were complete unknowns to me.  But now, I’ll be fans of them forevermore, as happens in those special occasions when great actors are given great TV roles.  Ted Danson is TV royalty, who has already played so many amazing TV characters (Sam Malone on Cheers is of course number one on this list, but I also adored Mr. Danson’s work on Bored to Death), and here he is again with another great character who will enter the TV pantheon.  Wow.  But of them all, for me, the stand-out is D’Arcy Carden as Janet.  The weird and wonderful Janet (“not a woman,” “not a robot”) is one of … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Good Place Season One!

I’m a big fan of Michael Schur.  He was involved with the American version of The Office and he created (with Greg Daniels) and ran Parks and Recreation, which is an amazing TV show that I loved dearly, and created (with Daniel Goor) and ran Brooklyn 99, a very funny show that, while it’s not genius-level TV, is consistently funny and joyous.  So why didn’t I watch The Good Place, the new show created by Mr. Schur, when it premiered on NBC last year?  I’m not entirely sure!  I think there was something about its bright, primary-color color palette that rubbed me the wrong way when I saw glimpses of the show in previews; and I think I am somewhat mistrustful of new shows anchored by big-time stars (in this case, Ted Danson and Kristen Bell).  But when the second season premiered a few weeks ago, I said to my wife, what are we doing??  Why have we not even tried this new show by the guy who made these other shows we loved?  So we decided to watch the first episode on Netflix, and a few days later found we’d sped through the entire thirteen-episode first season.  What a great show this is!

When the show begins, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), awakens in the afterlife.  She is relieved to be informed by Michael (Ted Danson), that she is in “the Good Place.”  But while Eleanor’s name is indeed Eleanor Shellstrop, she is not the saint that Michael seems to think she is — she has somehow been brought to the Good Place by mistake!

I really enjoyed this show.  Like most of Mr. Schur’s prior work it is very funny, very clever, and with a sense of optimism and sunniness that I find to be extremely endearing.

The show is very clever, with an impressive attention to detail.  I loved all of the worldbuilding that we were given in season one, as Mr. Schur and his team fleshed out this afterlife and how everything worked.  Most impressively, none of this felt like chunky exposition.  The show always found fun, character-based ways to explore this world and to answer questions that we the audience might not have even realized we had.

The Good Place strikes a great balance between episodic and serialized.  Each episode successfully stands on its own and tells a complete story.  But most episodes end with a wonderful cliffhanger that made me eager to move on to the next episode.  This was a fun show to binge-watch!  Mr. Schur and his team have impressively solved the problems that beset so many serialized shows these days.  I was delighted to discover the shape of the full story … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Party Down (Season One)!

Wow!  Add this series to the list of brilliant, cancelled-before-their-time TV shows!

I don’t think I even heard of Party Down during the two seasons it was on the air, on Starz, in 2009-10.  But every now and then, since it’s cancellation, I’d hear or read a mention of it, mostly in connection to being a prior great role of Adam Scott’s, who I’ve been so enjoying as Ben Dywer on the terrific Parks and Recreation.  A sale on Amazon lead me to buy the first season on DVD, and I was blown away!  I’m already almost finished with season two, and deep in mourning that there are no more episodes of this fantastic show!

The series focuses on Party Down, a fairly low-quality Hollywood catering company, staffed primarily by out-of-work actors and actresses.  The show is a true ensemble, but if I had to identify a lead character it would be Adam Scott as Henry.  Henry was once a struggling actor whose big break came on a commercial, saying the catch phrase “Are we having fun yet?”.  Sadly, that break-out role also destroyed his career, forever type-casting him as the “are we having fun yet?” guy.  His dreams pretty much crushed, Henry is fairly rudderless when we first meet him, having sworn off acting, but not sure what he should do with his life instead of that.

He’s hired to work with Party Down by an old friend, Ron, played by Ken Marino.  The two used to party together, back in the day, but Ron partied too hard and too long.  He’s sworn off all booze and drugs now, and he sees his job as Party Down team leader as a stepping-stone towards his dream of one day owning a Soup ‘R Crackers franchise.  While everyone else treats their gigs catering with Party Down with apathy or downright loathing, Ron takes things totally seriously, leading to a lot of (very funny) butting heads with his team of misfits.  Ron is so sincere, he’s pretty impossible not to love.

The only part of working for Party Down that is remotely appealing for Henry is the presence of Casey, played by Lizzy Caplan.  Although Casey is married when we first meet her in the pilot, the show wisely avoids any prolonged will-they-or-won’t-they Ross/Rachel tension by immediately getting the two together.  Casey is struggling mightily to succeed as a stand-up comic, and though she’s been pretty beaten down by rejection she sees right through Henry’s “I don’t care anymore” attitude.  Lizzy Caplan had a very small role in Freaks and Geeks, but I recognized her most from her role as Marlena in Cloverfield.  She’s absolutely dynamite here, tough and … [continued]