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NBC’s ‘The Good Place’: An alluring, intriguing fall offering

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson star in NBC's

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson star in NBC's new fall comedy, "The Good Place." Credit: NBC / Justin Lubin

Beverly Hills — NBC’s “The Good Place” is one of the oddest and yet most alluring ducks on the 2016 prime-time schedule. It’s about death, life, God, eternity, the hereafter, morality, ethics, good, evil and . . . What am I forgetting? Oh, yeah, this is also a comedy starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. So go ahead: You figure it out and good luck with that.

But really, the process of absorbing — “viewing” doesn’t seem quite the right word — “The Good Place” should also be one of the pleasures of the fall season if the pedigree behind this show steps up to the plate. The pedigree always has. Showrunner and creator Mike Schur has one of the most gold-plated runs in modern TV comedy: “The Office,” where he was a writer; “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which he created. He also spent a decade on “Saturday Night Live” as a writer. “Parks & Rec” was one of the half-dozen so best comedies on television in the past 20 years. (Real fans would say the best). Thus, hopes are high for “The Good Place,” and that’s where they should be.

This is a comedy (as mentioned) about Eleanor (Bell), who was killed by a truck while crossing the street. She then goes to the “good place” — not exactly heaven, but in theological terms, probably more in the neighborhood of purgatory. This good place is a pleasant place: The sun always shines, the people are friendly, no one swears and if they try to (Eleanor does) the word comes out as a harmless misfire. There are (apparently) a complex set of rules governing who gets in here after death and who does not.

The larger point is that Eleanor is here by mistake. Her mentor, Michael (Danson) explains to her that she’s in this good place because she spent her life getting innocent people off death row.

In fact, Eleanor did nothing of the sort.

That’s the setup. Schur — just wrapping the 13th episode of this fall newcomer (Mondays beginning Sept. 19) — explained the thinking behind “The Good Place” to TV writers here Tuesday: “The model for this show, in some ways, is ‘Lost,’ ” he said. “I loved that show and asked [‘Lost’ creator] Damon Lindelof to lunch, where I said ‘We’re going to play this game, Is This Anything?’ It’s where I pitch an idea at him and then say, ‘Is this anything?’ ”

The lunch was productive. “He gave me advice, and the way I imagined it going forward was that there would be cliffhangers and dramatic things that changed the characters’ lives. There are going to be big changes in every episode.”

There’s a point system Schur devised that determines who gets into the “good place.” Said Schur, “The way I conceived of the system was that it was a system of pure justice, like when you’re driving around LA, and someone cuts you off. I’d say to myself, ‘That’s negative eight points.’ ”

He said that he studied the world’s religions before embarking on the pilot.

“I was reading about the religious conceptions of the afterlife and then after doing that reading, realized it was utterly irrelevant because the show wasn’t a religious show. It’s about ethics, and so then I started over and read a lot about ethics.

The “intent” of “The Good Place,” he continued, “is not to make any current, specific commentary on people or things, except to say that the behaviors we exhibit in our everyday lives have ramifications. Everything you did had an effect that rippled out over time.”

For example, “Whenever you litter and walk away, someone has to clean up the litter and so someone else’s life was affected. So this is about the nature of actions and what good or bad they do for the world.”

There will be “a scientific element” to the show “and it will also serve as a Rorschach test for a lot of people.”

As previously noted: an odd duck. But undeniably an alluring one.

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