Binge-r #107: The Good Place + The Disaster Artist
THE GOOD PLACE S3
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: New episode added weekly
There are many moral quandaries and ethical dilemmas in The Good Place, nearly all of which are illuminated by very funny gags, but if there’s anything about the series that’s definitive it’s this: it’s the best comedy on Netflix and you should be watching it. The show snuck onto the streaming service in 2017, picked up from the American network NBC, and it doesn’t possess an easy or succinct sell. It’s a sitcom about the afterlife, underpinned by a syllabus of philosophical theories, where the main character, the diligently selfish Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), has mistakenly ended up in what is known as “the Good Place”, as opposed to the – you know – “Bad Place” down below.
One of the things that distinguishes The Good Place from most sitcoms is that it doesn’t reset to a convenient holding pattern each week. Every episode, which is a precision-made 22 minutes, ends on a cliffhanger that is directly picked up on in the next instalment. The first two seasons, which are binge-worthy in a delightfully satisfying way, have moved the plot forward through often radically inventive means. This has also illuminated Eleanor and her fellow travellers – including her supposed soulmate, Senegalese professor of moral ethics Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) – in ways both idiosyncratic and deeply funny.
Creator Michael Schur, who previously oversaw the wonderfully daft Parks and Recreation, believes in the positive force of communities and unexpected moral strength of individuals. Given that Eleanor happily worked a telemarketing scam and cited Kendall Jenner’s Instagram page as her favourite book, she’s not an easy convert to the idea of self-improvement, but she evolves as does Michael (Ted Danson), the celestial being who runs The Good Place with a surplus of cheer(s) and sweet bemusement for the inexplicable habits of human beings.
The world building is giddily otherworldly (the guest slots from the likes of Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph are sublime), with farcical ramifications resulting from the best of intentions, but each element of this show constructively feeds into another. Punchlines, for example, are not just about capping a gag, they also often reveal knotty truths that one party or another doesn’t want to hear or have to say. The third season will be arriving on a weekly schedule, to match U.S. transmission, so there’s plenty of time to catch up on The Good Place over the coming months. The show suggests that eternal happiness is an illusion, but viewing satisfaction is definitely a possibility.
The Disaster Artist (Netflix, 2017, 104 minutes): James Franco finds the perfect part for his screen proclivities – an outsider disdainful of the world’s reaction, a character so straight they’re funny – in Tommy Wiseau, the creative instigator behind 2003’s The Room, a film whose immense failings have given it an extended cult life. Befriended by fellow struggling actor Greg Sestero (Franco’s bother Dave), European oddball Tommy turns their acting dreams into a bizarre Good Will Hunting, making a movie so bad it’s memorable. Even if you haven’t seen The Room the flat technique and egregious performances of the recreated scenes convey the flaws, but as the director for this adaptation of Sestero’s memoir Franco emphasises familiar themes. The pair’s friendship gives them purpose until they fall out over a woman, Greg’s girlfriend, Amber (Alison Brie), before reuniting at their film’s Los Angeles premiere. The conflicting commentary in this enjoyable, low stakes satire is delicious if minor, with timelessly bankrupt Hollywood wisdom. “This is an American movie,” Tommy insists of The Room’s leading lady Juliette (Ari Graynor), “she has to be sexy”.
New on Netflix: The underrated movie that launched the beloved television series, Friday Night Lights (2004, 117 minutes) is a vivid portrait of a west Texan town’s obsession with high school football; Scarface (1983, 169 minutes) remains the benchmark for criminal rise and fall epics, with Miami the setting, excess enhanced by Brian De Palma, and contrasting performances by Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
New on SBS on Demand: Gainsbourg (2010, 117 minutes) is an eccentric and eventually episodic biopic of the confounding French musician who survived World War II as a Parisian Jew to become a songwriter, Gallic solo star, and wayward partner; Matan Yair’s Israeli feature Scaffolding (2017, 91 minutes) reveals a tough but ultimately tender drama about the son of a blue-collar business owner caught between following his dad and his artistic voice.
New on Stan: I am deeply suspicious of the rebooted television series coming to Stan, but the original Heathers (1988, 104 minutes) is a seditious teenage classic, with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as a mismatched couple killing school cafeteria conventions; Hellboy (2004, 117 minutes) is one of Guillermo del Toro’s early Hollywood projects, an offbeat comic book adaptation with lonely monsters and mythic villains.
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