About Ron

Surf guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I do not usually read scary books nor books about people having psychological crises. And yet…

Southern Book Club

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is a scary book about a woman facing a mental breakdown. Initially I expected humor, and there is indeed a bit. Early on Patricia (the main character) encounters the inexplicable when an elderly neighbor, who’s found eating a mangled raccoon, attacks her and bites off her ear. We don’t know why the old woman acts this way, but the book’s title does include the word vampire so… assumptions could be made. This situation struck me as humorous (which might reflect more on me than on the author’s intent). You know, old woman in night clothes eating raccoon intestines and attacking a much younger woman. Ha. Ha ha ha.

What attracted me to the book, aside from my misassumption that it was a funny story, was the prose; it got good words. And the setting is an idyllic southern community in the 1990s, a place where people know their neighbors, help each other and don’t lock their doors. Mythical America. As a child of the 1970s suburbs, I’ve always found small town bonhomie an appealing concept. Patricia’s Charleston neighborhood is as good as it gets. Yet just under the veneer of perfection, housewives struggle with boredom, lack of appreciation, second-class status.

Patricia is especially susceptible to these issues. Her husband is seldom home leaving her to raise the kids, keep the household going and take care of her dementia-ridden mother-in-law. She is not happy with her lot in life. The arrival of James Harris, great-nephew of the elderly ear biter, is a happy distraction for her. He treats her nicely, seems genuinely interested in who she is. But, just so things don’t get too normal, the mother-in-law starts rambling incoherently about Harris having a different name and killing her father some 60 years earlier. While looking exactly the same as he does now.

Say it with me: Vampire.

But one of the things I loved about this book is that we’re never entirely sure if Harris is a vampire or if Patricia is losing touch with reality. Author Hendrix does an excellent job of leaving both possibilities viable. Until the end where we find out… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

The potential vampire is plugged into modern society brilliantly. No fangs, no death by sunlight, no fear of holy water. He charms people not with mental abilities but by helping them gain money and power. He insinuates himself into the close-knit society until his own position is one of power. While Patricia does witness some events that make her think Harris is a vampire, friends and family mercilessly mock her and attack her sanity, leading Patricia to question her own memories and perceptions.

Horrorstor

After completing this disturbing story I discovered that the author also wrote Horrorstör, another vaguely funny largely troubling book I read some years back, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So I’m declaring Grady Hendrix an author you might well enjoy. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is hitting the shelves any day now. Don’t be the last kid on your block to scream in terror when… well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Happy Songs for your Zeitgeist

There are certain songs that can change my mood for the better. On the bleakest of days I can turn to one of these gems and be assured that relief is on the way.

So what is it about these songs, what magic be released from their very first sounds? Let’s find out, shall we?

Song: A Message to You Rudy (1979) Album: Encore (2019)
Artist: Specials

Why I like the song: it has a happy vibe, the lyrics are quirky, I enjoy the band’s appearance, happy memories 

Song: We’re All Happy (1993)
Album: Possum Dixon
Artist: Possum Dixon

Why I like the song: the bizarre introduction, the energetic tempo, its happy vibe, fab guitar playing

Song: Travels in Nihilon (1980)
Album: Black Sea
Artist: XTC

Why I like the song: the huge sound, its power and complexity, the drone and repetition, drums drums drums

Song: Sonic Reducer (1977)
Album: Young, Loud and Snotty
Artist: Dead Boys

Why I like the song: it has a raw edginess, tremendous power and high energy, gritty guitar, happy memories

Song: I Feel Beautiful (1999)
Album: Jewels for Sophia
Artist: Robyn Hitchcock

Why I like the song: the words resonate personally, it had tremendous beauty, the unusual instrumentation including marimba and dulcimer

Song: O Death (1916?)
Album: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)
Artist: Camper Van Beethoven

Why I like the song: lyrics are interesting, nice growth from tiny to enormous, inclusion of brass and strings

Song: Watching the Detectives (1977) Album: Live at Hollywood High (2010) Artist: Elvis Costello

Why I like the song: lyrics tell a good story, instrumental parts are complex, music has an engaging feel

Song: Hell (1996)
Album: Hot
Artist: Squirrel Nut Zippers

Why I like the song: great songwriting, happy memories, lyrics are funny, energy and anarchy rule the song

Song: Go Wild in the Country (1981)
Album: Live in Japan (1997)
Artist: Bow Wow Wow

Why I like the song: powerful vocals, titanic drums, I enjoy the band’s appearance, happy memories

Song: Screaming Skull (1983)
Album: Hexbreaker
Artist: Fleshtones

Why I like the song: spooky mood, fuzz guitar and wicked pipe organ, guitar solo, it’s party time!

Rest assured that all of these songs, as well as countless others, can be streamed through Hoopla. Just go to epls.org for more details.

So feel isolated no longer. Check out Hoopla and find your happy songs.

Loud Music as a Curative

According to 4 out of 5 doctors, isolation can be intensely mind-numbing. Particles called “brain plaque” break free from the grey matter and travel to the eustachian tubes where they lodge securely, literally numbing the brain! The only known remedy is listening to loud, aggressive music. Today’s featured cure? The Woods by Sleater-Kinney.

Emerging from the primordial mists of riot-grrrl-fueled rock and roll, Sleater-Kinney’s members had already shown a penchant (as the kids say) for the louder things in life. In 2005’s The Woods, the band brought a full frontal assault to their fans. And a cure for the isolation blues.

As soon as the needle hits the grooves, the album’s first track, The Fox, attempts to disconnect your medulla oblongata with a nod to classic rock. Titanic, intense (at times screamed) vocals, Moon-esque drums and a generally yuge sound conspire to cure your ills. The brain plaque begins to stir!

Lest we get overstimulated, song #2, Wilderness, starts delicately and grows into itself. The dizzying heights of The Fox are never reached, but a spectre of the late 60s remains with a wild and warped guitar solo (perhaps processed to sound backwards?) and intricate drums. The plaque regains its self-composure.

But tune #3, What’s Mine Is Yours, seals the deal with raw energy, aggressive vocals, psychedelic guitar and an absolutely wild drum solo. Now we see brain plaque on the run!

The remainder of the album features stark contrasts, powerful vocals, complex drum beats, impenetrable walls of sound, crunchiness and pastoral melodies until the final song, Night Light, permanently cures those isolation blues.

I know many of you are thinking, “Steve (which is not my name), how can I get ahold of this fine wax cylinder?” Firstly, let me tell you that certain cylinders have been turned into a series of numbers, or “digitized”, so that you can borrow them from your very own isolation cell. Simply go to the Hoopla app and look through the musical offerings. If you search for Sleater-Kinney you’ll discover that a goldurned plethora of titles are available for checkout.

So hop to it and clear away the brain plaque. In the immortal words of Mr. Guy Lomardo, “A one and-a two…”

Versing and the Post-Punk

One of my favorite albums is File Under Easy Listening by Sugar. In case you don’t remember, Sugar was a Bob Mould (of Husker Du fame) project. At one point in time this CD could be found in every corner bargain bin for next-to-nothing, which I never understood as it is one fabulous listening experience. The razor-sharp yet dense guitar work is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not a sound that pops up often.

If I had to describe the standout feature of F.U.E.L., it would be “texture”. Sharply-honed guitar saturates each song’s palette, but in such a way that the sound is still pleasant. The songs themselves tend towards being catchy, but within the framework of extreme sound spectrum saturation.

Which leads me to my topic…

Versing is a unique Seattle band that in some ways reminds me of Sugar. On their 2019 album 10000, the group drenches my ears ears ears with buzzsaw guitar wrapped in a downy blanket of catchiness. But there are other aspects of the band that make it difficult to describe their sound in any simple way.

Post-punk, which requires a thousand page manifesto to describe, is often angular, rhythmically complex, and to some extent devoid of personal warmth. The term does not describe a specific sound but a huge spectrum of potential sounds. One of my favorite post-punk albums is Vs. by Mission of Burma. Versing uses many of the same tricks as M.O.B.: odd accents that obscure the beat, dense textures alternating with sparse ones (sometimes quite rapidly), unusual melodies that can be an assault on the ears and, at other times, be monotone.

But this is still not a complete picture of Versing. Some tricks from Joy Division/early New Order can also be found in their playbook. Pop harmonies creep in from time to time, as if XTC invaded a Residents’ ditty. Some songs never progress out of their opening salvos. And, perhaps most unusually, song structures seldom go where expected: a guitar solo which differs from the rest of the song turns out to be the end; a song seems too short to end but end it does; another song simply fades into the sunset.

But this still does not describe all the complexities that make up Versing. Take all of the characteristics listed above and shuffle between them. First be poppy and sparse, then dense and angular, add irregular drum accents, now poppy and sparse, guitar solo, we’re done. Truly, I hear this album as a primer in post-punk songwriting. Each gem-of-a-song displays a different set of exciting features.

You can stream this exciting local album through Hoopla! And if you don’t know how to do that, you can find out on our website. Take advantage of our online resources and enjoy some fab music. Guaranteed to be fat-free and tasty.

Streaming Music from the PNW

In our last bat-episode we left our hero checking out and streaming movies using Hoopla. Today he will discover that Hoopla also offers a wide variety of streaming music, including a fair amount of bands from the Pacific Northwest. Holy Young Fresh Fellows, libraryman! So, ladies and gentlepeople, for your consideration I present The K-Tels, a Vancouver BC band that ruled the mean streets of the great white north from 1978 to 1980.

Also known as the Young Canadians (after being sued by K-Tel), the K-Tels played a raw brand of power pop with the emphasis on “power”. This musical energy, combined with wild live shows, led to them being labelled “punk”.

Let me digress for a moment into the realm of genres. Punk has meant many different things, but in the late seventies punk was essentially three-chord rock songs. In the case of groups like the Buzzcocks or the Clash, punk could actually be quite catchy. In later days it became more aggressive and less melodic, until eventually there arose pop punk, which is not all that similar to 70s punk but is still catchy. All of which is to say that we would probably not call The K-Tels punk today, but in 1978 it was an appropriate label.

So what did this daring trio of lads sound like? In an initial attempt to describe their sound I would say, CHECK THEM OUT USING HOOPLA! Were I to feel more cooperative I might offer comparisons to the Paul Collins Beat or the Plimsouls. Guitar often jangles, drums explode with maniacal precision and vocals warble around pleasant melodies. Add a touch of rawness. Stir to perfection.

The group only recorded a handful of songs during their relatively short tenure, and most of those songs are available through Hoopla. The 4-song ep Hawaii conjures visions of seventies punk with a dash of Devo (mostly in the vocals) and a soupcon of The Jam (mod British band, not fruit preserves). Some of you might even recognize the song Hawaii as the unofficial Canadian punk anthem.

While it’s highly likely that you’ve never heard of this group under either name, they were the real deal in Vancouver in 1978. Our neighbor to the north was a hotbed for exciting new music in the late 70s with bands such as D.O.A., Pointed Sticks and the Dishrags pointing the way for future groups. As these progenitors faded, the K-Tels picked up the mantle and seemed destined to be the next big thing. Which never quite happened. But the band’s guitarist Art Bergmann did go on to become an important fixture in Canadian rock. And, perhaps most importantly, the band left behind some good songs for our ears to enjoy.

So head on over to Hoopla and search for K-Tels. You should find their Hawaii ep, This Is Your Life ep and Automan single. Eleven songs that will blast you into the heyday of early punk. Stay tuned for more streaming music from the Pacific Northwest and remember, 54-40 or rock!

Streaming Video

Streaming video has become old hat these days. Still, it’s nice to know that the library has streaming services available. Recently, I took it upon myself to see just what kind of offerings Hoopla has available for patrons of the Everett Public Library. And what I found might amaze you! Well, not really. In fact it’s not that surprising at all, but here it is.

Many of the movies offered by Hoopla are not first run blockbusters. In fact, popular fiction titles are few and far between. But for a person such as myself who is entertained by bad movies and can find good in mediocre movies, there’s a treasure trove of entertainment to be viewed.

Take for example The Radioland Murders. I discovered this movie some years ago and was never able to locate it again. Here we find a murder mystery set in the 1930s with lots of Art Deco, live radio broadcasts, full orchestras in the studio and a killer on the loose. The cast includes a variety of talented actors and the script is well written and entertaining. If you like live radio shows such as The Shadow, you’ll get a kick out of watching the shows be produced, seeing how the sound effects are made, and witnessing the stress of actors receiving scripts just moments before they have to speak the lines. In brief, if you enjoy murder mysteries this movie is well worth checking out. Thank you, Hoopla, for finding this treasure for me once again.

Another title I tried out was The Red House starring Edward G. Robinson. The movie was listed under film noir and I thought it might be based on a mystery by A.A Milne that I had read a few years back. This 1947 film, which in fact has nothing to do with the Milne book, focuses on middle aged siblings who own a small farm. Locals refer to them as the mysterious Martins. Next to their farm stands the Oxhead Woods, which turns out to be the real center of the mystery.

When high school senior Nath goes to work for the Martins, he simply wants to earn some cash. The couple’s adopted daughter Meg obviously has feelings for Nath, but he is planning to marry his girlfriend Tippy and doesn’t even notice Meg’s interest. Early on it becomes apparent that Mr. Martin, Pete, is obsessed with the woods and he tells everyone to avoid them. Something happened in his past in a red house in the woods and Pete hears screaming whenever he’s in those woods. But we don’t learn more about this for quite some time.

Ultimately, the movie is a psychological thriller and I don’t really want to give any more details so as not to give away the thrill of it to. Suffice to say, any time you watch an older movie that apparently has the soundtrack from a hygiene film, well, you know what you’re in for. Kidding aside, The Red House, while sometimes predictable, is still an enjoyable ride.

My final foray into Hoopla came in the guise of a spy thriller/action/comedy titled Operation Endgame. In this movie featuring a talented cast, the director couldn’t decide what type of movie he was making. While the original intent was probably for a spy spoof, the humor never grew much beyond occasional funny dialog. The action seems fine, the gore level adequate. The plot, involving a secret American intelligence group whose members are all trying to kill each other, was sufficiently twisty to satisfy my need for surprise and novelty.

It’s difficult to say much about the plot of this one without giving too much away. What I liked best is that anything could happen, any character could suddenly die. This took away the predictability that this type of movie often suffers from. I moderately recommend this film to anyone who enjoys spydom.

So there you have it. Oh, and let us not forget the best feature of Hoopla: It’s free! So you can take a chance on a movie that may or may not be outstanding. And, I recommend that you do so. But please, do not start with Nude Nuns with Big Guns (I did not make this up!). Slide into an easier title first before tackling the big guns.

I Am Speechless!

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Speechless is a clever sitcom driven by brilliant writing and acting. Amazingly, in 2019 it was ABC’s lowest rated show. Filled with a cast of characters viewers can truly care about, perhaps even want to hang out with, its failure leaves me utterly, wait for it, speechless.

At the center of Speechless we find the DiMeo family. Maya (played by Minnie Driver) is a superstar special-needs mom who is constantly on the lookout for the perfect school environment for J.J., her 16-year-old son. J.J.’s cerebral palsy relegates him to an electric wheelchair and requires him to communicate by pointing a laser at a word/letter board. He is intelligent, happy and generally a typical 16-year-old.

At the start of Season 1 the family moves into a new house (something they do every year) and J.J. undertakes his first experience with mainstream high school. Really, all he wants is to experience the same things as most teens. Maya is, shall we say, rather intense in her efforts to get the best of everything for J.J. and most people are somewhat scared of her. But persistence produces results and J.J. soon has a full-time aide, Kenneth, who goes to classes with him, speaks for him and helps him with physical tasks. Kenneth and J.J. soon form a tight bond that is unique in the annals of sitcoms.

The household is rounded out by husband Jimmy, an airport baggage handler who doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him; Ray, the middle child, a worrier and realist who just wants a girlfriend; and Ray’s younger sister, Dylan, a competitive runner who has little time for nonsense unless it involves pranking Ray. They make up a close-knit family and although the others feel neglected at times, everyone is focused on providing J.J. with whatever he needs.

Prom

One of the show’s main sources of tension is J.J.’s desire for independence versus Maya’s need to orchestrate his life. She has spent 16 years fighting for J.J., trying to make things easier for him. Now in high school he’s asking for opportunities to go to parties and school dances, play sled hockey and go to summer camp. Maya, understandably, has a hard time letting go. But Kenneth recognizes J.J.’s needs and desires and is an excellent advocate, which in turn leads to tension between Maya and Kenneth.

Hockey

Sibling subplots center around Ray’s quest for a girlfriend and Dylan’s insatiable need to win. Another recurring plot point is the family’s general messiness and lack of yard care. J.J. takes a lot of everyone’s energy and little is left for household chores. The DiMeos are fine with this, but neighbors do not always share their enthusiasm. Perhaps my favorite episode is “T-h-a Thanksgiving”. The family is supposed to visit Jimmy’s brother but don’t want to because, well, those relatives are horrible. The brother always humble-brags about his wealth and success; his wife cries at the drop of a hat; her mother performs weird semi-lap dances for J.J.; and their son says a single catch phrase each year and nothing else; So the DiMeos pretend that J.J. is sick and cancel the visit. However, the relatives decide to visit the DiMeos instead. As they continue to plan ways to avoid the unwanted gathering, Maya comes up with a brilliant idea, turning the relatives annoying habits into a game. Every time the wife cries Maya gets a point, when the brother brags Jimmy gets a point, and so on. This is a unique perspective on coping with difficult family interactions.

If you like sharp, clever writing, be sure to check out Speechless. It’s truly a superior and unusual show, well worth the price of admission. And please remember: no helmet, no hockey.

Ken Burns’ Country Music

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I listen to a wide variety of musical styles and one of my favorites is what I call Old Timey. This general label can include early blues, ragtime, folk, jug band and early country. So I eagerly anticipated Ken Burns’ latest documentary, titled simply Country Music. Little did I realize that my version of reality was about to be blown up like a trout in a mountain lake. 

Volume One of this monumental work looks at the folks who invented what we have come to know as country music, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Gene Autry. Beautiful photographs mix with audio recordings and narrated histories. Although I’m more familiar with this music than many people, I still found myself watching with wonderment, learning stories (including scandals) that I’d not known, feeling as if I were present in the photos, cipherin’ the importance of individual performers.

For example, I did not know that Maybelle Carter, guitarist for the Carter Family, created her own style of guitar picking called, among other things, the thumb brush. Or that Jimmie Rodgers was so weak from tuberculosis during his final recording session that he had to rest on a cot between takes. And that Gene Autry’s singing cowboy films were vitally important in spreading country music to a national audience.

Someone I do know a bit about is Mr. Hank Williams, whose short but fertile career began to unfold in the 1940s. From his first hit in 1948 to his death in 1953, Williams created a litany of country standards that continue to be popular 70 years later. Outstanding songwriting skills and an appealing voice were the perfect combination to catapult Hank to stardom. But it was perhaps his lyrics that drew in listeners. Tales of heartache and ways to combat said heartache spoke to people in a way that popular music seldom did.

Country Music moves on to tell of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs developing a new style called bluegrass, of Elvis Presley and others taking country in a new direction that would eventually become rock and roll, and of Ray Charles’ importance in popularizing country with the release of his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The amount of information in this documentary is phenomenal and we’ve only scratched the surface today. And, there’s also a Volume Two!

Part of the beauty of country music, and American music in general, is the combination of influences. Nobody woke up on a Tuesday and said, “Ah, I think I’ll invent country music!” American folk music, which is derived from European folk music, along with African influences, blues, jazz and swing all had an impact on the growth of country. For example, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys modeled themselves after swing bands, employing horn sections, drums, instrumental solos and a swing feel. And in the early 1950s honky tonk, boogie woogie and country, as well as other genres, coalesced into rockabilly and then rock and roll. It’s all intertwined.

So sit back and prepare to be stunned. Volume One is about eight hours of viewing time, so make sure you have a comfy chair and an adequate supply of beverages. And do not sit too close to the screen as this is bad for your eyes. And please, as always, allow time for bathroom breaks.

Best PNW Albums of 2019

It’s time to play that audience favorite, What’s The Best PNW Album of 2019? What do we have for today’s winner, Johnny?

(Silence)

Johnny seems to be, umm, a figment of my imagination. So let’s move on to this year’s contenders for What’s The Best PNW Album of 2019?

As I’ve probably said in the past, I’m not much for picking absolute favorites. So today I’ll present you with some very good albums that came out of the Pacific Northwest in 2019. None of these are being designated as “the best” album of the year, and there are many other releases I could easily include on my list. So buckle up and uncork a tall one.

Group 1

First up is a heavy dose of pure power pop from Seattle’s La Fille. Their latest album, Alright Already, is a primer in just how good power pop can be. Catchy, sweet melodies tempered with a fine steel edge of R&R. Fans of Matthew Sweet should dig this one.

Portland’s Shivas channel a heavy psychedelic/garage vibe on Dark Thoughts. In fact, this album sounds like it was made in 1965, not 2019. Massive reverb, caterwauling from beyond the grave, cascading stacks of mind-bending riffs combine to please your frontal lobe as only 60s rock can.

Tullycraft, hailing from Bellingham, is a local band that made it kinda big. They are recognized as one of the, if not the progenitor of twee pop. This genre combines catchy, poppy melodies with raw, unpolished vocals that lean a bit toward the spoken side. 2019’s The Railway Prince Hotel is an excellent example of what twee can be.

Group 2

Portland’s Minus 5 made a stunning comeback in 2019 after frontman Scott McCaughey’s stroke in late 2018. The indie rockers released Stroke Manor, an album which attempts to suggest the experience of having a stroke. Styles range from poppy to hard rocking and everything inbetween. Be sure to check this one out.

The Seattle-ites, strangely enough hailing from Seattle, pay tribute to legendary ska band the Skatelites. Lovers of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones beware! The music on The Thing! EP is firmly rooted in first wave ska, a relaxed walk through the rocksteady beat. Authentic, extremely well done. Expect more great music from this band in the future.

Local Teen stirs up Portland with their own brand of twee pop/punk on Low Vibrations, Bad Emotions. Picture twee lead vocals with shouted backup vocals, male and female lead singers, horns, fast tempos, a ton of variety. A great band and album, well worth exploring.

Group 3

If it is punk that you seek, look no further than Night Danger by Vancouver’s Alien Boys. Their brand of punk takes elements from early British punk, pop punk, and even a bit of hard rock. The sound is unique and a pleasant alternative to all the soundalike punk groups. Fans of 999 should dig this group.

And if it is a walk in the country that pleases your ear buds, Portland’s Little Sue can soothe your brow with her latest, Gold. Sue has been a fixture in Portland for over 25 years, and Gold displays her excellent songwriting skills, resulting in a modern, original country album that sounds like it’s filled with standards.

Group 4

Do you like your power pop on the rough side? Or perhaps you’re into indie Canadian pop punk? Vancouver’s Pudding just might be the answer to your every desire. Kind of loose or DIY, 2019’s Pop Over takes its title literally, showing where the music will go once pop is no longer. A highly recommended listening experience.

Finally, we round out 2019 with a bit of old timey busking music by Portland’s Lightnin’ Luke. Volume 2 is a raw recording of classic and original blues played by a single person. But the performances never sound small and are packed with excitement as well as fun. Just the thing to scratch your hokum itch.

A ton of superior music comes out of the NW every year. Be sure to explore what’s out there. And don’t forget Everett Public Library’s local music section. It’s well worth the price of admission.

The Good Place

Finally, the ultimate philosophical questions surrounding life and death have been answered. In a sitcom. Called The Good Place.

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The premise is a little difficult to explain without getting into multiple spoilers, but here we go.

There is an afterlife! When people die they either go to the Good Place or the Bad Place, depending on how they behaved while alive. The show focuses on four people who die at roughly the same time and are thrust together in the Good Place in a neighborhood designed by an eternal (or nearly-eternal) being named Michael. Michael is sort of like a god in the neighborhood, able to help people, fix problems and create heavenly things such as frozen yogurt restaurants.

There is a “but”.

But Eleanor (the main character) realizes she doesn’t belong in the Good Place. She was, in fact, a horrible human being while alive. Thus, Eleanor assumes there’s been some sort of clerical error that saved her from eternal punishment. And, wanting to remain in the Good Place, she tries to cover up this mistake. To her credit, Eleanor does try to make up for previous behaviors by studying ethics with Chidi (a professor of ethics while alive), who is her soulmate in the Good Place. But it becomes apparent that covering up her past is not going to be easy.

Other characters include another pair of soulmates, Tahani, a rich socialite while alive, and Jianyu, a silent Taiwanese monk, who live in a fantastic mansion next to Eleanor and Chidi’s tiny, clown-themed house. And let us not forget Janet, a sort of supercomputer in human form, who knows literally everything and is able to fill all the desires of the neighborhood’s inhabitants (such as providing frozen yogurt).

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This is the premise, more or less, at the beginning of the first season. But it’s important to remember one thing about The Good Place: Nothing is what it seems to be. In fact, viewers’ expectations are constantly turned upside down over teakettle. By the end of season 1, the above description is highly inaccurate and the show reboots, so to speak, in an entirely different direction. And this is one of the strengths of the show, its willingness to explore entirely new circumstances, essentially trashing everything that has already occurred. In a way, this aspect of The Good Place is similar to the premise of Groundhog Day, with characters reliving the same or similar situations with different outcomes. This device provides a level of freshness that is seldom found on television.

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Later seasons are impossible to describe without giving away the many twists that make The Good Place such a refreshing show. Suffice to say, a variety of permutations of the original plot find their way into the afterlife, creating much humor along the way.

The fourth and final season of the show is currently airing on network TV, meaning there will only be 50 or so episodes of the show in total. Higher quality often means fewer episodes, which means viewers will have to find other innovative programming. So take advantage of this excellent program while you can. The writing, acting, plot twists and explanations of the afterlife are superlative. As a young British prime minister once said, “Hey, that’s my donut!”