So if you haven’t heard by now, The Good Place is a really great show and it’s just finished its final season, so now feels like a good time to talk about it.
Half of you already know how good it is, and the other half of you either didn’t watch it at all, or else dropped off before the big turn at the end of the first season.
So the premise, for those of you that don’t know, is that Eleanor Shellstrop is dead. The opening scene features her opening her eyes and being greeted by an angel name Michael. She’s in The Good Place. Different religions have called it different things throughout the centuries, but this is it. She can relax and be at piece for all of eternity… only one problem…
Eleanor was not a good person and she doesn’t know how she got into The Good Place. Luckily, her assigned soul mate is an ethical philosophy professor named Chidi Anagonye who agrees to help her become a good person so that she will have the right to stay.
We discover that this isn’t The Good Place at all. It’s actually The Bad Place. Eleanor, Chidi and all the friends they’ve made were all being subjected to new sort of a guilt-based torture as punishment for their time on Earth.
The show has a lot of twists and turns like this, but it really doesn’t pick up until the second season, so I can see why a lot of people don’t make it that far.
I’m not going to wax poetic about the different philosophical theories that the show explores. There are a million more qualified people than me who’ve already gone over that aspect of the show in detail. Instead, I want to focus on the characters and the masterful way that the show writers play with the viewer’s expectations.
See, the philosophy lessons make great foundations for the moral arguments that the show makes, but the way it contextualizes them is through the interpersonal relationships between the characters and the flaws that led to their fate.
Eleanor is guarded and selfish, Chidi is indecisive, Jason is rash and Tahani is obsessed with the way other people see her.
Each of these fundamental character flaws has led to an inability to be a good person for very understandable reasons.
So let’s take Tahani for example. She’s led dozens of charities, organized hundreds of fundraisers, gathered millions of dollars for people in need. The amount of good that she’s done in the world is objectively more than most people can hope to achieve. The problem is that she always did it for selfish reasons. Her parents pitted her and her sister against each other for their entire lives so she spent every moment seeking validation. She would donate a million dollars to the Sydney Opera House, but it wouldn’t be to fund the arts. It would be to get her name on a plaque in order to let other people know what a good person she was.
At one point, Jason suggests a “more fun” way to donate and the two of them spend the afternoon handing out stacks of money by the thousands to people on the street. He tells her that he can’t think of the number of times when that amount of money would have changed his life. It’s this relationship that contextualizes the philosophy for Tahani. Seeing the faces of the people she’s helping helps her to realize that doing good isn’t about buying philanthropic publicity, it’s about making life easier for those in need.
I think that’s the real heart of this show. Not just the sa-weet references to ancient Greek philosophers, but the way the show brings those ideas to the viewer in an emotionally relatable way. Especially since the core message of the show seems to be that there are no bad people, only people who haven’t had the time and opportunity to learn how to be good.
Also, this is neither here nor there, but Jason Mendoza is just about my favorite character from anything ever.
Thanks for reading,