Philosophy, Morality, and Truth in NBC’s The Good Place

Anyone that knows me knows that I completely loved the first season of The Good Place. After some hesitancy, I dove right in and finished the season within a few short days. As a lover of theology, philosophy and just good old fashioned comedy, it was well worth it.

For those of you uninitiated into the premise of the show, Kristin Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop a newly deceased 30- something that wrongly lands herself in “the good place” after a clerical error. It’s a silly premise with a big pay-off. Ted Danson plays Michael the Architect, a clever play on St. Michael the Archangel, with great aplomb and wit.

It was funny, interesting, well-written and -most importantly to my intellectual heart- was riddled with philosophical questions and queries.

It’s not often (okay, ever) that a mainstream broadcasting company allows a show to ask the important human questions:

What is truth?
What is the meaning of life?
How can we calculate or understand goodness?

Not only are these these questions literally the backdrop (as scribblings on a blackboard shows in one of the episodes during the first season) but they are at the forefront of the dilemma of the show.

I will be writing and analyzing the first episode of the second season so if you haven’t watched it yet go do yourself a favor and watch it. Right now! As I write this the first season is streaming on Hulu and Netflix. I’ll be here when you come back in 6 hours or so.

So to begin, the heart of the show comes from Kristin Bell’s great turn as Eleanor, the hidden misanthrope with a heart of fool’s gold. This interplay between her and Ted Danson’s Michael is played to great success for the first hour back in the second season.

The plots are zanier and the dilemma’s even spicier as the resident demons are getting fed up at having to play such sanitized characters that, much to the chagrin of one demon, can’t even nibble on unsuspecting humans (for shame!) Michael’s ploy to keep the four unsuspecting humans psychologically torturing each other for all of eternity starts falling apart at the seams when Eleanor is handed a hidden note from Janice (D’Arcy Carden), the Good Place’s personified siri/corotana/alexa, that sends Eleanor on a wild goose chase to find Chidi (William Jackson Harper) [maybe a yogurt].

This devolves further when we get to see the machinations that Michael constructed for each imprisoned human. Jason’s, played to great affect by Manny Jacinto, silent monk “best friend/soulmate” routine is comedy gold as well as Tahani’s (Jameela Jamil) sheer revulsion at all the Good Place has to offer her a second time around. I have to admit, I had so much fun watching Tahani, resident tanned goddess and fellow naive human, squirm under the tortures of a short soulmate and cargo pants. Admittedly, it’s a torture that I would also loathe.

All the while, Michael is goading Eleanor to make a speech to the whole town in honor of being the best person in heaven; not exactly Eleanor’s dream come true, even for the afterlife.

Chidi, this time around, needs to deal with a nearly impossible ethical quandary as he soon discovers that his chosen soulmate is, well, not quite.

Eleanor, intent on finding out who or what Chidi is, becomes so distracted when she overhears Chidi’s name (he wasn’t a yogurt after all) that she fails to live up to her lowest morals. She does not end up getting drunk or destroying anything, much to the dismay of the ever watchful Michael.

Tahani, however, at her wit’s end does end up drunk after a few two many shots and ends up setting fire to the house where the party is held. All of the carefully orchestrated directing from Michael is now in shambles.

By the end of the hour the secret is revealed, they were in the Bad Place all along, and now must reset their time here in the “Good Place”.

I’ll be very interested to see how Michael Schur and company create a dynamic show revolving around this premise. What ethical and moral questions will come up this season? Will we ever learn about the real Good Place? What would happen if they tried to escape? How do they actually determine who gets to the Good Place or Bad Place? Is there a way for Eleanor and company to get to the good place? And why should they try?

Whatever the answers may be to these questions, I’ll be sure to be paying attention with a critical eye focused on discovering and dissecting the philosophical queries.

I can’t wait for the rest of the season.


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