Dead people studying ethics and philosophy. That is NBC’s “The Good Place” in a nutshell, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The comedy series aired its final episode Jan. 30 this year and the fourth and final season came out on Netflix Sept. 26 and was available on Hulu before that. There’s something so timely about the show that makes me want to rewatch it over and over again.
Even though the series feels pretty unrealistic at times, there are a myriad of themes that relate to our world today and gives me more hope for the future. I highly recommend everyone gives it a try. It navigates between what makes a person “good” or “bad” and how easily it is to drift between the two. Yes, people do bad things, but it’s through our resilience and drive to do better that makes us good.
Summary: Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself in the afterlife, and she’s welcomed with open arms into the Good Place by architect Michael (Ted Danson). Michael and his all-knowing assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden) show her around the neighborhood introducing her to her seemingly perfect neighbors Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto) and her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Everything seems great except there’s one problem. They have the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop, and she really belongs in the Bad Place. Eleanor does everything she can with the help of her new friends to keep her place there by learning how to be a better person.
I first heard about “The Good Place” in a television class I took in college a little over a year ago. We watched the pilot episode and analyzed it in a group discussion. I didn’t know what to expect, because I had fallen out of love with sitcoms. However, this one hit differently.
It didn’t shine a spotlight on cheesy dialogue. There wasn’t a laughing reel playing in the background. The characters didn’t do things in over-the-top, wacky ways and they didn’t play into one-dimensional stereotypes.
The dialogue was subtle. The plot was clever. The characters were real and complex. Even though it takes place in a different plane of existence, “The Good Place” always remained grounded in what it was truly about: humanity at its best and worst and the meaning of life.
I’ve been so disappointed lately (thank you U.S. politics and COVID-19). The world is a scary place right now and it’s been easy to blame everything around us for our anxiety. I felt myself losing hope that people could be good and saw my normally-optimistic self slowly fall into nihilism (The 100’s series finale certainly did not help with that).
“The Good Place” offers a different narrative to existentialism though. Instead of taking the nihilistic approach that humans are stuck in our cycles of repeating bad behavior, this show gives the glimmer of hope that perhaps people can change, and maybe we can be better today than we were yesterday.
It has quickly become one of my top comfort shows this year, because it makes me want to be a better person while still laughing and acknowledging the fact that I’ll make mistakes because I’m only human.
This series also uses the afterlife as a platform to show that old, traditional systems easily become obsolete from the changing times and often just benefit the corrupt. How can we make it to the “Good Place” when we’re still being judged on standards that were set in a completely different time?
This show reminds us to question our systems by working together to come up with a solution that benefits everyone, not just the people in power. I think everyone could take a page from this story and remember, “We can’t change that thing, because that’s the way it’s always been done” isn’t a good enough excuse not to fix something that’s broken.
In order to make the world around us better we need to start with ourselves and not limit each other by labels. We have to take the time to sit, study things that seem out of our comfort zones and apply what we’ve learned to our lives.
If demons can change for the better in “The Good Place,” then so can we.
Even looking past all the lessons this show has taught me, it’s also just really fun to watch. The cast is incredible and bounce off each other perfectly. I laugh. I cry. I get frustrated. I swoon. I feel all my emotions like I should when watching a series about morality. Even though the storyline switches through different planes of existence and strange timelines, the show is grounded because the characters drive the story forward.
I always think about how Plato’s Allegory of the Cave relates to this show. The allegory begins with a scene of people chained in a dark cave, seeing shadows flitting across the walls. Because they don’t know any differently, the shapes of the shadows are their reality. That’s how they believe the world to be. However, if they break free from their chains and walk out into the sunlight, they see what really cast those shadows they believed were real. Their entire world opens up and they see the bigger picture of reality.
A similar thing happens with “The Good Place.” The characters start off with having things just happening to them, but they almost always find a way to break their metaphorical chains and see the light outside –– actual reality. Every character has the agency to release themselves from the cave, but it’s the will power that’s difficult.
It’s not always fun to self reflect on our mistakes and see ourselves as part of the problem, which is necessary for these characters to break the chains. We grow outside our comfort zones and this is the only way to see the full picture.
These characters make me feel confident that I’m not stuck in my situation. Things can be better if I just try hard enough. It gives me hope, and that’s exactly what the planet needs in 2020.