I don’t have a lot of use for sitcoms. I have even less use for most of the shows that make it through the mediocrity mill of network executives. I have still less use for the secular morality that these shows promote.
But there’s one thing I have a lot of use for, and that’s finding out I’m wrong. The Good Place is one of those times.
Eleanor (Kristen Bell) finds herself sitting on a couch in a pleasant waiting room. Across from her we see the words “Welcome! Everything is fine.” on the wall. A moment later, Michael (Ted Danson) invites her into his office, where he explains that Eleanor has died, and because of her outstanding life of good works, she is in the Good Place, an afterlife specifically designed by Michael to house a number of other stellar examples of humanity as they while away eternity.
But, there’s been a mistake. Eleanor, wasn’t a good person. In fact, she was a total asshole in life. She doesn’t belong in the Good Place, and by the dawn of her second day in paradise, disasters start to plague the neighborhood. Michael sets out to learn the cause before the entire world falls apart. Eleanor knows this is all her fault, and seeks the aid of Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosophy professor, in becoming a good person before Michael discovers her secret and banishes her to an eternity of torment in the Bad Place.
I gotta say, that ain’t a bad setup. You’ve got the “fish out of water” element: Eleanor wakes up in a place she doesn’t understand and needs to learn the rules. You’ve got a problem: She doesn’t belong there. And you’ve got some pretty serious stakes: if she’s discovered, they’ll put her in the Bad Place to suffer the eternity of torment she so richly deserves. That’s a good start to the story. There are a lot of places it can go, and a big part of the fun is figuring out which way it’s going.
While The Good Place explores a lot of adult themes, it does so in a way that’s PG-13 enough that I can watch this with my kid without cringing every five minutes. In fact, my whole family has been binging this thing over the last week or two. It’s gotten so bad that we’ve been catching up on this season on the NBC streaming service (the first two seasons are on Netflix), which means we have to watch commercials.
That’s right. We watch advertisements that you can’t fast-forward past. The show’s that good. If nothing else, my son is learning the skill of getting ready for bed during the commercial breaks, an ability that I thought was going to die out with my generation.
My Spoiler Free Thoughts…
The first season plays like a basic Phil 1 course on moral ethics as Chidi attempts to tutor Eleanor in the basics of how to be a good person. That sounds dry, but the writing is excellent and there are plenty of hijinks, and plot twists to keep the whole thing moving at a good clip. I never found myself getting bored and drifting off, and let me tell you, the payoff was well-worth it. The philosophy lessons have lead to some interesting discussions around the dinner table. It’s fun to debate the pros and cons of utilitarianism versus deontology with an eleven-year-old. I’m impressed that my son has picked up so much from a sitcom.
OK, I’m going to stop here. It’s a great show, and if you haven’t watched it, I think you should. I’ll try to do another post soon where I lift the self-imposed embargo on spoilers so I can really get into the nuts and bolts of this thing and dig around.