The Good Place: Morality Behind a Comedy

Meghan Shaffer

Culture Editor

In a season so full of critically-acclaimed heart-wrenching dramas like This is Us and The Handmaid’s Tale, T.V. comedies seem to have taken a backseat. So, enter onto the scene NBC’s The Good Place, a 30-minute comedy from the creator of The Office and Parks and Recreation with a surprisingly serious undertone.

Eleanor Shellstrop, played by an outstanding Kristen Bell, wakes up in a clean bright waiting room and is welcomed by man-in-charge Michael (Ted Danson), who tells her she died and made it to the “Good Place.”  In the Good Place, everything is tailored to your deepest desire, from your house to your soulmate—the person you are slated to spend eternity with. As Eleanor gets to know her soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a former professor of ethics, and hears from Michael about all the good she did on earth as a human rights lawyer, she realizes that there has been a mistake. Eleanor does not belong in the Good Place; A glitch in the system mistook her for someone else, but she isn’t about to fess up and be sent to the “Bad Place.”

Originally content to continue living life as she would back on Earth, Eleanor quickly realizes that her terrible personality is wreaking havoc on the balance of the Good Place and will surely get her found out. So she enlists Chidi to teach her how to be good while trying her hardest to maintain the ruse.

What makes the show such a success is the tricky balance of seriousness and lightheartedness. With its over-saturated colors and copious residents on bicycles, we are never meant to believe that this version of  the “Good Place” is what heaven actually looks like. But the plight of the characters feels so real and is so nuanced that you don’t get caught up worrying about the semantics. Despite her corrupt behavior while alive, we see Eleanor genuinely try to learn from Chidi and become a person worthy of staying in the Good Place.

By taking a closer look at the seemingly perfect people around her, such as posh British humanitarian Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and silent Buddhist Monk Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), Eleanor comes to see that they maybe aren’t as perfect as they seem. And that is what truly works about the show. As explained by Michael, the architect behind Eleanor and co.’s iteration of the Good Place, the criteria for getting into the Good Place is extremely high. Most of the important contributing figures from history ended up in the Bad Place, so what does that mean for the rest of us normal people? What does it truly mean to be good, and what is the point in doing good deeds if we do them for the wrong reasons?

With a cast that is both diverse and delightful, an ever-evolving narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and a twist that will leave you desperate for the next episode, The Good Place is a must see. Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix and Season 2 began with an hour-long premiere on September 20.  

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