In A Good Place

the-good-place

Which of these two doesn’t look comfortable?

Jean Paul Sartre once wrote “Hell is other people.” He also wrote “Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.” Neither statement has much obviously to do with The Good Place, a great new TV comedy.

WARNING: EVERYTHING FROM HERE DOWN IS PRETTY MUCH ALL SPOILERS

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) opens her eyes to find herself in a relaxing office waiting room. On the white wall opposite her couch, WELCOME! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is written in bright green letters. Michael (Ted Danson) welcomes her into his office, where he tells her that 1.) she’s dead, and 2.) she made it to the Good Place. The Good Place is kind of a pastel, Disney, planned community Heaven reflecting no religious expectations in particular (every religion apparently got it around 5% right, except for one stoner who guessed 95% of it while high on mushrooms).

Eleanor is introduced to the neighborhood; apparently the Good Place is divided into minutely planned districts, each with 322 residents chosen for their compatibility in this afterlife utopia. She is introduced to her soulmate. All looks rosy.

Except she’s not supposed to be there.

Yes she’s Eleanor Shellstrop, but no none of the memories she sees played on a This Is Your Life screen are hers. She wasn’t a selfless lawyer who saved convicted murderers on death row, or who rescued orphans in war-torn failed states, or cleaned up disaster sites, etc. She was a salesperson for a shady company pushing useless “drugs” on old sick people, an utterly self-centered human being with no apparent redeeming qualities. There’s been a mistake.

Of course she doesn’t want to be discovered and kicked out of the Good Place, so she prevails upon her soulmate, Chidi Anagoyne, in life an ethics professor, to teach her how to be good.

I watched the premier last night, it was delightful, and I highly recommend that everyone catch it and judge for themselves. Especially since I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and everyone else is being lied to. Something…benevolently sinister is afoot. Can something be benevolently sinister?

Here’s what I mean.

In the first few minutes, you learn that Eleanor’s neighborhood is brand new; everyone arrived more or less at once and gets the same group briefing in the form of a charming video presentation.

What are they are told? That everyone in life accumulates what is, for lack of a better word, karma; deeds which make the universe better go in the positive side of the ledger, while deeds which make the universe worse go in the negative side. Upon death the score is tallied, and only the small fraction who achieve incredibly high scores (as Eleanor had supposedly done) go to the Good Place. Everyone else goes to the Bad Place; a place Michael and his assistant can’t tell you anything about, but from the brief audio-clip sounds pretty unpleasant. Back to this in a minute.

You also learn that Michael was formerly an apprentice; Eleanor’s neighborhood/district is the first one he’s been allowed to design and build on his own. He isn’t even human. He’s far from infallible, and the Good Place’s universal assistant, Janet (who knows everything and can get you anything you need), knows more than he does about what’s going on. But she’s like a protocol-bound artificial intelligence; she has no free will and can’t violate privacy and so on.

You also meet Eleanor’s neighbors: Tahani Al-Jamil, a self satisfied 1-percenter jet setter who constantly name drops her associations with famous people (Princess Di, Johnny Depp, etc) and her Good Deeds, and her soulmate Jianyu, a Buddhist monk who still maintains a vow of silence (possibly in self-defense).

So here’s the thing; Eleanor herself spots the problem with this setup (mind you, she sees only that it’s unfair to her). How can a sorting system that puts only the very best in the Good Place and everyone else in the Bad Place be at all fair? Shouldn’t there be an Average Place? Like Cincinnati?

Eleanor also complains that Tahani hardly seems better than her: “She’s a condescending bench.” (You can’t swear in the Good Place.) Tahani is proof-positive of the instrumental definition of Good being used by whomever sorted the departed into the Good Place and the Bad Place; her obvious motivation for Doing Good in life was to score social points. She did good in life because it made her Better than You; this motivation for doing good soundly has been soundly rejected by every major religion (the Bible, especially, is full of condemnation for the sort who do good for praise and bragging rights).

But apparently motivation doesn’t matter. Apparently.

One last fact; Eleanor quickly learns that when she does something bad, it affects the whole district. Comically so, with rains of shrimp and garbage about which Michael can do nothing, among other things. So she can’t even be secretly bad, she’s got to learn how to be good or the situation will quickly go to hell, figuratively and possibly literally speaking.

Remember I mentioned that something about all this seemed benevolently sinister?

Point #1: Eleanor can’t be there by mistake. The system got her name, place of birth, and date (and method) of death, right. But it got everything else wrong? I don’t think so. I think she arrived with a forged history. Who forged it, and why?

Point #2: This is Michael’s first solo job, and he seems a little out of his depth. Janet knows more about what is going on than he does, and she’s not helping.

So, what is going on? I have a hypothesis, one I’m not going to share yet. Maybe if someone in the comments gets close I’ll discuss it. In any case, I look forward to watching The Good Place; I think it’s a comedy meant to completely and deliberately bend your mind and make you think. I hope it is; it shows great promise.

M.G.Harmon

 

About George

I am a reasonably successful self-published author ("successful" means I can pay the bills and am highly rated in my Amazon category), former financial advisor (writing is more fun), and have something in common with Mitt Romney and Donny Osmond. Guess.
This entry was posted in TV Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to In A Good Place

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard says:

    Sounds interesting.

    On the other hand, C. S. Lewis wrote a series of letters from a Senior Devil to a Junior Temper which did quite well (The Screwtape Letters).

    He thought about writing a series of letters from a Senior Angel to a Junior Guardian Angel but didn’t think he would do justice to writing from the POV of a completely Good Senior Angel.

    IE it was easier to write a completely nasty person than to write a flawless person (& make the person seem real).

    While, it’s obvious that Eleanor doesn’t belong in this Good Place, I can’t help but wonder if this “Good Place” is what the writers/producers think is an actual Good Place.

    Mind you, there’s still the question of why is Eleanor there. 😉

    Unfortunately, I chose to not have television service so I’ll not be able to watch the show.

    • George says:

      Nice theory, but no, there are too many broad hints that the writers are intentionally playing with expectations.

    • Just because you choose not to have television service(I assume you mean paid service through a service provider), does not mean you have to forgo these shows. I chose not to have paid service as well, and the majority of the shows I’m interested in are on major networks that provide a digital signal over the air. So all you need is an antenna($5-30 depending on the quality,) a dtv signal converter if it’s not already built into your current tv, and the time to sit down and watch the show.

      NBC, ABC, Fox, CW, ION, H&I, CBS, Grit, and a couple of others all have a free to view over the air signal. Sure, sometimes reception can be spotty due to solar flares, or you might have to fiddle with the antenna in the beginning to get the optimal reception, but that’s still enough networks to get the majority of new primetime shows this fall. Especially with so many networks restricting their videos online to whether you pay for a cable subscription or not.

  2. PhilippeO says:

    hmm, my guess Eleanor is in Hell / Bad Place. The entire 322 resident, including herself, the ethics professor, the jetsetter, the Buddhist Monk are ALL Hypocrite who doing Good for other reasons (fame, etc).

    There are view that in Hell, the punishment is not torture from God / Devil, but simply living among people who like you, so violent will live with violent, the liar will live with other liar, and in this case people who pretend to be Good live with other people like them.

    • George says:

      I don’t think it’s that easy; if it was, then a lot more residents than just Eleanor would be screwing up the landscape already. And certainly Eleanor never pretended to be good in her life. But I do think they’re not being told the whole truth.

  3. Tom Wilson says:

    I just looked, and the pilot episode is free on iTunes. I haven’t checked Amazon, but I’ll bet it’s there, too.

  4. Stephen Jones says:

    Dammit! There I was, cheerfully minding my own business and only going to watch two shows this year on regular TV. Shield and Grimm. The latter I am not expecting much of since last season was meh and this one sounds worse – but at least it’s the last and curtailed. Now I’m hooked into this show! 🙂
    There’s a reason I choose not to learn about upcoming shows on network TV; if they suck they are on forever and if they are good they either are cancelled or else the network ‘improves’ them.
    Thankfully, the only other show I was planning on watching was Luke Cage. Of course, while watching The Good Place, I saw a commercial for an upcoming time travel show… 😦

  5. TomXP411 says:

    So after watching 5 or 6 episodes so far, I’m finding that the explanation of this being a non-specific version of heaven have yet to be contradicted… but we now see that there are at least two “mistakes.”

    Let’s look at the “soulmate” idea for a moment. I am going to suggest that the soulmates really are well chosen, even if they look like mistakes on the surface: that Chidi and Elanor really are meant for each other, despite their differences, and that Jianyu and Tahani are also well-paired, even though he seems to be completely inappropriate for her. (I will say this… the idea of Tahani, who won’t stop talking, being paired with a silent monk, was hilarious.)

    What I find interesting is that in the case of Elanor’s case, she’s literally Chidi’s chance to fulfill his life’s work – to create the ultimate treatise on ethics. By taking a completely reprehensible person and making her good, he would actually be finishing the work he tried to do on Earth. Likewise, her life has been completely self-serving, and perhaps this is her chance at contentment and redemption.

    The thing with the Tahani and her soulmate, Jianyu… that seems less straightforward. She was obviously unsatisfied with her life. And I don’t think it’s because she was overshadowed by her sister. I think it’s because the life she got it is not the life she would have chosen, and her constant name dropping and self-referencing is a way to try to convince even herself that she’s happy.

    Perhaps Jianyu really is what she needs – the opportunity to finally let her hair down and stop trying to meet her family’s expectations. She can now do what she wants and just be herself, without any pretenses. Who knows, maybe she’s always secretly been a “Spring Break” girl, and just needs the chance to cut loose. Likewise, her refinement and culture put her in the ideal position to give him what he really wants – a chance at respectability.

    Finally, consider this: if these two “mistakes” are here, then there are likely more. Perhaps as many as half of the residents of this little berg (half of every soulmated pair) are actually “mistakes”.

    This brings whole new possibilities to light. Perhaps The Good Place isn’t Heaven’s Reward for being good – perhaps it is actually a place of healing and redemption, where lost souls who may still have hope can finally find their inner light and make their own Heaven.

    So, in short, this isn’t Heaven – not yet. Instead, it’s a place where people can be healed, cured, and prepared for whatever comes next…

    • George says:

      Good thoughts! Once the truth about Jianyu was revealed it became obvious that Eleanor wasn’t simply a mistake. What the point of it all is, is something still to be worked out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s