The Good Place: a heavenly show about death and morality



The Good Place is a shiny American sitcom – the kind with roughly 1,000 episodes per season and a conspicuously attractive cast. You could be forgiven for thinking it is a hollow, gimmicky show – and I’ve certainly spent time secretly binge-watching when my boyfriend is out. But several episodes in, you will most likely have an epiphany: that this show is more poignant than you expected. Elucidating, even. The fast-pace, 20-minute-a-pop setup camouflages a sophisticated, often delightful show.

The premise of The Good Place, which has just been renewed for a third season, is this: a brash, sin-riddled blond woman called Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell) arrives in the afterlife. She is greeted by a superhuman named Michael (played by Ted Danson, in a series of bowties), who informs her that she died in a shopping mall car park and entered “The Good Place”. It is not heaven, precisely, but an ethereal neighbourhood specifically designed to please the top percentile of human beings for eternity. If you did enough objective moral good in your life, you accrued the points to earn a spot here for an infinite stay in an idyllic village dotted with frozen-yoghurt stores and plush topiary. As a bonus, you get a soulmate. Eleanor quickly realises she does not belong here: her life of reckless selfishness and rank disregard for other human beings surely earned her a lava-hot spot in “The Bad Place”, a more traditional sort of hell. What follows is a strangely compelling battle of personal ethics, integrity and loyalty.

It is the sort of high-concept plot you would expect to leave little room for things such as character development or any nuanced discussion of, say, moral relativism. And yet, surprisingly for a show that features a nightmarish scene featuring giant flying shrimp, we get that holy grail of TV writing: nuance. Eleanor tries her best to learn how to be a good person, which involves taking secret lessons in morality from her alleged soulmate, who happens to be an ethics professor. We get this lovely trajectory for her character, along with some fleeting references to Kant. As the central characters become friends, we also get a thoughtful meditation on how to do friendship ethically, what true loyalty looks like and how difficult but important it is to practice empathy purposefully.

Read more at The Guardian.