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The Good Place captures the malaise of being alive right now perfectly
“What kind of messed up place would turn away refugees?” asks the wide-eyed Jason Mendoza, typically known more for his fun-loving ways than for his attention to matters philosophical, proving yet again that we can’t underestimate him.
In The Good Place, Jason and his friends, Eleanor, Chidi, and Tahani, are four humans on the run from condemnation, having just learned that the complicated algorithm that determines all humans’ afterlives hasn’t let a single human into the Good Place in over 500 years. Fresh off of that revelation, the group reels, trying to decide how to proceed. Luckily, they have the help of their friends Michael, a recently reformed demon, and Janet, a humanoid source of all information.
Michael warns the humans that they can’t just plead for mercy because there’s no way to know if the Good Place will help them or return them to their captors. This leads Jason to wonder aloud about the character of the supposed Good Place (and by extension the supposed Land of the Free), asking the above question.A show about ethics, the human condition, and philosophical dilemmas may not sound riveting, but The Good Place has kept viewers on their toes with shocking plot twists since its arrival in 2016. The series has received critical acclaim and has a steady following of viewers, particularly if you include those who stream online. From the outset, The Good Place set out to tangle with difficult topics in humorous ways and it has paid off. The acting is out of this world, the plot is wholly original, and the writing is so snappy that the writing room almost becomes another character. What is perhaps most impactful about the series, though, is how it utilizes a fantasy setting that is detached from the events of our own world to comment on our world just perfectly.
Time and again, The Good Place has explored what it feels like to be alive in the modern U.S. in ways that are breathtaking — from literal trash falling from the skies (have you seen the reports coming out of Joshua Tree?), to mind-f*cking forms of torture (a.k.a. gaslighting by the powers that be), and so much more.
In Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11, "The Book of Dougs” and “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife”, somehow The Good Place became even more relevant. Both episodes are chocked full of all the things that make it so hard to be alive right now and make it so hard to be a good person. That might not sound like the escapism you’re longing for, but it’s the kind of escapism that we all need.
The characters of The Good Place experience so much that illustrates what it feels like to deal with chaos and turmoil and hatred on an everyday basis: as if you’re in one of those dreams where you’re trying to get to a destination, but no matter what you do it keeps getting farther and farther away. Yeah. I told you: It’s an incredible TV show.
There’s nothing out there like The Good Place and no show on TV captures the malaise of being alive right now better.
The experiences of each of the characters have real-world parallels. Eleanor and Chidi represent what it’s like to be in love right now, to be simultaneously out-of-your-brain giddy and completely lost in a world where nothing makes sense and people just like you are suffering (and you’re suffering) while you’re trying to claw your way out of your nightmarish reality. Tahani experiences the helplessness of trying to do the right thing, trying to be mature and helpful, but only making things way, way worse. Jason and Janet’s interactions are a reminder that even the most happy-go-lucky dude gets depressed and even the font of knowledge can feel conflicted. And, Michael’s vacillation between deflation and determination, well, that’s just everything about being a progressive right now.
The Good Place doesn’t let up on the topicality, but neither does it let up on the humor. Both episodes are full of hysterical jokes about the consequences of every decision we make (Eleanor says, “There’s this chicken sandwich that, if you eat it, it means you hate gay people. And it’s delicious!”) and brilliant critiques of the “just do the research” movement. Both Chidi and Jason point out that doing the research implies having the time to look up where your tomatoes come from and exactly how many people have been exploited in the long chain of production, a privilege few humans have.
After some careful negotiations, the group is able to convince the Judge (of like, everything) that the afterlife point system needs to be fixed by getting her to go to Earth as a human. She returns seconds later, saying, “Sheesh, Earth is a mess, y’all. Also, I guess I'm black and they do not like black ladies down there. Crap, y’all. This is bad.”
And, together with the Bad Place’s head demon Shawn, the Judge and our merry band of heroes decide to repeat Michael’s original experiment in his fake Good Place (that was actually a Bad Place replica set up to torture the four humans for all eternity). They do so because Chidi argues that they became better people originally because they didn’t have to worry about rent, racism, sexism, or anything else. The second experiment, thus, will determine if what Chidi argues is true or if the four humans are outliers, which if that is the case, will result in their return to the Bad Place.
The Good Place is as devastating as it is delightful. It will make you want to laugh and cry in equal parts, perhaps as you call your congressperson to complain about the government being shut down or the constant threat to reproductive rights or the immigrant children who are dying in concentration camps on U.S. soil or the women being held in jail for defending themselves against rapists and pedophiles or the use of slave labor to pick tomatoes or, or, or. The world is a mess and fixing it isn’t easy, but, as Eleanor would put it, “Ya gotta try.”