The end is the beginning. And the end is exactly where the popular sitcom, The Good Place, begins its journey. This seemingly light-hearted comedy follows Eleanor Shellstrop as she wakes up in what she learns is the afterlife. She meets Michael, the neighborhood architect, who explains that she is now in her next phase of existence. In the afterlife, there is a good place, and then there is a bad place. Every action of a human being on earth is evaluated and given a score by a perfect measuring system. Based on the point total, they are sent to either the good place or the bad place. The good place is made of distinct neighborhoods designed by architects specifically to suit the residents’ likes, built and maintained by Janet, an all-knowing interdimensional being or, in our protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop’s words, a busty Alexa.
All is not rainbows and unicorns in the good place as Eleanor realises that she does not belong there and was sent there by mistake. Terrified of being caught and sent to the bad place, Eleanor decides to become a better person and seeks the help of Chidi Anongonye, who during his time on earth was a moral philosophy professor. Chidi spent much of his life pondering over every action’s ethical ramifications, which made him one of the most indecisive people ever. However, he agrees to help Eleanor despite being well aware of its ethically problematic consequences. We are also introduced to Tahani Al Jamil (whom I am in love with), a high-society British philanthropist who was often overshadowed by her overachieving sister and made to feel second best by parents who pitted the sisters against one another, accompanied by Jianyu, a Taiwanese monk who had taken a vow of silence on earth and continues it in the good place too.
The initial few chapters show the goofy adventures of Eleanor as she tries to avoid being caught, on the way learning that Jianyu is really Jason from Florida and was sent here by mistake too. The show follows the four humans as they help each other out of sticky spots and teach each other a thing or two about being good humans. All is fun and games until the show creators decided to throw in a wrench that none of us saw coming. Eleanor puts two and two together and realises that she was never sent to the good place in the first place; she was, in fact, in the bad place. We learn that fake good place was the brainchild of Michael, a demon in disguise, who had grown tired of the usual torture methods used on the bad place inmates, and believes that this psychological torture is much more effective. He resets their memory and restarts his experiment hoping to learn from his mistakes, but even after 803 reboots, the humans always become better simply because they help each other. Disguised as a goofy comedy, the show turns out to be an ‘Intro to Philosophy 101’ course, casually throwing in the ideas of contractualism, Nietzsche and Kant’s school of thoughts, the trolley problem, and so much more, often paired with humour.
The central theme of the show is simple. What do we owe each other? That question forms the basis of the show. It states that we do indeed owe each other something simply because we are all in this together. And all that matters is if we are a little better today than we were yesterday. It is our inherent duty to help others become better versions of themselves. The show time and again stresses being good people, but it acknowledges the fact that being good is not easy, and in fact, it gets a little harder every day. Every day the world gets a little more complicated, the line between good and bad blurs a little more. Every action results in thousands of unintended consequences. The world is just too murky but that isn’t a good enough excuse for us to stop trying to be better.
People are products of their life experiences, and when given external love, support, and a chance to change, most people become better people. Eleanor is selfish and only looks out for herself because she had an emotionally unavailable mother, Tahini did a lot of charity but her intention was only to finally win the approval of the people who made her feel second best, Chidi’s indecisiveness was anxiety and Jason practically raised himself. The Good Place’s take on morality is refreshing and vitally important in today’s world. It stresses that we are not responsible for our circumstances and how those circumstances shape us as people, but what is important is that we strive to improve and help others improve without expecting anything in return. It may be hard to do and choose good (most times, it will be unrewarding), but we can try, and that’s what matters.
This show is one of those that ended at the right time but still had us wanting more. The ideas portrayed are not mere constructs of thought experiments but rather offer valuable lessons to take home. The show finally comes full circle when the humans devise an afterlife system where one can decide to leave forever after fulfilling all one’s wishes and dreams. The show starts by answering the question of what happens after we die and the ending of the show comes back to the same question. It would take more than a couple of words to truly appreciate and analyse the various ideas portrayed in the show, but one thing is clear: The Good Place is too forking good!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.