The deadline was in three hours and still I deliberated. It seemed even an easy decision. My philosophy class was lengthy, laborious, and late in the afternoon. The required readings took copious amounts of attention and a truly remarkable amount of underlining to reach even a basic level of understanding. Yet, still I hesitated. With my cursor hovering over the Add/Drop button, I decided to stay undecided, for a little bit longer. There was only one show that I could turn to in my desperate need for procrastination: The Good Place.
Simultaneously, it is one of the funniest shows on television and as it turns out, the only way I can learn philosophy. In the world of network television, there usually exists only three locations: a hospital, a police precinct, or Dick Wolf’s Chicago. There, the brave cop, the troubled doctor and the morally compromised lawyer ply their trade, complete with overdramatic pauses and pulsing music. Far above those earthly, familiar concerns lies The Good Place, literally. Meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell). She is dead. Yet, all is not lost, for she has done enough during her life to earn herself an infinitely pleasurable afterlife. She can settle in, relax, and enjoy all the frozen yogurt she can get her hands on. Except for one nagging worry: She doesn’t belong there.
In a classic sitcom twist, Eleanor’s file has been confused with another. She wasn’t the one who went on that heroic human rights mission to the Ukraine. She was the one who defrauded the sick and the elderly, sleazily selling chalk as medicine. Eleanor’s only hope to stay in eternal bliss is to finally become a better person. This is where the true heart and more importantly, its mind emerges. Beneath her cutting insults and her unapologetic selfishness is a decent person. A person that can argue that she always belonged in the Good Place. A person that the audience can root for. Subversively, the show wins our love. Instead of presenting flawless, unbelievable characters as the protagonists, it shoves us into a world full of goody-two shoes. The true hero is the regular person, the one who, beset by unfortunate circumstances doesn’t choose the right path. We may not all be dirtbags from Arizona, but we all are Eleanor. The world seems bent on presenting us with ethical challenges. All we can do, all we ever do, is choose to do more right than wrong. Which makes the bureaucratic system in The Good Place seem even more unfair and arbitrary. What hope does Eleanor have, what hope do we have, when we can lose our chance at the afterlife simply by reading a trashy magazine?
So, we cheer for Eleanor and her group of friends as they strive to become better, because despite the outlandish situation, they are just like us. Ultimately, I decided to drop my philosophy class. Who needs an expensive college class when one can watch television?
The Good Place Season 1 & 2 are on Netflix. Season 3 airs on NBC, 8 pm.