Why NBC’s The Good Place is one of my good places
Where do we go after we die? It’s an existential question that’s survived the ages. Seems a whole lotta people have answers, but no one really knows for sure if they’re right.
So there’s this show on NBC that I’m into. It’s called “The Good Place,” and it deals with some of these exact questions, with an interesting twist.
Post-death Edenic perfection is laid out in one cozy community comprising 320 or so freshly-deceased humans. But it’s not at all morbid. This perfect, bright community was created by Michael (Ted Danson). He was another community-maker’s apprentice for 200 years, then he was blessed with his own community to design as he wished.
Thing is, Michael’s community is flawed. Something’s driving things awry in his good place, and it’s making him miserable.
So let’s start at the beginning. This lady, Eleanor (Kristen Bell), shows up in Michael’s office. Michael tells her she’s dead. The dialogue briefly toys with the idea of heaven and hell (The Good Place vs. The Bad Place)…without delving into theological matters. But Eleanor didn’t have to worry. She was in The Good Place.
One great thing about this place—no loneliness. Everyone’s paired with a soul mate, and they get to live with that person for eternity. They also get a tailor-made home. Not sure if there are many mansions in this Good Place. But if it weren’t so, I’m sure Michael would’ve mentioned it.
Eleanor’s soul mate is Chidi (William Jackson Harper), an academic from Senegal, who spent his life in academe as a ethics professor and working on a long @$$ book draft before death grabbed him. Their mansion? A cute little cottage with sharp angles and primary colors for the exterior; two large circular windows situated above four or five circular groomed bushes that are the same height—all in a row. I’m wondering if there’s a reason they chose primary colors, and if there’s a reason they chose circles to represent the main windows on Eleanor and Chidi’s home. Is it because of the circle of life, or because what goes around really comes around even in The Good Place? Dunno. Anyway, the artwork in Eleanor’s specially constructed house is nothing she likes. Clowns… The real Eleanor Shellstrop likes clowns. Friendly ones, not the scary ones seeping out of woods trying to scare kids.
Next to Eleanor and Chidi’s home is a huge mansion complete with majestic, bursting fountains.
Eleanor is little salty about that and gets even saltier when she finds out the couple who lives in that home, Tahani Al-Jamil and Jianyu, consists of a good-doing humanitarian and a Buddhist monk who is continuing the vow of silence he started on earth. Can you get more Good Place worthy than that?
But things quickly go wrong in paradise. Eleanor figures out she doesn’t belong in the Good Place because the videos that play on the memory chanel inside her home have nothing to do with the triflingness she called a life. She’s not the Eleanor Shellstrop Michael thinks she is.
In fact, she was the worst. Self-centered and amoral. The show hops back and forth between her life here and some of her earthly interactions to demonstrate how wack she was back then. But thanks to Chidi, she’s learning to be a better person, one worthy of The Good Place.
Tahani is the consummate hostess, so she and the silent Jianyu throw a party. That’s where Eleanor got drunk and carted away shrimp in her bra cups. The next morning, things start falling from the sky and blowing craters into the ground. Shrimp also start flying through the sky while a giant frog hops about, smashing chimneys while trying to slurp up the shrimp.
Eleanor thinks she’s forking things up. No, you can’t curse in The Good Place.
Turns out, she isn’t the only one who shouldn’t be there.
She has company. Jianyu has a backstory. And he talks. And he’s kind of doltish.
Turns out he’s a DJ from Jacksonville, Florida who has lofty aspirations to be a DJ in popping cities like Tampa and Daytona. He also sold drugs to college kids. Fake ones. Drugs. Not fake college kids.
I’m glad this series is starting to get into the back stories of the characters. I get the feeling The Good Place is filled with ordinary people with ordinary issues who are trying to do better. They’re just trying to do it dead.