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The Good Place

Making Peace and Rooting for Love: the End of “The Good Place”

There’s a certain “cool girl” factor in saying I watch The Good Place for the Big Ideas and not the relationships. “I don’t care about Eleanor and ChidiI’m team Jane (not Rafael or Michael), I’m so glad Rachel Bloom ended up alone.” And while I’d argue feminism is the reason for this (women are more than their romantic entanglements), there’s still a whiff of “I’m not like other women” condescension to it.

So I’d like to come clean and admit I’m rooting for Eleanor and Chidi in this, the final season of The Good Place. Yes, there are plenty of shows that frustrate their romantic leads, pulling them apart and then back together again. And yes, what makes The Good Place different is how it explores philosophical ideas from Kant to Aquinas. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy both the cliche sitcom trappings and the larger questions about the meaning of life. The combination is what makes The Good Place so genius after all.

This is a show that’s reset itself every season (if not more often) and has managed to do it well, creating believable obstacles for its main pairing. The first season we didn’t know our lovers were really in hell, the second we knew but they didn’t, on the third they were down on Earth having a second go at life, and now in the fourth and final season Eleanor is running “the good place” and Chidi, memories wiped, is just one of four humans who don’t know what’s going on. Throughout it all, Eleanor and Chidi are pulled to each other, falling in love despite their many differences and even greater obstacles.

Watching Eleanor keep her feelings for Chidi secret this season finally got me. Before this, I found their romance somewhat annoying, even rooting for Simone as a better match. This may seem cruel to Eleanor and Chidi shippers, but you have to understand, I have a complicated relationship with Eleanor Shellstrop. You see, I too, am “just a girl from Arizona.” I love all the jokes about my home state and its vapid inhabitants. But while no one’s ever called me a dirtbag (at least not to my face), Eleanor’s failings hit a little too close. Certainly, her sins are exaggerated but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a kernel of self-truth in them. For example, in high school my friends and I made T-shirts shaming a rival girl at another school. It wasn’t quite Eleanor selling the “dress bitch” T-shirts to humiliate her roommate but it wasn’t too far off either (we were both wrong).

So it’s a bit hard-won, this rooting for Eleanor’s happiness and growth. Chidi represents both and seeing her doing the work without him finally got me in her corner. It helps that in this final season we’re less exploring Big Ideas and more plot-focused. The big question of the season is, ostensibly, can humans improve? But we already know the answer having seen our four original insufferables (plus demon Ted Danson) change for the better. This new set of humans may offer some interesting test cases, particularly in Brent Norwalk, the embodiment of white male privilege. How do you goad someone to improve who thinks they’re perfect? Is there redemption for racist misogynists?

But overall we’re free to focus on the plot — how to rescue Janet, Tahani’s quest for growth, Eleanor’s heartbreak, etc. And with this new focus, I can’t help but root for Eleanor and Chidi to end up together. Simone doesn’t need him, she’s doing fine. And maybe Eleanor doesn’t either. She’s growing into her leadership role, rising to the occasion of saving all of humanity. But just because she doesn’t need him, doesn’t mean she can’t still want him.

And I want them to end up together. I’m predicting a happy ending to The Good Place with humans having access to heaven again and love finding a way. It’s the reward us girls from Arizona deserve for leaving behind our dirtbag ways.

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Finding Love and Pandemonium on “The Good Place”

In “Pandemonium,” the season three finale of The Good Place, the show makes explicit its most radical idea yet: love. Specifically, love as what gives life meaning. As Janet, the all-knowing robot says, “If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.” This euphoria, the way the world stops spinning when you’re in love, this is the answer to the “randomness and pandemonium” of the human condition.

It’s a nice idea and backed up by the show’s emphasis on relationships. At one point in the finale, Michael encounters Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani together and says “Look at the four of you all together.” And as the camera shows our quartet, the four humans at the center of the show, I was struck. A group of friends, sometimes lovers, on an amazing adventure together. The Good Place succeeds because of the relationships. It is the drama of each character’s interactions that allows the shows to delve into the Big Ideas it’s known for. Without them, it’d be like watching a textbook.

That’s not to say that I don’t find the romance between Chidi and Eleanor a bit overdone. I’m not particularly interested in their will-they or won’t-they plotline but the season three finale got me (spoilers ahead). In it, we see the happily together couple face a new dilemma: Chidi’s ex Simone will be one of the four new humans upon which the group must prove can improve to save all of humanity from ending up in the Bad Place. Convinced he won’t be able to teach her moral philosophy without their past interfering, Chidi volunteers to have his memories washed.

After the reset, his memories will stop at the moment he originally died, effectively erasing all his relationships on the show and particularly devastating to the new, happy couple. Unlike the previous resets, the other three humans won’t be losing the memories too. Meaning Eleanor will go on knowing and missing her relationship with Chidi while he’ll have no idea what’s happened. It’s new territory for the show that’s kept its four principles all in the same position over three seasons as they reboot, go to heaven, and discover hell altogether. Now Chidi will be on his own or more precisely part of the new group of people which includes Simone and doesn’t include Eleanor, Tahani, or Jason.

In addition, because of Michael’s fear of failure, Eleanor has stepped into the architect role, acting as the mastermind of the afterlife. Her new role further separates the group, disrupting the original dynamic of four relative equals even more. It’s certainly an interesting visual: to replace Ted Danson’s old, white man, the prototypical face of leadership, with Kristen Bell’s small, casual Eleanor. Let’s just say her T-shirt did not inspire confidence in her first few scenes as the architect. But wardrobe questions aside, Eleanor’s always been the natural leader in the group. Yes, Chidi has been the teacher but Eleanor started the lessons, built the relationships, figured out the rouse first, and got the rest involved. I’m excited to see what her leadership will look like with formal trappings, especially after watching its growth for all these seasons.

So I guess the remaining question is: will love conquer all? Specifically, can it conquer the structural barriers the show has set up for season four? Eleanor and Chidi have found each other through countless do-overs so there’s certainly hope for them. That said, sometimes they end up as friends (my general preference for the two). This time will be particularly difficult because Chidi will meet Simone and Eleanor at approximately the same time, making his chance of falling for either of his two (forgotten) exes pretty even. Plus, as the architect, Eleanor won’t be in the same group or situation as Chidi and the other humans, making it even harder. I adore Simone (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste of Killing Eve) and thought she was a great match for Chidi when they paired up earlier in the season. I’d still argue that she has more chemistry with Chidi than Eleanor. So who knows what will happen?

The problem with rooting for Simone though is that Eleanor and Chidi’s relationship is what makes them grow. It’s what turns Eleanor from a self-absorbed “Arizona dirtbag” into someone engaged with ideas, concerned about the feelings of others, and interested in doing good. It stops Chidi from being paralyzed by his choices and let’s him finally live. So can this same growth happen if their relationship isn’t romantic? If Eleanor and Chidi are just friends? I hope so. Love comes in so many forms it’d be frustrating for a show as smart as The Good Place fall into the damaging (and often sexist) troupe that only romantic love counts.

So whether they’re coupled or not, I hope Chidi, Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason keep changing because their development is what makes the show so dynamic. If these charmingly insufferable people can evolve, then there’s hope for the rest of us. I guess what I’m saying is, of all the big ideas, famous theories, and lesser known concepts The Good Place has dramatized, its presentation of love may be the riskiest. We’ll have to wait until next season to see if the gamble pays off.

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Judging Humanity with “The Good Place”

NBC’s The Good Place set up its next premise last night with “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” the 11th episode in its third season. Read our recap below (warning, spoilers ahead).

It’s always a good episode of The Good Place when Maya Rudolph is on, and “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife” did not disappoint. This episode, we saw Michael and crew meet with Maya’s Judge Gen in the Interdimensional Hole Of Pancakes (or IHOP to set up a slew of breakfast-franchise jokes).

There, they present Michael’s new (problematic from a timeline perspective) theory that modern life is too complicated for humans to ever earn enough points and encourage Judge Gen to go down to Earth to investigate for herself. She does and comes back with the best line: “I guess I’m black and they do not like black ladies down there.” Life on earth is complicated. We’re a mess. Something must be done.

Or must it? Judge Gen brings in Shawn from the Bad Place to present a counter-argument. His case against humanity? Limp Bizkit. Slavery. Enough said. Even Michael has to lament that we have “Nazis again somehow.” Perhaps humanity as a race is terrible, not worthy of redemption. It’s a great question and one The Good Place is poised to bring new insight to (adding upon the canon of other shows that have asked it such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and all the other post-apocalyptic shows worth their salt).

The problem is that humanity hasn’t gotten worse over the last four hundred years or so. We’ve gotten better. We abolished slavery. We enfranchised huge portions of the world’s population. We defeated the original Nazis. Although, counterpoint: Limp Bizkit is still touring… Taken all together, the record challenges Michael’s latest theory, particularly in that it would need to apply to all of humanity for centuries and that just doesn’t make sense (think of the indigenous population of the Americas wiped out by European disease or the millions who died in slavery’s Middle Passage – surely the old point system would apply to them and some would earn their spot in heaven). No, the modern-life-is-complicated theory just doesn’t add up.

But it does set up the show for another great twist after a history of great, show-changing twists (remember when we learned Chidi and friends weren’t in the real Good Place? Or when they went down to Earth? Or when we thought we might get a plotline in the actual Good Place?). This time, we see Michael and Shawn agree to recreate the four human’s original experience with Judge Gen refereeing. The idea is to see if, removed from the interconnected boobytraps of modern-day living (Eleanor’s example: “There’s a chicken sandwich that if you eat it means you hate gay people! And it’s delicious!”), humans will show their natural, good natures. Here are the new rules of the game:

  • The people have to be the same general level of “badness” as the original four (or as Judge Gen says no “serial killers, dictators, or anyone who has managed a boy band”). And they will be selected by the Bad Place.
  • Michael gets to build the neighborhood and our four humans will help populate it along with a race of not-robot robots created by Janet with the help of her original model and ex/son/booty-call Derek.
  • The whole thing will take place in the backyard of everyone’s favorite 80’s lawyer (and somehow the only person to get CLOSE to entering the real Good Place in 400 years) Mindy St. Clair.
  • Michael and team get 100 Earth years to prove their hypothesis. With the first human in the waiting room and the clock ticking down, Michael panics, too scared to welcome his first guest, effectively spooked by the taunts of his old colleague Shawn.

And there you have it – the set up for the next season of The Good Place or perhaps the next scene. It’s hard to tell with this show. Regardless, the premise has legs and I’m excited to meet our four new humans. In “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife,” we get a glimpse at the first subject – he’s a basic, 30-something white guy played by Brandon Scott Jones (not sure why everyone who dies on The Good Place is SO young but anyways…). What strikes me about this is how none of the original four are white guys. In fact, the only white male characters I can think of have been literal demons (thank you Ted Danson, Marc Evan Jackson, and Adam Scott for your service).

What if all four of the selected humans are white guys and none of them can get past their privilege and learn something new? That would be a pretty hilarious point for the show to make although perhaps not the best TV. Also, for a show that’s clearly been intentional about diverse casting, adding four white guys seems highly unlikely.

So what will these four new humans be like? I’m expecting a new and diverse quartet that will challenge our original four’s bond. With Jason paired back up with Janet, I’m particularly interested in the four new guinea pigs giving Jameela Jamil’s Tahani something more to do than look amazing. Perhaps they’ll find someone as charming as the brilliant Simone Garnett played by Killing Eve’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Or as hilariously enigmatic as Rebecca Hazlewood’s Kamilah Al-Jamil. They both would be FANTASTIC choices that would help keep the original four in the foreground. With only two more episodes left, I’m just sad that we’ll probably have to wait until next season to do much more than meet the arrivals.

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A Whiff of the Good Place on “The Good Place”

NBC’s The Good Place made its midseason return last night with “The Book of Dougs,” the 10th episode in its third season. Read our recap below (warning, spoilers ahead).

“What kind of messed up place would turn away refugees?” This line came out of the mouth of Manny Jacinto’s Jason in the opening scene of last night’s The Good Place and made me guffaw (despite the fact I was watching on headphones next to my sleeping partner). Out of the mouths of babes, as they say…

Political commentary aside, this week promised us the chance to finally see the real Good Place after seasons of only imagining it. The episode delivered on just a whiff of that promise though, as our four helpless humans could smell heaven but not see, touch, or taste it. You see, they were stuck in a mailroom that while technically in the Good Place functioned more as a holding space, keeping them from their desired destination.

While there, we did learn some important stuff about heaven. It smells like your favorite place. The inhabitants are kind and trusting, easily fooled by Ted Danson’s Michael who gets most of the action this episode. They are also intensely bureaucratic, unable to take action on Michael’s assertion that something is amiss in the points systems for hundreds of years, bogged down by their ethical standards and rules of procedure. Think of it as what we used to complain about under the Obama administration.

While Michael is trying to save humanity, the humans are consumed by their love plots with Kristen Bell’s Eleanor finally consummating her relationship with William Jackson Harper’s Chidi. He gets into a mailman costume as foreplay and looks surprisingly good (hello legs!) but I have to admit, I am not invested in their romance. With Eleanor and Chidi, the premise is that they’ll each learn from and thus “save” each other but I find their intellectual connection much more interesting than their romantic one. Why waste our precious time with them setting up some boring off-screen sex?

The love triangle between Jason, D’Arcy Carden’s Janet, and Jameela Jamil’s Tahani was also in full effect with Tahani trying to smooth things over and only managing to make things worse. My favorite part of this C-plot is Janet’s journey to obtain and manage human emotions. It reminds me of Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation and I am HERE for it. It’s a struggle that is so relatable (who hasn’t experienced emotions as “embarrassing” as Janet says several times during the episode) but also new (I, for one, have never worried that my emotions will come “out of my butt” as Janet did last night). Her choice of Jason as a love-object leaves something to be desired but I guess she didn’t have a lot of choices. He is slightly better than her unstable, self-made BF from season two.

The big discovery of the episode wasn’t the smell of heaven, Eleanor and Chidi getting it on, or the continued awkwardness of any of the women being interested in Jason. Rather, it was Michael’s realization that the point system is not rigged but rather the world has changed with globalization causing every action to have such large unintended consequences as to preclude anyone from earning a spot in heaven.

This idea is interesting. The difficulty of conscious consumerism is such a fraught, modern problem. How can you tell which products are ethically sourced? Are there any even? Doesn’t it seem like in the complicated, global supply chain that everything has at least some negative consequence, whether it’s the carbon footprint, worker conditions, or animal testing?

These big questions are what make The Good Place such a gem of a show. Week in and week out, it manages to raise philosophical issues without getting pedantic or making its characters into symbols. I binge-watched the show to catch up to last night’s episode and it was an intense experience, having me question my choices like never before (for example, I went to donate to a charity but then the credit card information saved on my computer wasn’t working. To fix, I needed to stand up and get my card. I didn’t donate. And what that little incident says about me, my activism, and my ethical place in the universe has stuck with me in a way it never would have without The Good Place. I will go donate now… probably).

There’s a problem with this latest foray into examining the human condition though: the timeline. A few episodes back we learned that not even Harriet Tubman made it to heaven. And repeated last night was the timeline that no human has made it to heaven in the last 521 years. That puts us roughly at 1500, long before the Industrial Revolution, which changed how our goods were created, obscuring the methods of production and leading to the modern conditions of consumerism with the unintended consequences the show outlined (of course, the Industrial Revolution didn’t happen all at once and there are still cultures that abstain from the global market – The Good Place is erasing them by lumping all of humanity together). Regardless, the timeline doesn’t fit with the industrial revolution, the historical event that ties mostly close to the example Michael gave. So what was going on 521 years ago to lead to this increase in negative, unintended consequence?

Well, 1500 was the time of genocide in the Americas as European disease disseminated indigenous populations (we’re talking tens of millions of people dying in a single generation). Was the spreading of disease what sent these plagued people to the Bad Place? That’s a hard pill to swallow. What about the millions who died in the Middle Passage between Africa and the Americas? The rupture to their society was not of their making. How did their way of life change to fit into The Good Place’s model?

I’m afraid the only way the 521-year timeline makes sense is if you take a colonial, Euro-centric approach. Certainly, if you’re in the population that benefits from the slave trade or indigenous genocide, then your small choices (what cotton do you buy? How much do you love the newly introduced tomatoes and potatoes?) would indeed have unintended consequences. The problem is Europeans do not make up the entirety of humanity.

Of course, we don’t know if Michael’s realization is even correct. I’m hoping it’s not. I’d certainly hate to see a show that’s so smart on ethical questions and clearly intentional about diverse casting trip up and fail miserably based on a colonial understanding of history. Surely the show that brought us characters of color like the brilliant, Australian-based Chidi, the beautiful, globe-trotting, and rich Tahini, and the simple but sweet Jason isn’t saying what I think they’re saying. Right?

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