BlogOfTheMoon

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Good Place: Making ethics accessible and fun

I got Netflix at the tail end of last year, mostly so that I could watch Star Trek: Discovery.  (Aside: Discovery is good, but it’s turned into a programme that I enjoy having watched rather than actively watching.  That may be a blog post in its own right.)  But since I had Netflix, I took the opportunity to watch a few other programmes on it that had been recommended to me, one of which was The Good Place.  And oh, goodness, gracious me, I’m so glad I decided to give it a go.

The characters in the show are just wonderful.  Eleanor is our main protagonist, someone who is welcomed into the “Good Place” after she dies, and who realises that there’s been a mistake, and she doesn’t belong there.  But, with the help of her soulmate, Chidi, she resolves to become a better person in the hope of earning her place, and following her on that journey is a joy.  Chidi is a professor of ethics and moral philosophy, and he’s the one who weaves in actual ethics and philosophy into the programme, even if it’s usually Eleanor or one of her neighbours, Tahani and Jianyu, who enact what they’ve learned and make it real for the audience.

Although Tahani is a secondary character, she very quickly cemented her place as my favourite character on the show.  Her wealthy philanthropist who’s really insecure inside is so deftly portrayed, and her constant name-dropping is hilariously over the top.  But despite her pretension, she’s a genuinely warm character who cares about those around her.  Following actress Jameela Jamil on Twitter, and seeing her I Weigh campaign, has done nothing but increase my respect for her and love for the character.

And then there’s Michael.  An eternal being and architect of the neighbourhood in which our protagonists live, he’s a dapper fellow, always in a good suit with a bow-tie (bow-ties are still cool!) with Janet, the not-a-lady, not-a-robot, all-purpose sort of PA, who provides the residents with anything they want, alongside him (and who is, incidentally, another brilliant character).  Ted Danson gives Michael an air both of naivety and ancient knowledge at the same time, and his physical portrayal is excellent, with one hand always nonchalantly in his pocket, even when things are going wrong.

One other thing that I really like about the show is how it handles Eleanor’s apparent bisexuality.  Unlike another Netflix show I could mention (*cough*Discovery*cough*), it doesn’t fall into the trap of showing that an evil character is evil because they like men and women.  In fact, Eleanor’s bisexuality isn’t remarked upon at all.  She shows it through her words and actions, but it’s not a thing.  The show doesn’t feel the need to draw attention to it at all, and just lets it be a part of human nature.  And that’s a rare show of maturity in Hollywood, one that I’m really pleased to see.

I’ve not fallen this hard for a TV show for a very long time, but after just a few episodes, I came to adore The Good Place.  The characters are so warm, the humour is gentle and the philosophy is real – you learn without even realising it!  The story moves along apace, with twists aplenty but it stays reasonable, with everything building on what comes before.  It’s a caring show, where the humour doesn’t come at the expense of the characters being nasty towards each other.  Instead they build up a camaraderie and bond that’s wonderful to see, as it’s forming.

For want of a better word, it’s a compassionate show, with a message of hope for all of us, and in this time and place, that’s something that’s sorely needed amongst all the grimdark out there (looking at you, again, Discovery).

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