On The Good Place

I just sat the other day thinking, “Man, I miss The Good Place.” On Malaysia’s Netflix, the series is only available up until two seasons — and suffice to say, I have watched them all. During my trip to Melbourne, I got too excited upon finding out that Season 3 was already up on Netflix — although when I gleefully announced to Malaysian friends they seemed to disagree — only to find out that due to licensing restrictions, the third season is available in Australia (and some other countries) but not in Malaysia. So I haven’t watched the third season, but very happy to hear that the series is going to be renewed for its fourth.

The Good Place tells of Eleanor, a self-absorbed woman from a broken family who dies and finds herself mistakenly assigned to The Good Place — comparable to the idea of Abrahamic theological heaven. She makes friends with three other people — Chidi, a Senegalese moral philosophy professor who has a hard time making any decisions due to his ethical stance(s); Tahani, a well-educated Pakistani-British socialite who never fails to namedrop her celebrity friends; and Jason, a failed DJ from Florida with an oblivious and childlike nature, although with a kind heart — and Michael, the immortal architect for The Bad Place (as The Good Place was later revealed to be), and Janet, the ‘interface’ for The Good/Bad Place who can be summoned by saying “Hey Janet” (think of it as an equivalent of Alexa in the UI of D’Arcy Carden). The four of them — Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason — eventually finds out about the misassignment, and from there chaos ensues.

I have been thinking about the previous post on the sociological storytelling and had been wracking my brains to find out if there are any other tv series conforming to this type of storytelling. Tufekci in the article gave an example of The Wire, which I have never watched and therefore I must.

I also thought that The Good Place offered this type of storytelling. In the series, The Good/Bad Place took place in an alternate reality where everyone is deemed as equal, there is no poverty, no sort of class or hierarchy whatsoever, although we could see that Tahani gets a bigger house than Eleanor but Michael assures this is matter of user experience — houses were built to adapt to one’s preferences when they were alive. Lo and behold, four individuals from different backgrounds of lives were thrown in to live together, and the rest of the show showcases how this plays a big part in their moral decision-making. The hallmark of a sociological storytelling, according to Tufekci, “it can encourage us to put ourselves in the place of any character, not just the main hero/heroine, and imagine ourselves making similar choices. “Yeah, I can see myself doing that under such circumstances” is a way into a broader, deeper understanding.” And I think this is what The Good Place has achieved for me, so far.

And then there are the parts about moral philosophy and ethics, which are, “not some kind of moralistic byproduct; it’s baked into the very premise. The show is entirely life lessons.” There’s the infamous trolley problem, when thought about in vacuum, is easy to make decisions on. But the show sets us up for the problem more so than a theoretical situation (the scene where Michael takes Eleanor and Chidi to solve a real-life trolley problem involving killing real people) and this is where I felt The Good Place has taught me more sense about the problem more than the years I read about it in the university. I also love the fact that this show is very well-researched — the creators even hired academic professors to advise with the show’s content — actually, let me rephrase, highly contributed to the show’s content.

When The Good Place was first released and I was a few episodes into it, I had a talk with a friend who majored in philosophy and she mentioned that the series nailed a lot of things from a philosophical perspective. Robin James even wrote an excellent analysis on political philosophy, gender, and identity politics within the show and I especially liked the part on the identification (or misidentification) of Janet, often mentioned in the show “Not a girl, not a robot.” Now this is the part where I’d say, “when I grow up I want to write critically like Robin”, but also, “I wish The Good Place Season 3 will be available on (Malaysian) Netflix very very soon”.

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