Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

“The Good Place” asks questions about morality in the afterlife

Zeke Martin

Contributing Writer

“The Good Place,” an NBC TV show created by Michael Schur currently airing its third season, follows the afterlife of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell). After her death, Eleanor finds herself transported to a Heaven-like paradise called The Good Place in which she is paired up with her “soulmate,” a similarly dead moral philosophy professor named Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper). Trouble arises, however, when it becomes clear that Eleanor is not supposed to be in paradise; having lived a selfish and cruel life, she was supposed to be sent to the hellish Bad Place. Driven initially by the fear of damnation, Eleanor enlists Chidi’s help to try and become a good person and earn her place among those who were good in life. Unexpectedly, however, the audience has even more to learn from Eleanor than she does from Chidi.

In the show, any action one takes is assigned a moral score—positive for good, negative for bad—and people are chosen for the Good or Bad Place based on the final sum of all their actions in life. What few good deeds Eleanor performed in life are dragged down by her many acts of selfishness, including knowingly working for a corrupt pharmaceutical company, mocking charitable people and lying to her friends. However, Chidi, who dedicated his entire life to only making the most moral possible choices, is far from innocent; in episode 10 of season one, titled “Chidi’s Choice,” it is revealed that Chidi’s obsession with morality led him to a state of constant indecision that frequently harmed his friends and family when he failed to make necessary decisions; despite his objectively good intentions, his indecision was immoral. Additionally, in the season one finale, Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), a peppy socialite who raised over 60 billion dollars in charity while alive, admits that she did so only to prove that she could, not for charitable reasons; her corrupt motives render her good actions meaningless and deliberately manipulative. Tahani and Chidi show the two sides of personal morality: in order to be a good person, one must do good things, like Tahani, but also do them for the right reasons, like Chidi.

Through these simple lessons in the nature of morality, “The Good Place” becomes the Chidi to the audience’s Eleanor. In this confusing, interconnected world where one’s every action and decision seems to harm someone, this show takes on the task of showing its viewers the basics of how to be good. In the season one finale, Eleanor, Chidi and Tahani show how they have shed their flaws; when the authorities come knocking and demand that two people be sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor shows selflessness by offering to go, Chidi shows decisiveness by countering her and demanding to take her place, and Tahani shows truly pure intentions by offering to be taken without being asked to by the others or expecting a reward. Just like these characters, each of us has the opportunity to grow past our shortcomings, becoming truly good people and making the world a good place.

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