Essays, Not Rants! 370: Of Places Good
I’m not great at watching tv. The act of putting aside everything to sit in front of the television (or, let’s be honest: my laptop) makes me antsy. Watching it with someone’s better, since then I feel like I’m spending time with a friend and so not just sitting around. Point is, all this means binge watching shows isn’t something I’m good at – it notoriously took me four years to ‘binge’ Breaking Bad.
However, building with LEGO makes me feel like I’m doing something, and watching something on Netflix at the same time somehow justifies it in my mind. Usually.
That long preamble is to say that when I’ve found a show where I really wanna hit “next episode” it’s something that’s particularly excellent.
Right now, that show is The Good Place. Recommended to me by a friend, I finally started watching it while folding laundry (see? being productive). I’m halfway through the first season and having an absolute ball.
The show is smart, sharp as a blade, but also one that doesn’t feel the need to flaunt it all around. It’s a show that’ll merrily name drop Emmanuel Kant and Machiavelli one moment and make a joke about the less-than-stellar quality of Floridian DJs the next. Though an understanding of the ethical philosophies upheld by the mentioned thinkers isn’t necessary to get a joke, they inform the plot of the show and individual episodes. Basically, The Good Place is a sitcom that explores ethics and morality not through people monologuing and debating, but instead through actual plot points.
For example, Kant said that the real judge of the morality of an action is its motivation, not the result. When Eleanor, the show’s protagonist, tries to prove she’s a good person to get ahead, she realizes she’s failing because what she’s doing is not truly altruistic. By crafting narratives around thorny philosophical questions, The Good Place is able to explore the ramifications of certain ideologies, while still propelling characters and making jokes about cacti. The show doesn’t need to flaunt its intellectualism around; its stories do that for it.
It helps that The Good Place takes after showrunner Michael Schur’s other shows (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99) by featuring characters who are well sketched out and, though flawed, fundamentally nice to each other. These aren’t characters constantly trying to one-up each other and narrative conflict doesn’t arrive by pitting them at odds. It leads to interesting setups, where the central thrust becomes how do these goofballs solve the problem before them.
Its sense of fun and big heart gets combined with a love of moral philosophizing to make The Good Place a delightfully watchable show. Which isn’t something I say a lot.
Anyway. That’s the blog post, time to enjoy my Saturday by building something with LEGO while watching more The Good Place.