Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Best TV Series of My Life: The Good Place (2016 - 2020)

 

Truth be told, I'm really not a fan of the situation comedy--"sitcom." I never have been. There are those on this best-of list, yes. They are ones I can minimally tolerate, and which show themselves to be much worthier than the vast majority of the rest. The Good Place, which aired its final episode just this year (2020), is such a one.

My issues with sitcoms are many. But if I were pressured to limit my reasons to just two, I'd have to pick cynicism and falseness. If you want to see human relational dysfunction magnified a thousandfold and presented as healthy or acceptable behavior, regardless of scale, personal up to national, then sitcoms are your best bet. Sitcoms seem to exist to showcase people endlessly berating and insulting each other. The laughs are cheap, the one-liners cheaper, the characters plastic, the underlying philosophies nihilistic. Of characters, they are rarely fleshed out; and those that are should probably spend most of their waking days confined to psychiatric hospitals, not walking around with the rest of humanity.

You get an honest view of what America is supposed to be about, according to these shows' writers, which largely comes down to money, consumption, shallowness, competitiveness, status, conformity, and acquiescence. Materialism and corporatism hold almost total dominance; "nerds" and "geeks" are usually vilified; striking out on one's own is almost always seen as foolish; and popular culture is often presented as the only option for anyone without zillions of bucks.

Sitcoms got really bad in the 80s, then degenerated even more. Offenders include (but are certainly not limited to) The Cosby Show (anyone shuddering?), Family Ties, Who's the Boss?, Full House, Diff'rent Strokes, Webster, Silver Spoons, Saved by the Bell, Mama's Family, and Charles in Charge. For the 90s you've got Seinfeld (cynical to the nth!), Friends, Frasier, more Full House, Married With Children (particularly awful), Family Matters, Murphy Brown, and--gag--The Nanny. Aught offenders include That 70s Show, Will and Grace, and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

You might notice the list for each decade is smaller than the one previous, and that by the time we get to the aughts, I've listed only three. That's because I really got so sick and tired of sitcoms by that point that I gave only a bare handful a chance.

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Since The Good Place aired its last episode earlier this year, I'll put in a spoiler alert. You may not have seen it. Go watch it, then come back and read what I've got to say below.

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The Good Place centers around four individuals, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), Tahani al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), and Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper). They've all died, and are met by Michael (Ted Danson), who says he's an architect. What did he design? Their new neighborhood, which belongs, he says, to the Good Place, where they will spend the rest of eternity.

But Eleanor doesn't belong. The life she lived has nothing to do with the life Michael reviews for her, that of a human rights attorney. She was instead, in her words, an "Arizona trash bag." She was self-absorbed and utterly selfish while alive, and she worries that if she's caught, she'll be sent to the Bad Place. She attends a welcome party where she promptly gets drunk, hogs all the shrimp, and insults the other guests behind their back. When she wakes the following morning, she's confronted with flying shrimp, mean giraffes (she called Tahani a mean giraffe shortly after they met), rolling giant bottles of NasaPro, which is a fake medication she defrauded consumers into buying (it was her job, one in which she was the best salesperson for five years running), and other improbable disasters. The Good Place is a perfectly tuned Utopia, says Chidi, who makes it plain to her that she's the cause of these disturbances.

Michael had introduced Eleanor to him, telling her that they were soulmates. Chidi, a moral philosophy professor, faces his own moral dilemma, for Eleanor has surreptitiously asked him to help her become a good person, thereby allowing her to stay in the Good Place. After much deliberation and gut-clenching indecision, he very reluctantly agrees.

Tahani, while alive, was a philanthropist, having raised billions of dollars for charity. She's English, haughty, and thoroughly condescending--at least at first. She lives next to Eleanor in a massive mansion to Eleanor's "tiny cottage," one designed in the Icelandic primitive motif.

Tahani's soulmate is Jian-yu, a Taiwanese Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence as a young boy. Tahani works at drawing him out, to get him to speak. His refusal is torture for her, for she "truly loves to talk!" But Jian-yu is really Jason Mendoza, an air-brained Florida trash bag who definitely talks, and, like Eleanor, does not belong in the Good Place. Somehow Michael hasn't screwed up once, but twice. Jason confronts Eleanor (she, while drunk, told him she was a fraud and shouldn't be there) in the dark of night. He assures her he'll keep quiet; she welcomes him with a handshake "to the bottom of the barrel."

Eleanor, no longer willing to stress out Chidi, fesses up at a neighborhood meeting. The problems in the neighborhood--they've continued and gotten steadily worse--are because of her. She meets Michael in his office the next day, who calls the Bad Place and tells them to come fetch her.

But it's all bullshirt. (Just watch the show.) While fighting with Chidi and the rest soon after, she has an epiphany: "This isn't the Good Place," she says, confronting Michael. "It's the Bad Place!"

Indeed, it is. Michael is a Bad Place demon, one who was allowed to build this neighborhood on the presumably radical premise that he could get the humans (there are over three hundred others there, but they're all demons too) to torture each other (psychologically) for at least a thousand years. Given one more chance by Shawn, his boss, he snaps his fingers, erasing Eleanor's, Chidi's, Tahani's, and Jason's memories, and starts again.

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Helping him is Janet, played by D'arcy Carden. She's an anthropomorphized helper, one of ostensibly millions, all of which are named Janet, and which have access to the universe's total knowledge. She's a true Good Place Janet: Michael stole her from the Good Place Janet warehouse, telling Shawn that a Bad Place Janet just wouldn't cut it. She's perpetually helpful and cheerful, and can get you anything you desire.

When Michael snapped his fingers and erased the human's memories, he was also forced to "kill" Janet. The "new" Janet awakes, slightly more advanced than the one before.

Michael tries again. But that very day, Eleanor figures out that she and her new-old friends are in the Bad Place, and Michael has to snap his fingers again.

He lies to Shawn about what's going on. And on. And on.

In fact, he ends up having to snap his fingers more than eight hundred times, Shawn never the wiser.

One day he goes to the orientation meeting to find Vicky, one of the employee demons hired to act like good humans in the neighborhood, the only person there. The rest of the demons are on strike, she tells him. She's taking over the neighborhood; and if he doesn't fall in line and do what she wants, she'll report to Shawn and tell him all that's been happening. If that happens, Michael will surely be "retired"--which involves, basically, dismembering him in the most awful way imaginable and putting pieces of him on a billion different suns.

Desperate, Michael goes to the humans, who have already figured out that they're in the Bad Place. "I need a new dance crew," he tells them, and offers to join them. He'll help them get to the actual Good Place if they help him deal with Vicky and the others.

They accept, but with grating reluctance, Eleanor most of all. She insists: all of them, including him, are going to take Chidi's "Good Place lessons." Michael agrees.

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At this point we're knee-deep into season two (of four). You might have a solid notion of where the story leads from there, which is a credit to the writers and producers, because it really is a well-told adventure. As a sitcom, it breaks some molds and pushes into new territory, including utilizing Lost-style flashbacks.

More than that, though, the episodes are genuinely funny and the characters extremely well fleshed out. They have separate and often conflicting personalities; they struggle to learn from each other and to accept one another. Michael's plan was to get four humans who would maximize the potential to drive each other crazy, and he didn't screw up. Eleanor and Tahani are often at each other's throats; Chidi's intelligence and devotion to rationality often clash with all of them; and Jason's childlike, not to mention often childish, behavior and outlook continually challenge all of them.

You end up caring deeply for them, Michael and Janet as well. You want to see them come closer together, and to succeed. As the story progresses, Eleanor discovers the impossible: she has developed strong feelings for Chidi. "I've only said 'I love you' to two people: Stone Cold Steve Austin," she reports to Mindy, a person spending eternity in a "medium" place the four occasionally escaped to, "and someone in a dark bar I mistook for Stone Cold Steve Austin." (I'm paraphrasing; I may not have gotten that quote exactly.)

Jason, in their first iteration, married Janet. They spent time figuring out to have sex ("It was weird!" she exclaims of a session), since she has never done anything like that. But then Michael erased their memories, including hers. The upshot is that Jason, for a time, ends up with his ostensible soulmate, Tahani. Giving him and Tahani couples' counseling, Janet starts glitching. The neighborhood, which she holds together with her "Janet powers," is on the verge of total collapse. She has no idea that she can't stand seeing Jason and Tahani together, that she still loves him.

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I opened this post saying that sitcoms suffer from serious cynicism and falseness. With regard to falseness, The Good Place manages, for the most part, to present viewers with a sense of the authentic, largely because the characters are so well written, and are superbly acted. This doesn't happen often in sitcoms. I certainly don't spend my days watching them all, so I can't say that definitively, but in my experience, authenticity in a sitcom is fairly rare. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three others that give you a real sense of the authentic: M*A*S*H, As Time Goes By, and Scrubs. The Partridge Family, which is on my best-of list, and which I reviewed, doesn't do this nearly to the same degree.

To flesh out a character as a writer is to make them as human as possible. But sitcoms aren't interested in "as human as possible." What sitcoms are interested in, in fact, is to escape the human as much as possible, because the human is full of faults and foibles, neuroses and problems, many of them quite serious. Sitcoms are for that reason more escapist than many fantasy tales and even many cartoons. The characters aren't meant to challenge you, which authenticity inevitably does. They are presented flatly and neatly ironed out. The goal is laughs and keeping you from switching to something else.

But don't get me wrong. Sitcom characters do have faults, foibles, neuroses, and problems. In fact, these provide most of the laughs. Therein lies the problem. We get safely whitewashed versions of these problems, resolved almost effortlessly at the end of each episode; the next week we get new ones, which are easily resolved too. Characters are thus quite malleable; as a result nothing ends up truly mattering, because to do so would be to define them, and God forbid that happens!

You end up with programs that bathe in nihilism. The world is a plastic playground; relationships are entirely negotiable and are treated like consumer goods, making them forgetfully expendable; and the culture's inauthenticity is ultimately held up as worthy of celebration and participation.

These faults, foibles, neuroses, and problems are essential fodder for other characters to insult, often quite cruelly, which gives the viewer tacit approval to do the same in his or her own life. The Good Place doesn't escape this--there are countless examples I could list here--but it does make an effort for its characters to "see the human" behind the being-hateful-is-O-so-hilarious sitcom fa├žade. The insults and barbs that are foundational to sitcoms are mediated, even obviated, a bit: you get the sense that The Good Place's characters have at least an elementary guess as to the belt lines of the others, and so approach them with some care. This isn't always true, unfortunately; and, as happens for me with all sitcoms, I don't always end up laughing when zingers are thrown at one another, but wincing. I have a difficult time understanding, in fact, people who would laugh at so many insults that apparently they find funny. Or the writers who wrote those zingers thinking viewers will find them funny.

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Of cynicism, I cannot in good conscience say that The Good Place avoids it. If you were to watch it, perhaps you'd comment that as far as sitcoms go, it seems, at least on the surface, to be somewhat less cynical than others, and I'd be inclined to agree with you.

The surface story is pretty tame in that regard compared to others. It comes down to caring. These characters care about each other, and they do so in ways that make it clear. The cynicism comes from way down deep, and so is much more harmful and insidious than your typical sitcom. I'll explain.

The philosopher Todd May consulted on the show, which is, on its face, absurd, and which, as a result, that absurdity is woven throughout the show's four seasons. May is a materialist. He doesn't believe in an afterlife or God. When you die, you die, period. The other consulting philosopher, Pamela Hieronymi, I can't say anything about, despite doing some research on her. But it seems fair to say that if May is a materialist, so is Hieronymi.

(That may seem unfair to you, but given the underlying messages the show was ultimately trying to convey, I believe it isn't. Until I learn otherwise, I will assume Hieronymi to be like May, a materialist.)

And so we come to The Good Place's essential, and in the end fatal, failing. I've made the inference in other posts that materialism is, in the end, a profoundly cynical philosophy, one that leads ultimately to nihilism. Both are literally structured into the afterlife in this show, particularly in its final episode.

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You've probably guessed that our four humans, along with Janet and Michael, are finally admitted into the real Good Place. They ride a balloon there Dorothy-style, and honestly, it's a lovely moment, as the tears leaking out of my eyes at the time I viewed it attested.

The problem is, the Good Place is anything but.

What happens to the human being who gets everything he or she wants in an eternal paradise? According to the show's writers and its consulting philosophers, you get so bored and so overcome with ennui that you literally lose the ability to string coherent thoughts together, as though you've come down with some sort of heavenly dementia.

It's understandable that such a conclusion would be reached by materialists. Many claim the soul does not exist. Many claim consciousness is an illusion. I watched a materialist give a TED talk once, in which he said that the word "imagination" should be outlawed because it's a ludicrous idea. There is no such thing as imagination: your brain is wired to perform those functions that fall under the idiotic notion of "imagination," but only represent, like a computer, cold, hard calculating that results in something that we've stupidly called "imagination."

(I have looked for this video many times, but can't find it. I believe it was released around 2013. You'll have to take my word that I saw it, and am reporting the contents factually. Let me know if you locate it, and I'll link to it here.)

Moreover, materialists are determinists, which is to say that they believe all our actions, from birth to the grave, are determined by countless factors beyond our control. This is an astonishing consideration by way of The Good Place, because Michael, in an episode, argues forcefully and indeed quite validly for free will against Eleanor, who is convinced determinism is true. Eleanor decides Michael is right, and the episode ends.

Materialists, as mentioned above, are atheists. The universe, according to them, is absurd. There is  no God.

So to review: mind doesn't exist. The self doesn't exist. Imagination doesn't exist. Consciousness doesn't exist. There is no afterlife. God doesn't exist. When you die, you die. You cease to exist.

It makes me wonder: What the fucking hell were the show's producers thinking when they asked two materialists to consult for them, instead of, say, two theologians? Or two philosophical idealists? It seems to me the choices are so stark and so clear that materialists were chosen for a very specific reason, one that was, in the end, designed to bring the entire idea of an afterlife crashing to the ground.

And that's precisely what The Good Place attempts to do.

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I was curious when watching the very first episode for the first time (I've watched most of the episodes multiple times), and clearly remember thinking to myself: A show about the afterlife? I wonder what God is like? Will he be played by Morgan Freeman?

But the Good Place, and the Bad Place, and the Medium Place, where Mindy St Claire resides, have no Supreme Being or God or Creative Force or what-have-you. We are presented with a "judge," played hilariously by Maya Rudolph, who arbitrates disputes between the Good and Bad Places; but it's clear she didn't create the universe. She came into existence when it did, but we are left with nothing more to go on.

Rudolph's judge is as absurd as the afterlife presented in the series. She's "all-knowing," but doesn't keep up with the affairs on Earth so as not to become biased. She has "had nothing to do for thirty years," she claims, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of human beings in that time have died and have been condemned to the Bad Place (no worthy appeals, for example?). She watches earthly television series and lusts over Mark Harmon, but doesn't concern herself that no one has been admitted into the Good Place for over five hundred years. In short, she's about as useful as an asshole right here. (I'm pointing at my elbow.)

There are no questions about creation: Who or what, for example, created the judge? Or Michael? Or Shawn, the overseer of the Bad Place (played by Marc Evan Jackson, who's funny every time he appears on screen). How did the afterlife, good, bad, or medium, get built? Who's overseeing the overseers?

We get no answers, not even any hints. As for God, literally the only time the word is brought up in a non-swearing sense is in the final episode, when Eleanor, talking to Michael (as I recall), uses it in reference to what Chidi is going to see when she gets all sexy with him. That's it.

So we've got a show about the afterlife, and one and only one mention of a Creator Being. It was at that point that I became convinced that the show's writers and consulting philosophers were grinding an agenda ax behind the scenes.

Again, that was confirmed with the show's ending.

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It isn't a rare occurrence for me to get weepy watching a movie or TV show. Hell, I probably spent the entire final season of Lost in that state, or close to it. And the final episode? Forget it. I was a puddle of goo.

It doesn't stop with one viewing, either. I'm not so jaded and unfeeling as so many seem to be; if a story is well told, I'll never "get used to it," or whatever I'm supposed to do.

I spent the entire final episode of The Good Place either wiping away tears or about to wipe new ones away. I'm not a consumer like you, Jethro; through a long life of tragedy and misfortune, I've learned, and am learning still, how to properly appreciate art, especially when it's a great story. And the truth is, The Good Place is a great story.

That said, I knew where the writers/philosophers were heading, probably before even half of the last episode had passed.

It comes to this. Michael, along with the demons and the judge, decide to remake the afterlife. The Bad Place, they decide, will no longer be about punishment, but rehabilitation. You are presented with hard, perhaps even cruel, lessons time and again until you figure your shit out. Once you do, you may be admitted into the Good Place.

But what about the Good Place itself? What do you do with a place of infinite wish fulfillment and eternal life? There too, the designers decide, there will be challenges to overcome. These will be joyous ones, like Jason putting on a great EDM (electronic dance music) performance or playing a perfect game of Madden Football.

The Good Place is, to these writers' and consultants' imaginations, really nothing more than a variation of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

The question becomes, then: What happens when you've sated all your wishes and dreams?

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It's here we get a healthy dose of Buddhism. The truth is, we've gotten Buddhist thought in many ways through the series' four seasons, which really is incongruous to the shows' basic foundation, that of the positive existence of an afterlife. Buddhists, for the most part, do not believe in an afterlife. They don't believe in God, either. And they don't believe in the self or the soul. Life is suffering, and then you die. Nothing or no one is watching over you.

Somehow the overseers of the afterlife, which include the judge, Michael, and Shawn, design a "door out," which is really just an archway, if I'm not mistaken, made of branches. What's beyond that doorway? One can look right through it to see more forest beyond. But if you pass under the doorway, says (or warns) Janet, you cease to be.

Jason is the first. Like a salmon returning to his spawning grounds, he feels the urge to walk through the doorway. One by one, with the exception of Tahani, they all do. Nonexistence. Like some sort of breath of fresh air from a place that ostensibly offers nothing but fresh air, forever. What does Tahani do? She decides that she wants to help the demons, designers, and the judge help incoming souls rehabilitate. That's where the show leaves her, with the strong implication that eventually she'll walk through the door too.

Paraphrasing Chidi just before he leaves Eleanor to walk through it: "We're waves on the ocean. We exist for a short time, and then we're gone. We return to the ocean. But we've always been the ocean." The self, which doesn't exist anyway and is just an illusion of consciousness (which materialists claim is itself an illusion), and is just a false artifact of ego, which also doesn't really exist, disappears.

It sounds poetic, and perhaps, if one tries using your imagination, which doesn't exist, you can even put a romantic coat of Buddhist/materialist paint on it, and smile warmly when the credits roll and the paint dries. But in the end, in the final analysis, what exactly are we talking about here? What's actually being said is that in the end, nihilism wins. Nothing matters. It never did. It was all an illusion, as was, in not-so-imaginary terms, your life.

The contradictions with the shows' original premises and foundations, not to mention the words, actions, and feelings of various characters throughout the series, become insurmountable.

Given this oblivion door, why design an afterlife at all? What would be the point if at the terminus of such an existence, you get ... nonexistence? Why bother punishing or rehabilitating the bad, or rewarding the good? Why provide for the billions who have shown up, or who will show up? It's not like you're going to be rewarded in oblivion! Your actions after your death do not matter even a single iota, given that door, so who cares what you do before death, or for that matter after it? Nothing counts; nothing matters! Talk about fulfilling Camus' assertion that "life is absurd"! But that is precisely what the writers and consultants of The Good Place want us to leave the show with.

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We get more fatal contradictions from the characters themselves, namely Janet and the judge. Both, we are told, are omniscient. But both admit that they don't have any idea what lies past the door. Is it truly oblivion, nonexistence, or is it something else? They don't know.

So we're told one thing, and then something contradictory. And it was with that biggest of contradictions that something remarkable happened to me.

As I mentioned above, I knew what the writers and philosophers were trying to say. It was, truthfully, obvious from season one. But as these beloved characters, one by heartbreaking one, walked through the door, something very deep inside me rebelled, quite without my willing it. It wasn't an act of mentation or conscious choice on my part; my brain had nothing to do with it. Something latched on to those myriad and countless contradictions and hung on, and constructed, in a fierce act of rebellion against the pervasive undercurrents of materialism, Buddhism, and nihilism, its own ending. It happened before I was even aware that it had.

But not, unfortunately, for my wife. It isn't possible for me to bring up even the title of the show without her launching into more complaints about it. Her help in this review has therefore been invaluable.

She isn't alone. The show's ending didn't leave everyone with happy tears:

Certainly some viewers were shaken. In addition to raves from critics and fans about the finale, online you can find comments from fans of the show who were triggered into harmful thoughts, who experienced painful memories, and who felt knocked in the wrong direction. I was most struck by a teen on Twitter expressing that the show seemed to validate their suicidal feelings. Dreading what comes after high-school graduation, the teen wished for an annihilation portal to walk through. These are not universal reactions, but they also should not be written off. The Good Place bravely tackled some of the toughest questions of existence, but its vision of enlightenment could be easily mistaken for hopelessness.

But isn't that the very essence of Buddhist thought? Life is suffering, and then you die. How much more hopeless can you get?

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As sitcoms go, it's entirely likely that The Good Place broke new ground with respect to characters living (or dying, as the case may be) in the afterlife. But it certainly isn't the only one when you broaden the search parameters. As far as such plots go, there is another, superior program, one that only made it two years, from 2004 - 05: Dead Like Me.

It's a Bryan Fuller creation, which instantly curses it with brevity: no show of his has ever made it more than three seasons. It's the story of a young woman named Georgia ("George"; played by Ellen Muth) who dies and, astonishingly enough, finds that she's still conscious. She meets a man named Rube, played by Mandy Patinkin, who heads up a loose group of "grim reapers." They are tasked with removing souls from people who are just about to die, just as her soul was removed before she died. Armed with a new body (we aren't privy to how that occurs), her course in life is clear: to join the others in helping victims move on.

The episodes are present, funny, affecting, heartbreaking, and deeply, deeply human. It's a masterwork in storytelling, one that isn't so intent on selling you a philosophy or worldview as it is simply bringing you into the moments of these reaper's lives.

Is there a God? We don't know. We're told that there is "management" of various levels. Is there an afterlife? There is, but the reapers know little of it beyond the unique and various "light shows" the deceased receive when they're ready to move on.

The Good Place's full-court press to get you to believe various philosophies--namely, materialism, Buddhism, and, in the end, nihilism--takes massively away from its overall excellence.

What it does do well is hold up for criticism the Christian notions of Heaven and Hell. Though Michael, in the very first episode, deflects--"[the afterlife] isn't like Christian ideas of Heaven or Hell" (again, I'm paraphrasing)--the Good Place is in fact strongly modeled on Christian notions of Heaven. Later, when the four humans, he, and Janet, go to the Bad Place, he literally calls it "Hell." I'm sure that fundamentalist Christians would disagree, believing, as so many do, that all the righteous get to do for eternity is to wash Jesus' feet, or play a harp, or walk around in a permanent lobotomized joy in an all-white, cloudy kind of country club, or, as many fundamentalists I've known believe, sit at the edge of those clouds and peer down into the fires of perdition and celebrate those (liberals, Biden voters, climate change activists) suffering forever.

The Good Place suffers not just this kind of antiquated and archaic cultural programming, but also Western materialist thought. Its writers and philosophers refuse to acknowledge, via denial of imagination, surely, that traditional notions of the afterlife are severely circumscribed and in fact unimaginative. What they do is deny they are basing the series on traditional Christian notions of Heaven and Hell, then basing the show on exactly those notions, and then using that contradiction to say, "See? It's all absurd! There is no afterlife!"

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As for a Creator Being or God, it's abundantly clear the writers and philosophers didn't bother expanding their intellectual horizons. The very word "God," in fact, was so charged for them that in the show's four seasons it is mentioned, as I said above, one time only (in a non-swearing capacity, that is). But did that have to be the case?

Again, I bemoan their choice to employ materialists to consult on a show about the afterlife. The more I think of it, truth be told, the angrier it makes me. There were so many better choices to be made! If nothing else, and, you know, clutching your Ph.D, how about simply researching, say, Gregory of Nyssa, for Christ's sake (pun intended)? Hmm? Why not read about what he had to say about the afterlife? Why not come to the table at least minimally educated in what theists and believers believe--and not just fundies and their toxic kin?

How about employing Keith Ward? He's extraordinarily well-published, taught at Oxford, is highly respected, is a philosopher and a theologian, and is a liberal Christian to boot! Or how about Daphne Hampson, who believes in God but rejects all Christian notions of it? You could go with Alister McGrath, a molecular biophysicist and theologian with three Ph.Ds; or you could go with Rupert Sheldrake, a plant physiologist who has forever earned materialists' scorn because he dared go up against them--and won.

There are many, many others. Instead they choose two who, to put it mildly, have a clear materialist agenda, and who, very clearly, lack serious imagination and, as is obvious, education to talk on such matters like the afterlife. Er, that is, they lack whatever material process occurs in the human brain that is only located in the human brain, is measurable, and which passes for "imagination" on their hi-tech brain-scan thingies.

I get it: the word "God" is highly charged in American culture, today more than any other time in our history. It has been almost wholly colonized by what is probably the most unimaginative population in the world, even more so than materialists--Christian fundamentalists.

Liberal Christianity in America is, in fact, on the brink of extinction. So I understand how the shows' writers, producers, and their consulting philosophers weren't so keen on mentioning it. Politics in America are hyper-polarized; but I contend that religion is even more so, and gets almost no attention by the country's media.

But does that excuse The Good Place's writers and producers for making the choice to employ two materialists to consult on a show about the afterlife, one that they very strongly modeled on archaic Christian notions of Heaven and Hell? Doesn't that choice in fact make the problem of hyper-polarization even worse? How can it not?

"This is a comedy; it's a sitcom," they respond. "It's there for laughs."

Is it? Who's laughing when people are triggered into suicidal thoughts by The Good Place's ending? That wasn't an isolated incident, as the Atlantic's writer points out.

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Fundamentalist Christian notions of God are very far from being the only notions of God. Why is it that materialists refuse to see that? Why do they willfully choose ignorance? That choice--to close one's mind to other possibilities--ends up harming people, as it did with The Good Place. Such a choice ends up translating directly into the most cynical sitcom in television history. But it's structural, part of the show's foundations, and so well hidden from most of the viewers, who will never bother realizing, or caring, that they have been manipulated in a way that no other sitcom could boast about.

Now that's a cynical fucking thing to do.

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I was going to take some space to mention some other notions of God here, but at long length, I've decided not to. Materialists and atheists won't bother learning, nor will fundies. Most Americans refuse to look past the ends of their noses, or deep enough into their own selves, to bother; most will just yawn and move on. "Why are you taking this so seriously?" they scowl. "It's just a TV show."

And that, my friends, is why the motherfucking world is burning.

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I realize this review is a bit choppy; my apologies for that. There is much to discuss with The Good Place, a lot of it falling outside the surface of things--the plot, the characters, etc. It's why I felt compelled to write this, and why it's a fair-sized review.

I'd like to finish by confronting some of the spurious claims made or inferred by various characters in the course of the series. These claims were made with absolute certainty, but they are anything but certain.

Let's start with this one:

<<Everybody would treat eternity the same way>>

Would they? Where is your evidence? Have you spoken to eternal beings and gotten their take on the matter?

Materialism insists that everything is determined, and that we have no choice in how we ultimately respond to events in our life. We are turds helplessly floating down the shit-stream to oblivion; just accept it already.

This is no more than absurd--and obscene--wish fulfillment from that sad pack. The claim has zero basis for being made. Period.

Here's another one, one I mentioned earlier:

<<Life is absurd>>

No. It isn't. Life is life. Absurdities--events that are absurd, or smack of such--are the plight of everyone on Earth, and have been forever, and will be forevermore, amen. Because absurdities occur in one's life in no way suggests that life itself is absurd.

Almost all absurdities you can name were created, fostered, instituted, managed, accepted, or promulgated by people, cultures, and societies. People are largely absurd, yes. Very much so. And the systems we have set up for ourselves are absurd--capitalism, communism, many religious doctrines and dogmas, governments and their inane policies, and so on. They in no way imply that life is absurd.

Life is life. From living mine, one nearly six decades in length, I can say that most people hate their lives but are too cowardly, too conformist, or too complacent (or all three) to ever change. They foist the absurdity of their un-existences on others in order to bring them down and control them. Others profit from creating and pushing onto others rank absurdities. You can find examples of this from personal relationships up to national relationships. Again, that doesn't make life absurd. I realize that spouting crap from Camus is all trendy these days, but c'mon. He wasn't an oracle; he wasn't a prophet. He was a goddamned philosopher, and as such a huge chunk of what he had to say was most assuredly bullshit.

Plus, he was French, which to The Good Place means he had his absurd ass automatically sent to the Bad Place. Maybe while shrieking in his scorpion diapers and clutching a baguette he can get a fucking clue. Y'think? 

Tangentially related to "everybody would treat eternity the same way" is:

<<Ethics won't matter to an eternal being>>

Again, where's the evidence? Was a survey mailed out to eternal beings, and did most of them send it back with the response, "Fuck no! I couldn't give a shit about ethics!"?

Why would time--in this case, infinite time--matter at all to such a being with respect to ethics? If ethics doesn't matter to such a being, ethics wouldn't matter to that being if she weren't eternal.

Where's my evidence, you ask? I don't have any. My point is this: time is irrelevant to considerations of ethics. You're either ethical, or you aren't. Period. You live in accordance with a set of principles and morals designed for your flourishing as a being, which can only happen in the end if those principles and morals help others flourish as well. Corrupt principles and morals have a very predictable way of bringing harm to you and those around you, and you don't need anything near eternity for them to bear their toxic fruit.

You can't even say that ethics wouldn't matter to an eternal being even if that being lived in complete isolation. One's bearing on the world matters. At all times. In all situations. I believe morality, like truth, like goodness, like justice, is "woven into" the very fabric of reality, much as mathematics is. The universe tends towards goodness.

I wonder what Dr. Who would think of the statement: "ethics wouldn't matter to an eternal being"?

Which leads to this (crap) nugget:

<<Death gives meaning to life>>

This is a hugely popular thing to spout off these days, not only in popular culture, but in cloistered philosophy circles around the globe. But it's total bullshit.

Death is a singularity. What's on the other side? Maybe an afterlife; maybe oblivion. Everything dies. All living and non-living things. Even atoms, even electrons, even stars, even, according to physicists, space--nothing--itself. It has its time, and then it's gone. At least that manifestation of it is.

Todd May ostensibly wrote a book about death, and it's a statement made at least once during the show, which means he probably believes it. But he's wrong.

What gives meaning to life? Life does. Logically, you can look at it this way:

Death is a part of life => Death = a part of life => A part of life gives meaning to life.

Life is indivisible, if you are to believe philosophers like J. Krishnamurti, which I do. So you can remove the nonsensical "a part of" and simply settle down with the basic truth:

<<<Life gives meaning to life.>>>

Let's visit one more of The Good Place's materialist homilies, this one being:

<<Love is finite>>

Now, as far as I know, this is never stated verbatim at any point in the series. But it doesn't need to be. The final episode makes this position crystal clear.

Consider a better Good Place, one in which souls are presented with new and higher ethical and meta-physical challenges. Heaven isn't a flat ethical wish-fulfillment plain of eventual and crushing ennui, but, indeed, an ever-rising slope towards greater and greater goodness, beauty, art, and truth.

Chidi and Eleanor never break up, because love is infinite.  Jason and Janet never part for the same reason. Together they eternally "level up," to borrow gaming parlance. There is no limit to joy, or to happiness, or to love.

Life is eternal.

Death is but a necessary singularity, one that true souls may pass through.

Heaven isn't a noun; it's a verb. The same goes for God.

Eternal beings don't just care about ethics; they care about them more and more as they advance ever upward towards ...

Most definitely not oblivion.

 

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