I watched the finale of this NBC TV series a couple of days ago. The series consisted of 52 half-hour episodes spread out over four seasons. I have long been a fan of this show that dealt with issues of ethics and morality and what makes a person good. I gave it a rave review after seeing the first season, and have been following it since.
The show deals with the afterlife that consists of the Good Place and the Bad Place. Where one ends up is determined entirely by an algorithm that assigns a numerical score (positive or negative) for every single act on Earth and then computes the final tally. Only the people who have lived the most exemplary lives on Earth end up in the Good Place. The series started with one character Eleanor Shellstrop realizing that she ended up in the Good Place by mistake because she was a really horrible person while alive and so she enlists Chidi Anagonye, who was a professor of moral philosophy while alive, to give her a crash course on ethics so she can avoid being discovered as a bad person.
As the series proceeds, it is revealed that there is a glitch in the system in that the increasing complexity of modern life has resulted in pretty much every action, even if done with good intentions, ending up having a negative score, making it almost impossible to end up in the Good Place. For example, if one buys a gift of fruit to give to a friend who is in hospital, that seems like a good thing. But nowadays, when one adds up the negative costs (the fruit may have been picked by exploited migrant laborers, the transporting of it adds to the carbon footprint, the fruit companies are transnational conglomerates that use pesticides and pollute the environment, and so on) that may overwhelm the good intentions behind the act and hence lead to a net negative score. We all feel this pressure, in that it has become almost impossible to avoid dealing with bad companies while living our lives.
One of the issues that was discussed in the series was the unfairness of a system where the binary choice between being judged good or bad at the end of one’s life is so stark and the consequences so dire. As Eleanor says, there should be a third Medium Place option, a place like Cincinnati, for people who are just ordinary, neither very good nor very bad, to end up in.
The last season dealt with an issue that one does not hear discussed often (though we have discussed it here on this blog), and that is the fact that the eternal perfection of heaven would quickly become boring and there would be no escape from the monotony. So even ending up in the Good Place may not be such a good thing.
It is not often that you find a comedy that involves philosophical discussions about morality and ethics and goodness, refers to ideas from Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Machiavelli, and Kant, and compares philosophies of utilitarianism, consequentialism, deontology, and the like. It is a tribute to the writers that they weave those in quite naturally without being pedantic. There are no discussions about any gods or any religious texts, except for a cursory mention at the beginning. The six main characters and the supporting cast were all good and the writing generally sharp.
It is not an easy task to write a satisfactory ending to a show like this and I was wondering how the writers would end the series. In my mind, I thought of various options as the series went along but none of my ideas came even close to the actual show’s ending. Given the difficulty of sticking this particular landing, I found the ending thought up by the show’s creators to be satisfying, wrapping up most of the loose ends.
I can recommend this show. I was sorry to see it end but think that it was the right thing to do because there is nothing worse than dragging a good premise and story arc long after it has run out of steam. Here is a preview of the fourth and final season that contains some very minor spoilers of the earlier seasons.