The Good Place, Ethics and the Afterlife

For a show that is intended as light entertainment (suitable for binge-watching), The Good Place explores a good deal of moral philosophy, questions about what it means to be a good person, and features more than a hint of C.S Lewis’ work.

In a performance that is a far cry from her role in the Frozen franchise, Kristen Bell plays Eleanor, a ne’er do well whose entire life seems characterised by acts of thoughtlessness. Despite this, she ends up in ‘The Good Place’ after she dies with Michael, an architect played by Ted Danson (Cheers, Becker) showing her around. It seems that someone has made an awful mistake and that she is taking someone else’s rightful place. Confronting the fact that she apparently does not belong, she enlists the help of Chidi, her allocated ‘soul mate’ and a moral philosopher.

The Hollywood Reporter interviewed series creator Mike Schur (creator and writer of Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Recreation) about how he would handle the series’ spiritual undertones and he responded by saying that just because the show was about the afterlife, didn’t mean it was “religious” but moreover “spiritual and ethical is how I thought of it,” Schur commented on the premise.

In this way, by exploring the implications of spirituality rather than “religion” the show definitely would be intriguing to a large percentage of the population who you can describe as “spiritual but not religious.”

“The Good Place amounts to a colorful neighbourhood, with all types of people representing all manner of creeds, faiths and opinions. They have different belief systems, and the show finds humour in all and none of them. Just don’t call these neighbors “religious,'” writes Joanne Ostrow of The Hollywood Reporter.

While some might say that creating a show about the afterlife might send up or even mock Christianity, in a way the show is an amusing outworking of moral conscience coupled with the somewhat murky morass of ethical dilemmas via an idea that we can somehow be better if we simply act better. In many ways the premise eschews a works-based way to the afterlife.

Film critic Alissa Wilkinson of Christianity Today has pointed out that stories about the afterlife “can reinforce an all-too-easy obsession with ourselves—with our salvation, our agency, our problems, our responsibilities.”

So while Christian viewers may be initially turned off by The Good Place’s premise and ostensible view of the afterlife, it is well worth persevering. There are twists in the show’s concept (avoiding spoilers dictates that we leave out details as to why). With season one now on Netflix (and season two streaming weekly), now may be the best time to explore it.

Jonathan Foye




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