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<em>The</em> (mostly) <em>Good Place</em>

(Andrew Eccles/NBC)

Television

The (mostly) Good Place

In a bevy of afterlife-themed shows, at least one is asking the right questions

The late Billy Graham would often pose a question at his crusades: “Do you know what the mortality rate is these days?” The audience, expecting to hear some calculated percentage, instead heard his answer: “100 percent!”  

Many people avoid thoughts of their own death. So it’s surprising, yet also encouraging, to see many television series focusing on different ideas about death and the afterlife.   

The shows (Miracle Workers, The Good Place, Upload, Forever, and Russian Doll) vary in their depictions but have all garnered some critical and audience praise. But the most successful, accessible, and probably thought-provoking show is NBC’s hit comedy The Good Place

It’s Michael Schur’s (The Office and Parks and Recreation) creation that debuted in September 2016. After four successful seasons, the show’s finale aired in January of this year. But it’s getting an afterlife of its own on Netflix (the first three seasons are now available with the fourth season streaming in September).  

The series lightheartedly takes on many metaphysical, philosophical, and spiritual questions.  

The journey begins with the introduction of four uniquely flawed yet appealing characters: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They all recently died and find themselves in the “good” place. Or have they? Whenever viewers believe they have The Good Place figured out, the show takes a decidedly unexpected turn.

The foursome ultimately joins forces with Michael (Ted Danson), a demon who has turned good, and a scene-stealing, all-knowing being named Janet (D’Arcy Carden) on a quest to right what they believe is a flawed system for meting out eternal judgment. The show tackles some of life’s most meaty questions: How do you get into heaven? Should people get second chances? Do we control our own destinies? 

Its approach is both humorous and thought-provoking. In one scene Michael discusses with the universe’s supreme Judge Gen (Maya Rudolph) how much harder it is today to know what is “good” when in the simple act of “buying a tomato in a grocery store people may be unwittingly supporting the use of toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, and contributing to global warming.”

But The Good Place is far from perfect. It has actual and pseudo-profanity (in the “good” place, people can’t swear, but sound-alike words stand in) as well as plenty of sexual references. Seasons 3 and 4 drag on but still entertain.

And audiences will find The Good Place’s conclusions to most questions not very Biblical. The series gives more of a Buddhist interpretation to many ultimate questions. 

Still, audiences should consider watching. It doesn’t have all the right answers, but it asks many of the right questions.