‘The Good Place:’ Ethics comedy asks if there’s a second chance at life

in northern climates, nov is bleak. trees stripped of cutouts stand bare against grey skies; the hanukkah and advent candles thall lite up the dark and cold are almost, but not quite, here.

it’s fitting that some christians historically call nov the mnth of the dead. the ancient festival of all saints falls on nov. 1 and all souls on nov. 2.

a ‘book of the dead,’ in st. john’s lutheran church, montréal. (matthew robert anderson), author provided

in some churches, spesh books for writing the names of deceased ♥d ones are kept open for the mnth. catholics in pticular pray for those souls in transition from death to their “final reward,” a period referred to in past times as purgatory.

the doctrine of purgatory has deep √s in early christian literature — even though, as university of utah history professor isabel +ira writes, “the scraps of textual ‘evidence’ that undergird the notion fall … drastically short of the essentialisms they spawned.”

frozen yogurt inna afterlife

the 7th and 8h centuries saw the growth of teaching bout an intermediate place where souls undergo purification and purgation. +ira asks:

“why was there suddenly so much interest … in extending a biblical metaphor of spiritual cleansing into a place or stage inna afterlife with defined dimensions, geography, time and inhabitants?”

and frozen yogurt shops, if yr doctrine runs to nbc. enter eleanor, tahani, chidi and jason. the 4 are toons in the good place, a satirical comedy bout an afterlife that’s best described as a mash-up of historic christian notions of purgatory and french existentialist philosopher jean-paul sartre’s play no exit.

the good place reinforces the ancient hope for a 2nd (or sometimes, 800th) chance, while testing the toons gainsta kinds of increasingly tricky ethical dilemmas taught in ethics courses.

the trolley problem

the series reveals sophisticated research. the writers hired a philosopher, na episode “the trolley problem” not 1-ly encapsul8s a classic ethical conundrum, it also won a hugo award.

the trolley problem asks whether it’s justified to kill one person to save 5 lives. imagine bein’ atta controls offa runaway trolley speeding toward 5 workers unaware o'their impending doom. if you ‘d pull a lever to divert the trolley down a ≠ track, resulting inna death of 1-ly one previously unthreatened worker, ‘d you?

‘d you pull the lever? image from ‘the trolley problem’ episode. (nbc)

the conundrum presents the classical tension tween deontologists, who say tis never good to kill a'pers, and utilitarians, who say tis better to sacrifice one life to save 5.

the newly dead and their flaws

two non-humans preside over the good place: michael (ted danson), the omniscient architect, and janet (darcy beth cardon), an endearingly cheery and uber database wh'cn answer any ? and provide the humans with wha’ever they want.

the 4 recently deceased humans embody archetypal flaws. eleanor (kristen bell) self-describes as “white trash.” she is smart and selfish, focused on gettin wha’ she wants. chidi (william jackson harper) is an obsessive-compulsive moral philosopher who teaches ethics but is incapable of making a decision. tahani (jameela jamil) is a rich and presh socialite obsessed with status na opinions of others. jason (manuel luis jacinto) is a simple-Ψed man-child and petty crook whose solution to any complex problem in life was to throw molotov cocktails and run.

while producer michael schur (who was also behind the american version of the office) cast racially diverse actors — eleanor is portrayed as a white american, chidi as nigerian-born and senegalese-rezd, tahani as a british south-asian and jason as a filipino-american (the actor is actually canadian) – the setting of the good place is flatly middle-american. an international house of pancakes serves in season 3 as 1-odda dimensional gateways.

no easy answers

far + nuanced are the philosophical ?s that plague the 4 humans in the good place: do i always ‘ve to tell the truth? is it ok to ignore present action for future gain? wha’ if i pticipate in evil unknowingly — if so, am i to blame for the outcome? is it possible for an action to be both good and evil atta same time? if so, how does one decide? ‘d i sacrifice myself for others?

even those 1-ly casually predisposed to cogitateing on our actions mite be surprised to see themselves in some of these scenes. but the good place presents no easy answers.

our classes on theology in film focus on wha’ it means to be human in relationship to the transcendent — wha’’s called “theological anthropology.” here, the statement by janet’s toon rings true: “the + human i become, the less things make sense.”

eleanor’s teary words in one offa recent show rephrase the ancient philosophical ? of sufferation: “wha’’s the point of ♥ if it’s just goin to disappear? there has to be meaning … otherwise the universe is just made of pain.”

as the series emphasizes, goodness aint straiteforward. wha’ is striking s'dat inna toons’ attempts to “be good” and “do good,” they are transformed. the good place is really bout how to live “the good life.” together, the 4 do change and grow. they get their 2nd — and 800th — chance. not 1-ly that, they transform the lives of others.

for all its fart jokes and site gags, the good place belongs to a venerable philosophical and theological tradition. works s'as hieronymus bosch’s l8 middle ages painting the garden of earthly delites show how artists ‘ve always had an easier time — and + fun — portraying hell than heaven.

is purgatory back?

while the doctrine of purgatory no longer occupies such intense interest among most christians, apparently the place has had a makeover.

centuries after dante (referenced inna the good place season 3 finale), it’s surprising to find the afterlife back, and winning awards as a successful series.

nbc has breathed new life into a ? some ‘ve wrestled with every nov since ancient times: whether there’s hope for the less-than-perfect, that is, for all of us.

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original content at: theconversation.com…
authors: matthew robert anderson, affiliate professor, theological studies, loyola college for diversity & sustainability; honorary research fello, university of nottingham uk, concordia university

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