I don’t watch a lot of television this time of year, what with my officiating duties swamping my schedule with football games three to four nights a week.  Ironically, I don’t even have much time to watch college or NFL football games.  But last night, I was in need of some rest and recovery from the little league football games I’d worked that morning, so Brenda and I decided to watch the idiot box for a while.  We were about to give up on network programming and go to something on Netflix, when channel surfing brought us to an interesting program on NBC.  The network decided to run a sort of marathon of all four currently aired episodes of a new show called The Good Place.  It drew us in pretty quickly, so that’s how we spent the next two hours.  Nowadays, most TV sitcoms just don’t do much for us, but this one was just enough different from the usual fare to keep our attention.  After I’d thought about what I’d seen, I had some questions pop into mind, but it’d probably be best to start with a synopsis about the show.

The story revolves around a young woman named Eleanor who has died and gone to a television version of heaven called The Good Place (heretofore known as TGP, because I don’t want to type it another twenty times).  TGP is a beautiful place where everyone gets a mansion and all their heart’s desires (although Eleanor’s mansion is considerably lacking compared to everyone else’s).  Eleanor’s presence in this place is something of a mystery because Eleanor, as we find out in the first episode and are continually reminded during every succeeding episode, was a really rotten person in life.  It isn’t unusual to have a terrible person in a sitcom, as several programs over the years have had characters that met that standard.  Usually, the show’s writers provide that character some very tiny shred of human decency. Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother was an archetype for that category of character.  What we find in this show is that Eleanor is much worse than Barney Stinson, who at least has some degree of loyalty to his friends, even if it is mostly motivated by self-interest.  Eleanor is totally consumed by herself, and readily and frequently throws her best friends under a bus and a couple of Mack trucks just to get few minutes of personal pleasure.  Despite herself, Eleanor has ended up in this utopia designed and built by a rather clueless cosmic architect name Michael.  As the show progresses, Eleanor decides that she’d like to clean up her act and stay in TGP and is aided in this endeavor by Chidi, her “soul mate” in TGP, who was a rather tedious philosophy professor in his former life.  Chidi is, at first, the only person in TGP that knows she’s a fraud, although one other character, Jason, figures it out as well.  Jason, as it turns out, is also a fraud.  They are somewhat aided in their endeavors by a walking encyclopedia named Janet, an android supercomputer created by Michael who, like all of Michael’s creations, still has some bugs.

The show itself is funny and well written and has a good cast.  Kristen Bell is Eleanor, and she does exactly what Kristen Bell does best, funny and cute.  They say beauty is fleeting, but the corollary to that is cute just kind of trudges on forever.  I’m sure Kristen Bell will still be getting good roles when she is sixty and eighty because she’ll still be cute and she’ll still be a good actress.  The rest of the cast fits into their roles really well, except for Ted Danson as Michael, who just wasn’t meant to play clueless cosmic architects (as an aside, my wife totally disagrees with my assessment of Danson here).  No question that the show is enjoyable, although I have my doubts that it’s going to have a life that’s much longer or any more fulfilling than Eleanor’s.  I think it’s got a pretty low ceiling.  I can only think of a couple of shows that had similar plot lines. Both of those shows (Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies) were better than this one and neither lasted very long.

I suppose I would be remiss in failing to mention the philosophical and theological aspects of this show, which is meant to be a comic look at the afterlife.  The creator, Michael Schur, early in the drawing board portion of making this show, spent time researching various religions to get a better feel for how he wanted the afterlife to look.  After a while, he just gave up and decided create his own version of heaven.  I can say with a great deal of certainty that, from a Christian standpoint, the show is completely heretical and unchristian just about anyway you’d want to slice it.  Everyone (except Eleanor and Jason, of course) got to TGP because they earned it by doing a lot of really good deeds.  That’s totally antithetical to the gospel of grace, which affirms that none of us deserve heaven, but we get there through Christ’s sacrifice alone.  In short, you can’t earn your way into heaven.  Not only was everyone surrounding Eleanor completely self-sacrificing and benevolent in their old lives, they will all freely tell you that they were self-sacrificing and benevolent in their old lives when asked and, often, even when they are not.  Clearly, pride isn’t a deadly sin in this universe or none of these people would be having this much fun in the afterlife.

Last night, as I was drifting off to my own good place, several important and thoughtful questions popped into my mind about the program.  Of course, by morning I’d forgotten all of them, but I thought of a few others in the interim.  Wouldn’t just about anyone in Eleanor’s shoes be even a little bit curious about the mistake that got her to TGP?  If so, wouldn’t she be more interested in peppering Janet, the walking encyclopedia, with a bunch of questions trying to piece together what happened?  I get it that she’s supposed to be completely shallow and self-serving and kind of dumb, but wouldn’t Chidi, the deep and intellectual former philosophy professor, be interested in these questions as well?  In fact, no one in the show seems even remotely interested in investigating their new world or getting clues from Janet.  Not Chidi, or Michael, who is watching his created universe slowly descend into chaos (presumably because of Eleanor’s presence), or Tahani, who actually seems kind of miserable in her new existence.  As this is a sitcom, I’m pretty sure I’m not getting any of these questions answered ever, although I’d wager a pretty sizable bet that we’ll find out at some point that Eleanor’s presence in TGP isn’t an accident.

I think this show hangs around for a while.  I give it two seasons.

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