(Spoilers for the whole show)
because the show draws so obviously from conservative, christian beliefs about the purpose of life.
One of the people I watched TGP with speculated that there are no actual children in the good place – as in, the place portrayed on the show, both its bad-place-masquerade and true form – because it would be too depressing for the audience to contemplate dead kids. I get that – It’s very much a network sitcom, echoing familiar, simple pleasures,1 which is a big part of why I watched it.2
But things fall apart in the series finale, once the characters have gotten to the actual good place, and we view the pleasures and joys they pursue. Jason plays the world’s best game of Madden, Tahani learns to make chairs and burp the alphabet, Chidi and Eleanor have a lovely dinner catching up with old friends (their ideal good life, it seems, is that of being childless, living in a city, well off, and in your 30s, forever). Each reconciles or reunites with their parents.
And I can’t accept that none of them, given literally all the time in the universe, think that life’s essential pleasures might include, e.g., watching your child take her first steps, graduate from college, hike the Appalachian Trail with you, &c. Lots of people who have kids, ahem, seem to find meaning in it:
My own informal research says that grandparent couples are happy couples. Some of that is selection bias–if you stuck it out as a couple long enough to have your grandchildren born, you are in good shape as a couple. But I think that some of it is that if you have children, then you want grandchildren, and when they arrive you feel real joy and satisfaction.
Here is the meaning of life: …to make babies with her, with him, or to find them some other way, but then to raise them up, and watch them do the same thing, generation after generation, so that when you die you know you are permanently a part of the great web of life. That you are not a loose thread, snipped off.
What these writers – Arnold Kling and Orson Scott Card, respectively – have in common is that their politics could be called conservative, and conservative ideas don’t get a lot of explicit attention on network TV. But what’s bizarre here is that The Good Place is an extremely conservative, religious show at its core. It’s a story about a bunch of people who discover that there really is a jduge, that there really is a heaven, and that the key to getting there is to live a good life as defined by a book of rules. Hell, the show even commits to the idea that the modern world is too complex to be unambiguously good in, thereby implicitly pining for, get this, a pre-modern existence. That’s not even conservative, that’s closer to reactionary.
Therein lies the deep weirdness at the center of The Good Place. The words coming out of its characters’ mouths, and the choices they pursue, are Very Right Now, very urban liberal, but its core conceit is that Christianity is 100% right about the big stuff (heaven, hell, creation, angels, demons, etc.). One way the writers try to make this work is by asking us to believe that having children simply didn’t occur to anyone up there. And it makes for a show that’s a lot of fun to watch, but pretty strange to think about once you’ve finished.
5/5 stars, would recommend
For me, watching Friends in the basement of some family friends.↩︎
I’m reminded of the Ice King on Adventure Time singing the Cheers theme to try to hold onto his sanity. Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see Ten Danson look directly into the camera and sing it on The Good Place, either.↩︎