“Welcome! Everything is fine.” On Sept. 9, 2016, this was what greeted audiences when NBC’s “The Good Place” first aired. Last Thursday, the show aired it’s final episode, “Whenever You’re Ready.”
Throughout its lifetime, the show followed the journey of Eleanor Shelstrop (Kristen Bell), Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) and Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) as they use their afterlife to try to make sense of their ones on earth.
With the goal of becoming better people than the ones they were on Earth, the four friends explore the works of Aristotle, Kant, Scanlon, Camus, Sartre and many other foundational philosophers in an comedic and accessible manner. This is done in an attempt to fulfill the objective of the show’s creator, Michael Schur, who wanted a way to help people learn moral philosophy in an approachable way.
“I think people don’t like being lectured to,” Schur said in an interview with The Washington Post, “I don’t like being lectured to, frankly. If moral philosophy wasn’t just going to be a tertiary part of the show but instead was going to be baked into the very center of it, then comedy was a much better delivery mechanism.”
This method seems to have served the show very well, as it has received incredible critical response, even making it into The Guardian’s list of “The 100 best TV shows of the 21st Century”, as it’s 69th entry. The show has even been implemented into one of Northwestern’s classes, “Philosophy Through Film and Fiction”, taught by Dr. Randy Jensen.
In an interview about the show coming to a close, Jensen says that there’s a lot that he appreciates about its execution of exposing the general audience to moral philosophy.
“I tend to pull examples from pop culture in my teaching,” said Jensen. “It’s a way to make difficult or unfamiliar concepts more relevant, and then along comes The Good Place, which does all of that and then some. I never quite imagined a show that would so explicitly involve philosophy.”
By creating a warm and welcoming environment, the show is able to ask it’s audience questions like: What does it mean to be a good person? What about humanity and life are intrinsically valuable? And why is it important to do good? With the show’s ending, these are the questions that it leaves behind as its legacy.
The series finale is a bittersweet closing of an incredible and heartfelt story of a group of people who all decide it’s worthwhile to become better people.
That becomes the message of the show. “It’s not about doing the right thing,” siad Jensen. “It’s about having the right motives. And that’s the move that’s going to undercut the importance of the afterlife. The message for us is don’t be a good person because you want to go to heaven or you don’t want to go to hell. You should be a good person because you care about the people who are in front of you, which I think is very New Testament, really.”
“The Good Place” makes sure that even though the show itself is ending, it is ending with its message delivered. For many of its fans, the goodbye is a difficult one but a meaningful one as well. The show was able to use its time on air to create something really special.
It told the story of a remarkable group of characters that many of us can see ourselves in. It leaves the hope that there is good in the world and that progress in ourselves and in our society is possible, if the work is put in to make it happen.