The Good Place

So, we binged the NBC series The Good Place sedately over the last few weeks, at the rate of one or two episodes a night. I had already seen the episodes that ended up on the Hugo final ballot last year and the year before, two of which lost and two of which won. The two that lost, in my view, were rather difficult to understand if you saw them out of context – these were "Michael's Gambit", the first season finale, and "Jeremy Bearimy", from the third season. The two that won worked relatively well as standalones – the second series episode "The Trolley Problem", whose core plot is a graphic illustration of a classical ethics dilemma, and the third series episode "Janet(s)", which features D'Arcy Carden as the show's artificial intelligence, Janet, also acting the personas of most of the other key cast. This year, only one episode, "The Answer", made the Hugo ballot; I think it is the emotional climax of the fourth and final season, but let's see if voters respond to it.

The initial setup of The Good Place is that the protagonist Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, has died and ended up in an afterlife, a part of The Good Place, designed and controlled by Michael, who looks weirdly like Ted Danson from Cheers aged seventy, because he is in fact played by Ted Danson aged seventy. Bell and Danson were both very well established stars; the rest of the regular cast includes William Jackson Harper as ethics philosopher Chidi, Jameela Jamil as posh British socialite Tahani, Manny Jacinto as Floridian stoner Jason, and as noted above D'Arcy Carden as the AI, Janet. Here's the trailer for the first series which will give you an idea.

The show's central narrative takes a sudden zigzag at the end of that first series, which creates sufficient space to keep the plot going throughout the rest of the 52 episodes. The scripts are witty and, though I think the pace flags a bit in the middle of the run, the episodes are short enough that you enjoy them for what they are. Apart from the main ensemble there are a host of recurring characters, of whom my favourite is probably Maribeth Monroe's Mindy St Claire, condemned to a limbo which is neither the Good Place nor the Bad Place, and obsessed with orgasms and cocaine.

The show finishes on rather a contemplative note; what, after all, would eternity in the Good Place actually look like, and would it be worth it? The moral of the tale is nicely illustrated by trueloveistreacherous on tumblr:

That sequence sadly doesn't feature D'Arcy Carden's Janet, so here she is to finish off with, thanks to rocktheholygrail on tumblr.

Well worth watching – thought-provoking without being too taxing.

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