The sitcom The Good Place, poised to enter its third season, is based on a novel premise: the selfish main character, Eleanor, has found herself mistakenly sent to heaven. To keep her secret safe, her heavenly husband—who had been an ethics professor in this world—gives her lessons in how to be a good person so that she can successfully blend in among the saved. Alexi Sargeant, who finds the show “unexpectedly profound,” writes in his review:
The Good Place . . . begins by skewering shallowly sentimental ideas of heaven and then transitions to asking (sincerely!) how a bad person can become good. . . . [It] explores and then explodes “moralistic therapeutic deism,” the mushy, post-Christian pseudo-religion of America’s youth diagnosed by the sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Moralistic therapeutic deism posits that God wants you to be happy but otherwise stays out of the way and that nice people go to heaven when they die. The Good Place starts off as a Technicolor Divine Comedy for the therapeutic deist universe. The twists of the show suggest [the show’s creator] is well aware of the extent to which this worldview is lame and saccharine. . . .
One whole episode is spent running variations on the famous “trolley problem,” the allegedly ethics-clarifying hypothetical that asks you to decide how you would act if an out-of-control trolley were on course to run over several people. Would you pull a lever to direct the trolley if it meant it would run over only one person? Would you push a person into the trolley’s path? . . . [The episode’s plot seems to be] suggesting there is something demonic about the trolley problem itself, or at least about the utilitarian interpretations that make it a numbers game—as if any evil can be made good if a malicious mastermind adds enough arbitrary consequences to refraining from evil.
In one of its best moves, writes Sargent, the series employs a single well-executed plot twist that “upends audience expectations and retroactively makes this sappy, chichi heaven a satire of our impoverished imaginings of eternal bliss.”
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