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In most television shows, the death of an important character is the end of something. If it’s not the end of the show, then it’s usually the end of the character. But even in programs wherein the dead might start sucking air again at any moment (welcome back, Game of Throne’s Jon Snow! Hope you had a nice rest!), it’s often used as a cliffhanger at the end of the season.
But in NBC’s The Good Place, death isn’t the end. It’s the beginning … of one of the strangest, funniest and most problematic sitcoms on television.
Eleanor Shellstrop is, technically, dead.
Upon her death, Eleanor was spirited up to the Good Place—a beautiful, suburban-like heaven filled with green lawns, big houses and a huge number of frozen yogurt shops.
“People love frozen yogurt, what can I tell you,” explains Michael, who designed this particular neighborhood in the Good Place.
Except, not really. The Good Place is actually a passive-aggressive Bad Place, wherein Eleanor and her afterlife denizens subtly torture each other. Well, at least until they realize it’s the Bad Place, and then they all have to be shipped off to a Worse Place, or sneak off to a Better Place, or … something. In fact, as Season 3 opens, Eleanor is on her way back to earth to get another shot at the real Good Place. With us so far?
But Eleanor’s not exploring this great, confusing afterlife alone, thank heave— or, thank goodne— or, oh, never mind. She’s with her best friends-slash-torturers! Moral philosopher Chidi Anagonye does his best to be a good person, no matter what sort of place he’s in at the moment, with mixed results. Tahani loves nothing better than to brag about everything she’s done. And then, of course, there’s Jason Mendoza, a rabid Jacksonville Jaguars fan who believes throwing Molotov cocktails are the solution to every ill.
“Anytime I had a problem and I threw a Molotov cocktail, boom!” he says. “Right away, I had a different problem!”
Michael’s there too, perhaps trying to help his onetime Bad-Place charges, perhaps trying to get in better graces with his bad, bad bosses, or perhaps still just looking for one good frozen yogurt shop in all of the afterlife. And then there’s Janet, this afterlife’s version of Siri—always chipper, often helpful and sometimes very, very inconvenient.
While The Good Place is certainly predicated on a belief in the immortal soul, an afterlife and either post-mortem rewards and/or punishments, NBC’s sitcom does in no way depict a Christian heaven or hell. People of all faiths, or of no faith, are liable to land anywhere on this post-life ladder. Do not come here looking for theological insight.
But could you come here looking for laughs? Depends.
In some respects, The Good Place is a good show. Some say it’s great—rare praise for a network sitcom. Indeed, the writing is crisp, the acting (especially Kristen Bell, who plays Eleanor) is sharp, and the setup is, if nothing else, sweetly provocative. And, in its own way, it asks viewers to ponder some of life’s, and death’s, big problems, asking philosophical riddles as it goes along. It is, in its own goofy way, a show that attempts to talk about morality. And that in itself is refreshing.
But remember, we’re talking 21st-century secular morality, not timeless Christian ethics here. I think it’s safe to assume that gun owners would have a few extra hurdles to hop before making it into the fake real Good Place. And anyone who believes that marriage should be between a man and woman need not apply.
There are other problems, too. Sex is a frequent topic in these Elysian Fields or sulfur-strewn vacant lots. Wine flows freely up there. And good place or no, there’s plenty of bad behavior. Characters—well, Eleanor, mainly—lie and steal on occasion. And while swearing is forbidden in the fake Good Place, that just sets the show up for one of its running jokes: forcing Eleanor to say “fork” instead of the f-word and “shirt” instead of the s-word, both of which she says frequently. Oh, and the Good Place has a profanity loophole, too. While harsh profanities are censored via euphemism, other occasional swears go unchecked.
In other words, discerning families may wish The Good Place was a lot better than it actually is.
In this series finale, Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani complete their time in the afterlife and prepare to exit and “dissolve into the universe” when each is ready.
Eleanor wants to surprise Chidi with an “edible robe,” talks about being filmed while having sex and self-pleasure. A gay man embraces Tahani before she leaves the afterlife and Jason makes a joke about two women falling in love. Couples kiss, lie in bed together (fully clothed), cuddle and hold hands. Tahani wears a cleavage-baring dress.
Men and women drink beer, champagne, cocktails and wine. Jason makes a joke about smoking marijuana. Eleanor references using cocaine.
The f-word stand in, “fork,” as well as “freakin,” are each heard once. “D–n,” “d–mit,” “a–,” “crap,” “shut up,” “nuts” and “shoot” are used a few times each.
Michael and Janet interview a man on earth, famous in the afterlife for creating the perfect point system to get into The Good Place. Eleanor debates whether she should tell Chidi that they were once in love in The Bad Place.
As Michael and Janet interview earth’s famous point-system creator, they ask many questions about the afterlife in an attempt to understand how people get into “heaven.”
We hear a reference to magic mushrooms and two friends getting high. A woman casually mentions popping two loose pills. A man offers his guests water from his toilet. A few references to arousal, sex, male genitalia and masturbation are heard. A man takes off his shirt and one woman wears a revealing outfit. A man is offered a glass of beer to relax, but decides to throw billiard balls into the glass instead of drinking it. Liquor bottles cover a bar counter. Men and women are kicked and punched.
“D–mit” and “p–s” are each used once. People say “screw it” often and men and women are called “hemorrhoids,” “doofs,” “idiots,” “dweebs,” “hotties,” “dumb-dumbs” and “losers.”
Michael, Eleanor and her cohorts are on their way to get their case heard before the afterlife “judge,” whose headquarters are neither in the Good Place or the Bad Place, but somewhere in between (along with the accounting department, the Janet warehouse and an IHOP—standing for the “Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes.” “The pancakes eat you,” Michael explains.) They need to make a detour to the Bad Place to steal some buttons (which allow safe interdimensional travel) and to jump into a portal. But once there, Michael discovers a nefarious plan afoot as Eleanor and the rest hang out at the Museum of Human Misery.
Everyone rubs elbows with various demons, describing an array of ways in which they’ve tortured their eternal subjects. They’ll need to pass themselves off as demons to do so, though: Tahani disguises herself as a hot-dog stuffer—one who (we’re told) either turns people into hot dogs or stuffs hot dogs into people. (When Tahani clarifies whether the hot dogs are stuffed down vegans’ throats, Michael seems non-committal.) Chidi, meanwhile, is uncomfortable with lying. “Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them!” he says. Eleanor tries to convince him to become, just for a bit, a moral particularist—where morals vary depending on the situation—and it seems to work.
We hear that demons’ toilets have mirrors on them. There’s lots of talk about strippers and MMA ring girls. People (demons) punch each other in the testicles as a joke. People drink at a cocktail party, and a waiter says that eventually everyone will be drunk and “poke each other with hot sticks.” We see martinis and cigarettes, and hear a reference to both Vicodin and a beer keg. We overhear what appears to be a sexual interlude. There are references to disembowelments, fake IDs and genital deformities. A Molotov cocktail (using a whiskey bottle) is thrown. An announcer at a Bad Place train station intones, “You all suck, and you’re ugly.” Other insults are hurled, too. Characters say “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.”
After dying, Eleanor finds herself in the Good Place because she was, she’s told, such a good person. Alas, she knows she wasn’t, and her lack of virtue begins to create surreal breaches in the afterlife (including gigantic shrimp galloping across the cosmos and the occasional free-roaming giraffe).
We learn that Eleanor died while buying Lonely Girl Margarita Mix for One; she was hit by a truck delivering erectile dysfunction pills. When Eleanor asks Janet, the afterlife’s all-knowing informational outlet, whether an old crush of hers was gay, Janet tells her that he wasn’t: He just didn’t want to have sex with her.
We hear that most religions were mostly wrong about heaven and hell. Only one guy, high on mushrooms, supposedly got close to the truth. (His picture is framed in the office of Good Place designer, Michael.) There’s mention of karma, and we hear screaming from the “other” place where most people go after death. A Buddhist monk has made it in, and his perpetual vow of silence keeps him quiet. Another person gets in for fighting for gay rights in Somalia.
Eleanor steals huge jumbo shrimp from a party, stuffing her bra full of them. (She explains that heaven surely has plenty of shellfish to spare.) She drinks 30 glasses of wine (we only see her quaff a couple) and is thrilled to wake up without a hangover. She refers to flatulence in a flashback. Eleanor says “fork,” the Good Place version of the f-word, a half-dozen times, and “shirt,” the s-word stand-in, once. We also hear the uncensored profanities “b–ch” and “a–.”
In the Season 3 premiere, former demon Michael and his robot assistant Janet try to help Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason be good people on earth, which starts with getting them all to the same place: Australia. Head demon, Shawn, attempts to thwart Michael’s good intentions and drag the gang back to The Bad Place.
Michael prevents Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason from dying on earth, saving them from being crushed and suffocated. Each character learns more about themselves, and they realize they’ve been given a second chance. But some begin to use that chance to seek personal gain, attention, solitude, answers and money. A woman meditates at a Buddhist monastery. A creature-like, blazing demon enters a room to take orders from another demon. Numerous conversations include topics like happiness, enlightenment, philosophy and the meaning of life.
Other conversations reference theft, explosions, violence, world hunger, genocide, breaking and entering, murder and death. A young man is arrested and admits to robbery. A demon talks about torturing people and a woman gives a graphic description of brain surgery. A man is seriously injured after a fall and discusses his injuries and loss of bladder control. An LGBTQ poster hangs on a wall. Couples kiss. We hear two references to sex. Other jokes are made about “sexy librarians” and STDs. A man talks about a product that can help erectile dysfunction. There are various references to drug use, including marijuana, Vicodin and vaping, and we hear a reference to drug lords. A woman makes a comment about racism. God’s name is misused once and other profanities include multiple uses of the words “d–n,” “a–” and “d–mit.” A reporter mentions that the world is “effed up.” Others say “sucks,” “MILF” and “biddies.” A woman shouts “eat my farts” and “nuts.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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