As a fan of all things Mike Schur, I approached The Good Place eagerly when I heard about it. And I liked it! Season 1 was great, and I’ve since caught up to the ‘fall finale’ of season 2. (Damn what’s with these months-long breaks network shows do in the middle of seasons–lookin’ at you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine!!!) It’s a great show! I loved the [spoiler spoiler spoiler] twist that they were in the Bad Place the whole time and how they used that to blow up the formula repeatedly in season 2. My only criticisms of the show would be that it’s not a mile-a-minute in the laughs and that it’s sometimes too silly for me. (Maybe those are related–basically, the humor doesn’t always land for me.) It’s a fun show, though, and I love how it echoes Parks and Rec in terms of how it’s a positive comedy focused more on building characters up, rather than tearing them down a la Seinfeld and its sitcom progeny. (Though that kinda gets turned on its head in season 2.)
One observation I’ll toss out: can the show be read as an allegory for modern life’s striving for riches and the lack of happiness to be found in any of it? I want to interpret it as a simplified version of the financial rat race we all subject ourselves to, willingly or not. The top little sliver of people who win all the rewards and riches–the good ones, as measured by capitalism–are treated to this incredible, ostensibly-blissful life with perfect houses and beautiful, natural spaces where every imaginable need can be met immediately. The wealthy get ‘saved’ and make it into the Good Place. The show even makes a point of saying how few make it into the Good Place. As for the rest of humanity… well, the rest are the strivers and the poor, the weak and the hungry. All those who don’t make it to the top of the food chain in capitalism. Those people–the vast majority of people–are subjected to constant bodily torture in the afterlife. I’d even note that it’d be orders of magnitude easier to make it into the Good Place if you were born rich–more resources to do good works with, less incentive to steal loaves of bread to feed your hungry family. (In season 2, Michael notes that stealing a loaf of bread is a bad thing, no matter your motivation. And extra bad if it’s a baguette, as that implies Frenchness. Obviously.) Yet, no one is happy–it turns out everywhere is the Bad Place. The fake Good Place is just a less shitty version of the Bad Place, a version where you’re tortured psychologically, rather than bodily. Think about all of the miseries wealth and power bring–think about all the movies and books and TV shows we read about the psychological horrors the wealthy experience.
To live is to suffer, after all.