“The Good Place” Is an Existential Comedy

*small warning* like super low key spoilers if you haven’t finished season 1

In recent years, network comedy shows and sci-fi dramas have emerged as part of an existentialist sub-genre. Black Mirror and The Good Place alike explore the human condition in their own alternate-universes. These and other shows, such as Lost and Forever, have an existentialist nature that breed characters who question the true meaning of life. In one way, Black Mirror takes a more dramatic approach that has twisted story lines, while Kristen Bell and Ted Danson in The Good Place offer up a way to laugh at the idea that maybe life is meaningless (i.e Chidi making candy chili during a mental breakdown). The supernatural elements combined with a strong comedic tone make it more comfortable to confront the deep, philosophical themes similar to what we see in The Stranger.

In the opening scenes of the show Eleanor Shellstrop finds herself in what appears to be heaven, prompting herself to ask a lot of broad questions. She is quickly introduced to her “soulmate,” Chidi, an ethics professor. The questions Eleanor asks in the beginning like “Where am I? Who are you? And what’s going on?” are questions that really explore the meaning of life.  The show continues to raise deep, existential questions as Chidi tries to answer “what do we owe each other?”

The ethics lessons that Chidi gives Eleanor also serve as lessons for the viewers. He talks about John Locke, popular philosophy books, and infamous moral dilemmas that all debate what constitutes a morally good human. The whole idea of the “good place” is also a contradiction. We see Chidi, someone who should’ve been the paragon of a morally flawless person, torture the people around him. We also see the seemingly perfect Tahani turn out to be selfishly motivated. Eleanor is supposed to be the morally worst character, but is actually clever and kind. Yet, they all end up in the same place (you know what I mean if you are past season 1). In recent seasons, The Good Place makes us question if what we do on earth really matters. 

2 thoughts on ““The Good Place” Is an Existential Comedy

  1. madelstein07

    Hi Julia. First of all, I think that the way you wrote this post was great, easy to read, and very interesting. I have seen a few episodes of “The Good Place”, and I completely agree with everything you stated. There have been many instances when I have been watching the show, where a sense of discomfort and uneasiness overcomes me. I never really understood why I felt this way, but your explanation on how it connects to existentialism completely fills in the blanks. We as humans are very uncomfortable with the idea of death, and seeing it joked about and made into a comedy is uncomfortable, but totally brilliant for and existentialist. Overall, I think that your post is great, and very thought provoking.

    Like

  2. Connor D

    The Good Place as a show is intended to teach philosophy, so I’m certain that its existentialist nature is entirely on purpose. Indeed, the twist at the end of the first season is a clear reference to a play by existentialist philosopher Sartre, called No Exit.
    However, I also feel certain that the show is not supposed to be exclusively about existentialism. The show references other philosophers and types of philosophy. The Good Place references metaphysics, utilitarianism, etc. The Good Place is rich in its philosophy references and it’s worth checking out a list of all the different books and philosophers mentioned to see the full scope.

    Like

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