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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

It's Easy to Be a Saint in Paradise: Thoughts on The Good Place's Third Season

The Good Place is the best show on television. I don't even see how there could be a debate at this stage. No other show combines such lofty ambitions with such graceful execution, such weighty themes with such a total lack of self-seriousness. It succeeds on every one of the many levels it operates on—as an uproariously funny comedy, as a touching relationship drama, as a thought-provoking philosophical treatise on goodness and self-improvement, and as a gonzo feat of fantastic worldbuilding.

It's also a show that—with its typical earnestness—pokes holes in all the hallowed truisms about what a prestigious, "serious" TV show is supposed to look like. Game of Thrones has got everyone convinced that character death is the only way to achieve meaningful drama? On The Good Place, everyone is already dead, and the only serious threat to the characters' wellbeing—that of being tortured for eternity—is so over the top and inconsistent with the show's comedic tone that it could clearly never happen. And yet the show frequently packs a heftier punch than any dozen other more serious dramas. It aired on January 24th, and yet I doubt that TV in 2019 will deliver a more harrowing, quietly devastating moment than Chidi and Eleanor's farewell at the end of the third season. And in a landscape still so Lost-struck that it views out-of-nowhere twists as the highest form of serialized writing, The Good Place repeatedly reminds us how hard that sort of thing is to do well. Every one of the show's revelations—and the third season delivers not one but two whoppers—has been seeded well in advance, not as part of a mystery to be solved, but as a component of a system to be worked out. That feeling of "yes! I knew it!" you get when the show reveals that, for example, no one has gotten into the real good place in five hundred years, is more satisfying than a dozen island hatches.

All of which is to say that it can be a bit intimidating to express criticism or skepticism about The Good Place's worldbuilding, because odds are that your reaction is the point, all the way back to "wait, the afterlife in this show doesn't make any sense" in the first season. Nevertheless, I find myself troubled by some of the conclusions the show reaches in its third season and where it proceeds from them. Maybe the fourth season will demonstrate that my reaction was the one the writers were hoping for, or maybe we've bumped up against the limitations of the show's core assumptions. Time will tell.

The third season of The Good Place continues the show's penchant for constant reinvention. In its first few episodes, the damned human protagonist are given a second chance on Earth to demonstrate that they are capable of becoming better people, and eventually—with the help of reformed demon Michael and all-knowing being Janet—reunite and form a support group for their efforts at self-improvement. This already-tenuous status quo is quickly overturned when Michael and Janet accidentally reveal themselves and are forced to spill the beans, thus re-damning the group—now that they know about the point system that determines who gets into the good and bad places, they can no longer gain points because any good action they take will be in expectation of moral desserts. (It's indicative of the sheer conceptual tonnage of this show that an idea this fraught and open to debate—why is it bad to do good things in the expectation of a reward?—is just left on the table as an assumption we all need to accept, in order to deal with even weightier concepts.)

From here, the show quickly launches itself back into its familiar combination of cosmic and philosophical. In the midst of their efforts to help other people turn their lives around, the gang discovers that no one, no matter how virtuous, selfless, and careful not to inflict harm on the world, has gotten into the good place in centuries. Which leads to a sort of revolt against heaven, and finally the conclusion that what's at fault is capitalism itself—that in the system of exploitation, inequality, and endless supply chains in which we all live, even selfless, generous acts become objectively harmful behavior.

It must be acknowledged that this is all carried off with a verve and degree of skill that are simply exhilarating to behold. The early episodes of the season, in which the gang return to earth, are not my favorite use of the show's premise, but nevertheless they offer many pleasures: Tahani's romance with Larry, the least-successful Hemsworth brother (Ben Lawson); Janet's frustration at no longer possessing her powers of omniscience and omnipotence ("humans only live eighty years, and they spend so much of it just waiting for things to be over!"); perhaps most importantly, the introduction of Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Chidi's colleague, foil, and eventual love interest. And the string of episodes after the gang learns the truth about the point system contains some of the show's absolute highlights, from Eleanor's anguish and fury when she realizes that her neglectful mother was capable of change, but not for her, to Chidi's collapse into nihilism in the face of learning the full extent of the universe's absurdity.

In rewatching the season before writing this essay, I was struck by Michael's character arc, and the way it mirrors both Eleanor's growth earlier in the show, and the core principles espoused by Chidi's touchstone text, T.M. Scanlon's What We Owe to Each Other. Michael starts out obsessed with saving the gang. "These four humans are all I care about in the universe", he tells his former boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), and later, when trying to justify his repeated interference in the humans' lives, he desperately exclaims to Janet that "this is all we have!" But when he realizes that the point system is fundamentally broken, something shifts for Michael. By the end of the season, he's angrily exclaiming at the committee that oversees the good place over their slowness to act in the face of his news: "Just so you know, the whole time you're doing this, the bad guys are continuing to torture everyone who ends up in the bad place. Which is everyone!" Ethics, in the show's world (and maybe also in ours), begin with the personal and expand to the universal. Eleanor's first truly selfless act came when she realized that keeping her secret in the first season was hurting Chidi. By the third season, she's the one arguing for the gang to ignore their immutable damnation and work to help others avoid the same fate.

Focusing so much on the personal makes sense for a television series, which after all tend to be rooted in their characters. But it doesn't sit entirely well with what the season eventually reveals about The Good Place's cosmology. A lot of people were excited by the show's confirmation that there is no ethical consumption (or rather, no ethical action) under capitalism. But am I the only person who was bothered by where the series chose to go from there?

It makes sense for Michael, while he still believes that the point system is being tampered with by the bad place, to argue that it needs to be reviewed and reformed. But after he realizes that it's not the point system, but the world that is broken, it's rather unclear what his proposed remedy is. Like so many others, I don't know what the correct response is to the realization that capitalism forces us to participate in the exploitation and immiseration of others. But I'm pretty sure that changing the definition of "good" so that it excludes these unintended but still very real negative consequences is not it. Yes, Michael's approach has a solid justification in that all humans who ever lived are being subjected to eternal torture, but surely the solution to that is to stop torturing, full stop, instead of trying to redefine the types of people who "deserve" to be tortured? At the very least, we've reached a point where the show's worldbuiding, with its focus on the afterlife, ceases to be useful as any sort of philosophical or ethical thought experiment.

Even the solution proposed by Michael and the gang—try to recreate the anomalous results of the first season by creating a new neighborhood, peopling it with new people who have failed to get into the good place, and demonstrating that they too can become better—raises some uncomfortable questions. "[Michael's] neighborhood gave us the chance to become better people because it removed all the variables that make life on Earth hard" Chidi explains, and Eleanor adds "there was no rent to pay, no racism, no sexism".

But, well, that's the point. Ethics doesn't—or rather, shouldn't—exist in a frictionless sphere. There's no point to learning how to be good in a world that doesn't exist. And conversely, what is the point of becoming a better person when you no longer have the ability to affect the world on any level but the most personal? How can you go from realizing that the world is broken to concluding that the best possible response is to remove people from it and put them in an artificial reality where that brokenness can no longer affect them?

Take, for example, Simone, who arrives at the new neighborhood at the end of the season, as part of Shawn's plot to undermine the experiment by making Chidi too nervous to interact with her and "help" her towards becoming a good person. But the thing is, Simone already was a good person. Everything we see of her in the season's early episodes shows her to be decent, kind, level-headed, and good-humored. Unless there are deep dark secrets buried in her past, the only reason a person like her wouldn't get into the good place is the fact that, like the rest of us, she participated in capitalism and indirectly caused the suffering of others. Which means that simply by existing in the new neighborhood, which is disconnected from the capitalist system and where there is no exploitation, Simone will start accumulating points on her own. This tells us nothing about ethics, or trying to be good in general.

Once you realize how limited the characters' approach is, you start to realize why the earlier parts of the season, back on earth, felt so awkward (and maybe that's an indication that you're meant to have this reaction, which the fourth season will build on, just as previous seasons have built on previous dissatisfied reactions to their worldbuilding). It was one thing for our heroes to live a post-scarcity, obligation-free afterlife in the first season. But the third season recreates that scenario in the allegedly real world, positing that four people with absolutely no reason to know or spend time with one another would drop everything to form a bizarre support group that takes up all of their time. Even if you account for Michael's interference in the humans' lives to make this happen (which continues when the pressures of real life threaten to tear the group apart, as when Eleanor's funds start running low), it's clear that this isn't a plausible set of actions.

More importantly, it isn't a particularly believable path towards enlightenment, not when every possible obstacle in the characters' path is swept (or, as Michael has it, snowplowed) aside before they can even notice it. It's easy—or at least, easier—to dedicate yourself to self-improvement when you have no financial constraints, no dependents, no immigration police chasing after you, no real contact with your old life and its complications. To its credit, the show acknowledges this. But its solution isn't to fix the world so that more people will have the wherewithal to work on themselves. It's that these specific people get to opt out of every difficulty inherent in living a good life except the ones rooted in their own personal hang-ups.

Again, the show has a justification for all these convolutions of plot, because it is trying to prevent a specific outcome: the four humans being tortured for all eternity. But I'm not sure you can introduce a concept as weighty as the fact that all of us are complicit in suffering and enslavement into your story, and continue to expect your audience to maintain its laser-like focus on four more-or-less privileged characters. Especially when you consider that "we're all complicit" is a rather glib pronouncement, one that ignores the profound inequalities imposed by capitalism. It's all very well and good for Jason to explain that his friend, who was burdened by family obligations, had no time to wonder whether the vegetables he bought in the supermarket were farmed by exploited workers, but what about those workers themselves? Are they doomed to the same torment as the people who thoughtlessly perpetuate their suffering?

There comes a point where focusing on your own self-improvement in the midst of a broken world becomes, in itself, an unethical act. Especially if that self-improvement is achieved by retreating from the world—as people who are lauded by the show as ethical do even before the idea of a new neighborhood is broached; Tahani goes to live in a remote monastery, and Doug Forcett (Michael McKean), the blueprint for ethical living, has gone so completely off the grid that he only drinks his own filtered waste. Once more, it is entirely possible that I was meant to have this reaction, and that in its fourth season, The Good Place will once again overturn everything we thought we had understood about its cosmology in a brilliant and completely satisfying way. But there has always been an uncomfortably neoliberal undertone to this show, down to the way that it boils ethics down to consumer choices, and I can't help but fear that it will end as it started, prioritizing the personal above all else. At this stage in the story, I'm not sure that would be the right thing to do.

20 comments:

Artur Nowrot said...

You raise very valid concerns and I’m definitely curious to see where the show goes from here.

Somewhere between the final two episodes, I joked that having pinpointed capitalism as the root of the problem, “The Good Place” will now start advocating for fully-automated luxury communism. And I feel like that’s partly a case, because that’s what the afterlive in the Good Place essentially is. And it makes sense to me as a polemic with certain defenders of capitalism who maintain that any attempt at a fairer society is doomed to fail because human nature. And if that’s the argument the show is going to make, I can see some value in that (even if I have some issues with FALC itself), though I would definitely love to then see the characters striving to bring everyone into that world and also, as you say, abolishing the Bad Place(s) entirely.

Little One said...

This raised a dissatisfaction that was itching at the back of my mind: There ARE people now and there have been people over the last 500 years who are disconnected entirely from the corruption of capitalism. Whether or not there is a real "Jianyu" -- there are people like him. My real light at the end of the tunnel after this season is that there is one more big rug to get pulled out from under us and Team Cockroach, otherwise, there are just too many holes in the cosmology...

Andrew Stevens said...

It fascinates me that people think it matters what The Good Place's ethical points system is (whether, e.g., it really does say "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism"). It is crystal clear in the show that the points system is being devised, largely on the fly, by a species of utter and complete screw-ups - fatuous, ineffectual, and not moral exemplars of anything. In no sense can The Good Place's ethical system possibly even be interpreted as a true measure of objective morality. Divine Command Theory is false even if an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God existed. It is certainly false when "God" are the clowns running The Good Place.

Absolutely love the show.

Andrew Stevens said...

Hell, none of the members of this race of angels and demons could possibly qualify for The Good Place under their own system, never mind a system which might genuinely measure (or at least approximate) the moral worth of a person's life. They're not just foolish, but obviously evil as well.

AOW said...

I love the show as well, and I am not a person who generally enjoys speculating about the next possible arcs of things. But I did have a bolt from the blue the other day that I think suggests I was having similar problems with the latest twists. But what if (here's the bolt) there really is no bad place or good place, and all the afterlife is designed to get people together who work to improve their moral code and standing? Some of them maybe need the shove of the threat of eternal damnation to do the work, some of them perhaps just need something fulfilling to do with their afterlife.

Unknown said...

Are people _inherently_ good? The characters think so, but I believe the show wants to honestly explore the question. I see The Experiment as the ethical equivalent of Newtonian mechanics. You have to isolate an object from outside forces to get at fundamental behavior. Once you know that, _then_ you can calculate and compensate for all the frictions of the "Real World". Parts of the show seem to say "Capitalism sends people to hell" (and I personally don't disagree), but, as a whole, the show is still at "assume the cow is spherical". And I find this fascinating.

I'm going to be very interested to see if/how they redeem Tahani's nemesis. He has been depicted as being devoid of good qualities and they'll either need to lean hard into making that an environmental consequence or decide he is just a bad person (or some third thing, obviously)...and we've got two more unknown subjects who can be usdd to probe the underlying thesis in other ways!

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Artur:

The thing is, Fully Automated Luxury Communism is pretty much the norm in any work in the fantastic genres that recognizes the problems of capitalism. Off the top of my head, I can only think of The Dispossessed as an example of a post-capitalist world that is anti-luxurious, and whose values militate against the absolute comfort of these other settings. And, of course, The Good Place has the issue that in positing an afterlife where everything can be had for the wishing, there's simply no reason not to give everyone a luxurious and perfectly happy afterlife. It's just that, as I say, once you reach that stage, the utility of the show's premise as an ethical thought experiment drops to zero.

Little One:

What I've been thinking, actually, is about the limitations of the idea that we're all complicit in capitalism. Sure, in the broad sense that's true, but there are people who live in circumstances of such profound immiseration and helplessness that you couldn't reasonably believe that they could do any meaningful harm to anyone else. A child mining coltan in the Congo who dies young, for example, wouldn't have the opportunity to do much harm, either directly or through consumption.

The show gets around this by positing that it's not enough to have a positive point balance to get into the good place, you need to cross a certain threshold. Which is something an extremely poor person wouldn't easily be able to do since so much of what earns people points in the show has to do with giving material goods, either as gifts or as charity. Which frankly raises a whole host of new questions.

Andrew Stevens:

It fascinates me that people think it matters what The Good Place's ethical points system is

I think to the extent that people do, it is for the way it embodies the show's questioning of both capitalism and pure utilitarianism. That said, most of the point determinations we've been shown have been pretty uncontroversial. It's the point system as an aggregate that is deeply questionable, though here I suspect that's a question we're meant to be asking.

AOW:

what if (here's the bolt) there really is no bad place or good place, and all the afterlife is designed to get people together who work to improve their moral code and standing?

Oh, I've been wondering this since day one. My first guess about the show was that the entire thing was a type of purgatory or bardo where both humans like Eleanor and celestial beings like Michael were being challenged to improve themselves. That could still turn out to be true.

Unknown:

I think if you're coming to a Mike Schur show, you have to take as the price of admission the assumption that most people are good or could be made so. Having said that, we're specifically told that the people chosen for the second experiment are at about the same level of badness as the original foursome. I don't, for example, see John as egregiously awful - if you think back to some of the things we saw in Eleanor's flashbacks in S1, what we've learned about him seems practically benign.

Adam Roberts said...

Excellent post. I'll admit series 3 has often disappointed me, but that's only because, like you, I consider the first two series as having established this show as the best on TV right now.

I'm assuming the twist in series 4 will be that there is no Bad Place, and that all the shifts and twists of the previous episodes will be revealed as the means by which imperfect people (everyone) is given the opportunity, stick and carrot, to become worthy of the real Good Place. So the whole thing will be revealed as a kind of Purgatory Place. But I'm rather dreading this reveal (if it ever comes) because it feels like the sort of Lost-y twist-for-twist's-sake you rightly deprecate here. Then again, perhaps that alone means that it will never come, and I should have more confidence in the Good Place writers.

Mark said...

Season 1 worked so brilliantly in part because any of the flaws in the worldbuilding were explained away by the ruse at the end. Of course the afterlife seems like a dumb system - everything we saw was about torturing the characters. The second season started by rehashing this, so it still worked. Once they started introducing more of the system, implying that all the dumb stuff is actually real, I feel like something was lost. Maybe they are working towards what Adam Roberts speculates about. Still, your critique works, as do some of the ones in the comments. Not sure how they're going to get out of this, but I'm genuinely curious to see how they get out of this hole they've dug (they've done it before, after all). However, season 3 feels like a couple of interesting points and a whole lot of wheel spinning.

I was curious, so I was trying to see what happened 500 years ago that would conceivably have lead to a decline in people making it to the good place. Capitalism/consumerism was nascent at best, and the sort of interconnected supply chain stuff used in the show's explanation is a relatively recent phenomenon. A lot of this stuff traces back to the 16th century, sure, but it was not widespread or established enough at the time to result in no one on the planet getting to the good place.

Love the show, excited to see where it goes and hopeful they'll be able to cobble something interesting together, but also trying to keep my expectations in check.

WyldCard4 said...

I'm not sure that you can really take The Good Place's revelation as "capitalism" being why there's no ethical action in the modern world? We know a fair number of facts:

The technical problem predates capitalism as we know it today, stretching back for three hundred years. Many non-capitalist systems, indeed all of them, have the exact same problem. Obviously, contributing to the USSR, Nazi Germany, Imperial Britain, and Sentinel Island all lead to the same objective endgame. One can easily say the subtext is that this is about the First World and modern capitalism, but it very clearly states that it is just as impossible to be a good person in any modern system.

Chris said...

Abigail Nussbaum:

" Yes, Michael's approach has a solid justification in that all humans who ever lived are being subjected to eternal torture, but surely the solution to that is to stop torturing, full stop, instead of trying to redefine the types of people who "deserve" to be tortured? At the very least, we've reached a point where the show's worldbuiding, with its focus on the afterlife, ceases to be useful as any sort of philosophical or ethical thought experiment."

This is part of why I've always speculated that the end of the show will involve our core group being rewarded by being put in charge of the existing Bad Places and, instead of torturing the people there, teaching the people (and demons) ethics and helping them become better. The fact that this is basically what they're doing in the experiment at the end of Season 3 lends a lot of credence to this theory, IMO.

Of course, now I see that there are people way ahead of me on this...

what if (here's the bolt) there really is no bad place or good place, and all the afterlife is designed to get people together who work to improve their moral code and standing?

The revelation that there is no real "Bad Place" would be at least as insanely show-upending as the revelation at the end of Season 1. I'm trying to think of anything that directly contradicts it--Michael would have to have been kept in the dark about it, and is there any indication that he's ever actually participated or observed any of the actual torture that the show has gleefully described? Shawn says he has, but he could be lying. I've always assumed we aren't seeing any of the crueler tortures because the show is a sitcom, but what if the show is using its genre as a misdirection, just as the sitcom tropes in Season 1 were being used to emotionally "torture" the regulars?

The only real problem I have with this theory, other than the fact that it ruins my proposed ending, is that I feel like it ends up taking away all of the stakes that the show has built so far. If there was never any Bad Place, then our characters were never in any real danger.

Joe Y said...

"The Good Place is the best show on television. I don't even see how there could be a debate at this stage. No other show combines such lofty ambitions with such graceful execution, such weighty themes with such a total lack of self-seriousness. It succeeds on every one of the many levels it operates on—as an uproariously funny comedy, as a touching relationship drama, as a thought-provoking philosophical treatise on goodness and self-improvement, and as a gonzo feat of fantastic worldbuilding."

I think there could be several debates, actually. For one thing, Bojack Horseman exists, and it outclasses it in nearly every way, as do Better Call Saul and Atlanta. It's deeper, funnier (this season anyway), and more dramatic. Secondly, I definitely don't agree it succeeds in everything it tries. The worldbuilding is full of holes (you may not care for The Expanse, but that's a show that knows how to world-build), and the relationship drama doesn't land (the recent finale hinged entirely on the Eleanor/Chidi relationship. If a show does that, the relationship has to have some serious chemistry-like Ben and Leslie from "Parks and Recreation" or Root and Shaw from "Person of Interest"). Every time they pull the memory wipe device, Eleanor/Chidi becomes a little less compelling. If I sound frustrated, it's only because most of the flaws I brought up are only present in the recent third season, not the first two, which I absolutely loved. Some of the flaws were there (I don't find Jason funny, and I probably never will, but that's subjective), but they were completely overwhelmed by the delightful package. This season fell victim to the follies of serialized tv-every episode felt like an unsatisfying piece-shuffling episode instead of a satisfying chapter in its own right. The other major problem with it was the Earth-bound storyline for the first stretch of episodes. It turns out that what made the show special was its unique, fascinating setting. It didn't work nearly as well on Earth. The finale exemplified all the issues I had with it-whereas "Michael's Gambit" and "Somewhere Else" ended with satisfying resets that felt earned, "Pandemonium" ends with what feels like a cheat. A supposed-to-be-heartbreaking moment that doesn't really land because the show hasn't done the sufficient groundwork to make the audience care about the relationship.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Can I just point out how weird it is that suddenly everyone is obsessed with whether or not Chidi and Eleanor have chemistry? I kind of agree that they don't sizzle, though to me that doesn't undercut their romance. But it's very odd how this seems to bother so many people, when I can't for the life of me think of the last TV couple of which this complaint was made, even though there are obviously many examples of couples that don't have much heat (just off the top of my head: I thought Fitz and Simmons on Agents of SHIELD had all the chemistry of tap water, but the fandom was simply gaga for them regardless).

I have to say, I'm coming around to the notion that this has something to do with the relationship being between a black man and a white woman, or maybe just the expectation that black men who are depicted as romantic leads be super-sexual and smoldering. I just don't see any other way to explain the sudden obsession with something that happens quite often and usually doesn't seem to bother people.

Unknown said...

I take the concern about Chidi and Eleanor's chemistry to be an example of people needing to complain about something. The show is beloved by fandom and while this season wasn't the strongest and there are holes in the world building I think most fans are champing at the bit to see what comes next and have all the faith in the world that the showrunners will pull it off (I've not seen a show in a while/maybe ever with so much good will built up). But in order to be a person on the internet you have to complain about something and... this has taken off?

I'm worried that you're right about the non-smoldering black heterosexual man angle, but the show also hasn't invested much screen time in doing the traditional cutesy romance moments that I feel like we expect out of our TV romances recently. There was definitely will they/won't they moments in S1, but since there's not been much. That time gets instead used for plot. They don't have the same wealth of scenes that Ben and Leslie got to be all cute with each other and sell the audience on their romance.

And Kristen Bell did her best to sell romantic chemistry with someone as wooden as Duncan Kane, so you can't tell me she's incapable of it.

Andrew Stevens said...

That said, most of the point determinations we've been shown have been pretty uncontroversial. It's the point system as an aggregate that is deeply questionable, though here I suspect that's a question we're meant to be asking.

Depends on how seriously you take jokes like "and more points off because it's French" and such. For that matter, the whole system seems to have difficulty making the moral-conventional distinction. Most of the "bad behavior" illustrated isn't even bad; it's at worst rude and at best merely against the conventions of elite tastemakers. (It wasn't too many episodes in before I realized the writer must have grown up fairly wealthy. Curiously, he grew up at about the same time and only about 12 miles from where I did. But, boy, is that a significant 12 miles.)

The system itself is wrong-headed, not just in aggregate. The system is designed to remove points for unintended bad consequences, but also very specifically designed to give no credit at all for unintended good consequences (e.g. capitalism undoubtedly has increased pollution and inequality, but it has also lifted billions of people out of absolute poverty, even though this comes about through nobody's intent).

The show has done an excellent job of skewering consequentialist morality and your blog post here has done an excellent job of exposing virtue ethics. So there's only one system left - deontological ethics (though not Kantianism since a correct deontological ethics is necessarily pluralist). My recommendation to the show writers would be to acquaint themselves with the unjustly neglected work of Sir David Ross. It contains no algorithm to solve morality, but it does have the advantage of being true.

Joe Y said...

"Can I just point out how weird it is that suddenly everyone is obsessed with whether or not Chidi and Eleanor have chemistry? I kind of agree that they don't sizzle, though to me that doesn't undercut their romance. But it's very odd how this seems to bother so many people, when I can't for the life of me think of the last TV couple of which this complaint was made, even though there are obviously many examples of couples that don't have much heat (just off the top of my head: I thought Fitz and Simmons on Agents of SHIELD had all the chemistry of tap water, but the fandom was simply gaga for them regardless)."

I have not seen Agents of Shield (though I am interested in it-Season 4 is supposed to be really, really good), so I cannot comment on that. Most tv couples don't have much heat-you're not wrong about that. It's a huge problem in this case because the finale was almost entirely dedicated to it. They even had a montage, which is a pretty lazy storytelling device. If those other tv shows also hinge on unengaging romances, then they deserve equal criticism, and your theory about the sociological implications may be correct. For me though, the Eleanor/Chidi romance falling flat was only a big problem with the finale. The biggest problems of the season were the structure and joke quality. The jokes were simply less funny (I realize this is subjective and you may disagree) and the earth storyline didn't work at all.

Therem said...

I LOVE THE GOOD PLACE. Just getting that out of the way...

My most basic response to your original post, Abigail, is that I thought the whole purgatory experiment at Mindy St. John's medium place was meant to convince Judge Gen that the results with Team Cockroach were replicable. Nothing more, nothing less. She wants it to happen, so they do it. They need to get past her as the cosmic gatekeeper before they can effect any further change. Who knows what will happen after that? Certainly not us... and maybe not the writers, either! (At least at this point.)

Re: Chidi and Eleanor and their chemistry. Do they smoke up a room with sexual chemistry? No. But is that what is needed to convince an audience that two people belong together? God, I hope not! Personally, I love the way their different strengths and weaknesses have been shown to be balanced by the other over the course of the three seasons. And the obvious affection that the actors have for each other is really appealing to me. I found the montage scene in the finale to be one of the sweetest, loveliest things I've ever seen on television. And I've watched quite a bit of TV.

Therem said...

Oops, I meant Mindy St. Claire. Sorry, Mindy! If I had any cocaine, I'd give it to you.

Joe Y said...

I agree they have an interesting dynamic Therem, I'm just not invested in them as a couple. And montages in general get on my nerves, even if they're well done. The show shouldn't need to tell us so directly why their separation is sad-I would've liked it more if they conveyed it in a subtler manner. In terms of Good Place moments, I felt that the end of "Best Self" was far more affecting. While I was pretty disappointed with the third season as a whole, I still have hope that Michael Schur can turn things around. He hasn't put much of a foot wrong in most of his shows.

Andrew Stevens said...

Mindy St. Claire is the most obvious plot hole after the end of first season reveal. If nobody has made it to the Good Place in hundreds of years, she certainly can't be the only person who almost qualified. Maybe they're going to explain her eventually, but right now she's a clear goof.

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