The Good Place, or the Art of Choosing Happiness

I, like most of you reading, started watching The Good Place for the twist. Thankfully, I didn’t know what the twist was – I’m so sad for all of you who went into this spoiled – but I knew there was a twist, and that’s why I gave it a go. TV doesn’t really surprise me anymore, I said, so let’s see if this show can.

Spoiler alert: It did.

But increasingly, even before the twist, but especially after, with every second that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Michael and Janet spent on my TV screen, with every lesson they learned and I remember through them, with every time they made me laugh, or cry or think,  I have come to realize one fundamental truth.

I watch The Good Place, primarily, because it makes me happy, in a way few other shows can – or ever have.

Not because this show is sending a new message by any stretch of the imagination, there are countless shows telling stories about growth, and there are also a great many shows that are genuinely funny. There are even shows that are both, at the same time.

For some reason, though, this is the show that, every time I turn it on, makes me feel not just happy, but better about who I am – and who I could be.

A part of it, I supposed, could be chalked up to the show’s message of hope. Because, above all, the message of The Good Place is that you’re never too far gone to be redeemed, and no matter how stupid, vain, indecisive or just plain mean you are, there’s always a way forward for you.

You just have to choose it.

Hell, season 2 even introduced a new and interesting caveat to this, in the form of Michael, an actual demon, who finds his redemption in these four humans he was tasked with torturing, but who became his friends.

So basically the show is telling us even demons can be redeemed. Again, it’s about choice.

The choice to be a good person, not just because we’re hoping to be rewarded, but because we realize that being good is, in and of itself, its own reward.

I’m now starting to sound like Chidi, and I don’t even regret it, no. In fact, I feel a tiny bit proud.

But message aside, and message is a big part of what this show is, The Good Place often feels like drinking a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. It makes you feel all warm and content.

It also makes you laugh. Did I mention that?

Mike Schur and I don’t go ways back, though I will admit I was finally willing to give Parks and Recreation a chance after falling in love with The Good Place, which is hilarious if you consider how many people had been telling me to watch that show for so many years.

(A part of me wishes I’d seen it before, when people were actively talking about it, when I wasn’t shouting into the void. Another part of me, though, is happy I discovered it in my own time, and got to experience it the way I wanted to.)

I have a great – and very different – love for that show, one that I’m not about to  dissect here, but the more I think about it, the more there’s one commonality that jumps to my mind between Parks and Recreation and The Good Place.

They’re both, essentially, shows about good people. Or, maybe, shows about how to be good.

Parks and Recreation is about how to avoid corruption by the system. The Good Place is about finding your way back when you’ve been corrupted. But, all in all, both shows are just – despite the message, or even because of it, really, really fun.

And, perhaps more importantly, they’re fun in the ways that touch you. The ways that stick. The ones that, later on, you’ll remember as an example of what to do in a particular situation.

Comedy, yes, but smart, thoughtful, kind comedy. You know, the kind comedians were discouraged from making because it wasn’t edgy enough. The kind that wasn’t supposed to win Emmy’s or receive widespread acclaim. The kind that was just supposed to be about passing the time.

The kind we need right now.

I don’t have to be the one to tell you the world has changed in the past few years – and not exactly for the better. You know it as well as I do. And if you’re reading this, you probably realize there’s a lot of value to the incredibly revolutionary idea of kindness.

Kindness towards others. Kindness towards oneself. Just …kindness.

That’s what The Good Place is about. That, and belief. Yes, we’re living dark days and yes, some of us might stumble and fall, but there is always a way to get up. There’s always a path.

Just put on a smile, and try again. Be better. And, if you forget how to, let me tell you about this show that will make you smile as it reminds you of how to be better.

It’s called The Good Place, and yes, that is a metaphor.

The Good Place returns to NBC on Thursday, September 27th at 8/7c.

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