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‘The Good Place’ back for more laughs and moral philosophy

“The Good Place” is back for season three to give us our next adventure in the afterlife. The latest genius of Mike Schur, known for his work on “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Brooklyn-Nine,” The Good Place explores questions about ethics and life after death, masked underneath an amusing ensemble of characters. The show follows four deceased humans—recovering immoral Eleanor (Kristen Bell), anxious moral philosopher Chidi (William Jackson Harper), insecure philanthropist Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and witless DJ Jason (Manny Jacinto)—along with demon-turned-good Michael (Ted Danson) and artificially intelligent guide Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

Before season three, the show mostly takes place in the context of the afterlife. For the majority of season one, we are led to believe the humans are in The Good Place (a non-denominational concept of heaven), only to find out later that they are actually in The Bad Place. Since then, the show indirectly asks viewers moral philosophy questions. What makes someone “good” or “bad?” What should motivate us to be good people? Can a bad person change to become good?

Season three begins on Earth in a new timeline in which Michael saves each of the humans—whose memories of all the events from the prior two seasons have been erased—from their accidental deaths in hopes that they will have a second chance to become good enough people to get into The Good Place. When this plan fails, Michael continues to intervene by showing up in their lives and subtly pushing them together, believing that the group’s clashing personalities actually guide them to be the best versions of themselves. Chidi eventually befriends neuroscientist Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and the pair begins a research study to investigate how near-death experiences affect the brain’s function in ethical decisions. Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason are eventually recruited to the study, thus getting the group back together.

The third episode of season three ends with a classic plot twist: the humans catch Michael and Janet opening a portal back to the afterlife. Finally, Michael and Janet confess who they are and explain everything that had happened to the humans since their first actual death, and that now with this knowledge, there is no chance that the humans can ever get into The Good Place.

After finding out that they went to The Bad Place, the ensemble of humans have an array of reactions. Jason and Tahani decide to anonymously donate large sums of her money to charities and strangers they meet. Similarly, Eleanor, marked by her pride in her independence and rugged individualism, finds that she has difficulty stealing a stranger’s wallet, and instead is compelled to actually return it to him. Why did she have this urge to do good? “Because,” she says, “I suck.”

The characters’ choice to attempt to do good despite knowing they will never get into The Good Place reflects the question of moral desert, the philosophical idea that you deserve something (whether good or bad) for an action you have done. It will be interesting to see how omniscient judge Gen (Maya Rudolph) responds to the knowledge that these humans chose to do the right thing despite knowing that they will not be rewarded.

“The Good Place” does a great job of providing that comforting, lighthearted feeling you get when you watch your favorite sitcom, while still causing you to think critically along the way. The characters are relatable and lovable, each with their own unique background and growth trajectory throughout the series (despite their memory having been erased several times along the way). They even have love stories we can admire, though unconventional (go Cheleanor!).

But, in reality, the show could be perceived as quite dark, especially when you really examine the plotlines—it is about four people who died, went to hell and are now on their way to eternal doom. There are definitely some intriguing or somber moments in the show that make you need to pause and stare into space for a moment (or at least that’s how I handle it).

But the show manages to maintain a light tone by adding comedy to the mix, reminding us that topics about morality and death do not have to be bleak. The absurd humor, brought alive by the show’s unconventional writing and hilarious actors, helps keep the show light, reminding us that it can be entertaining to speculate on our own morality and mortality.

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