‘The Good Place’ Imagines an Eternity of Ethics Lessons

The NBC comedy serves up an unusual take on the afterlife with a side of fro-yo, hold the religion.

[written for Christianity Today, you can start the article here and read the rest on their homepage.]

From time to time, popular culture weighs in with advice about the afterlife. “You can’t take it with you,” admonishes the Pulitzer Prize–winning play by the same title. A popular ’50s polka warns that “in heaven there is no beer.” According to NBC’s The Good Place there is, however, a copious amount of frozen yogurt.

The Good Place, now hitting its mid-season stride, is the latest TV comedy from writer/producer Michael Shur—also creator of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and a writer on The Office. Shur’s wit and his penchant for strongly drawn characters feel familiar. The new series makes a strong break from his run of workplace comedies, however, by setting its storyline in heaven.

Or a version of heaven. Simply called “The Good Place,” it’s an afterlife that exists without a relationship to any of the world’s religions, all of which failed to rightly imagine how to enter the hereafter. Instead a complex logarithm narrows down those granted eternity in The Good Place, admitting only the most elite among do-gooders, activists, and philanthropists. While the series forgoes the concepts of sin and religion per se, it regularly relies on ethical lessons in the hereafter.

This potentially weighty narrative tactic is lightened by the whimsical aesthetic and quirky details of life in The Good Place. The architect behind this particular neighborhood of the afterlife is a supernatural being named Michael (Ted Danson, his impeccable comic timing in force). Obsessively detailed and fascinated by human culture, Michael has worked painstakingly to optimize his corner of the afterlife for his charges’ happiness.

Upon arrival, every one is granted a mansion of their dreams and introduced to their true soul mate. Residents pass their days acquiring skills like learning how to fly or being treated to a perfect re-creation of their favorite earthly meal ever. They also enjoy unlimited frozen yogurt in hundreds of unlikely flavors.

                                   NBC Universal

Nonetheless, something is amiss in this corner of eternal happily ever after. That something is a someone named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell, more charming as the episodes stack up), who was, among other things, a snake-oil marketer, litterbug, and generally unreliable friend back on Earth.

Admitted to heaven in an unexplained mix-up, Eleanor finds that Michael has her name right, but all the other details of her biography wrong. Now Eleanor must deceive her way through this do-gooders afterlife, trying to keep up a charade of saintliness to avoid being found out and sent to The Bad Place.

Continue reading here

 

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Westworld Needs Christian Fans

Christians Have Good Reasons Not to Watch Westworld. Maybe Some of Them Really Should Anyway.

Early this month HBO launched its newest Sunday night drama. Glittering with big screen stars on horizons as vast as any classic Western, Westworld delivers the sort of small screen spectacle only the most generous pay-cable budgets can provide.

As immediately obvious as the size of its budget, however, are the size of Westworld’s ethical questions about the relationship between humanity and technology. Debuting just a few weeks before Playstation4’s new virtual reality head-set, the series asks how later generations of virtual reality technology will force us to recalibrate our ethics. How will creations a few iterations beyond today’s digital entertainments, bioengineering feats, and artificial intelligence confound our moral compasses? Continue reading Westworld Needs Christian Fans

Starcrossed and Some Thoughts on Teen TV and our Craving for Destiny

I recently binge-viewed CW’s single-season science fiction effort Starcrossed.  These are the sorts of confessions grown people without blogs don’t feel obliged to make, but here we are.

What is–or was–Starcrossed?  If you guessed, Romeo and Juliet with aliens, then yes.  If you were thinking more along the lines of yet another vehicle wherein the CW recycles too-good-looking actors from a handful of other teen drama series, then you’ve also won the bonus round.

(If you saw the show and remember it most as “that time girl-next-door Aimee Teegarden, formerly of Friday Night Lights fame, whittled herself down to cheekbones and an impossible figure to look eerily like Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev,” then you and I are kindred souls drawn to the same distractions–though ones I won’t further discuss here.)

The series met its promise of love-torn-teens-from-different-worlds quite admirably if also rather literally, along the way also making good on science fiction’s promise to project our society into a novel situation so that viewers can more easily spot our usual cultural attitudes and contemplate how well they really serve us for adapting to possible futures. The program’s unusual maneuver on this sci-fi element was that it quite explicitly pondered our humanity rather than our relationship to technology.   Continue reading Starcrossed and Some Thoughts on Teen TV and our Craving for Destiny