Why The Good Place was the most important show of the 2010s

The world as we know today feels like it’s getting a little worse with every passing moment. In 2016, Donald Trump – a man who called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and was involved in a series of sexual misconduct allegations – was elected President of the United States of America. Even in my home country of the United Kingdom, there became a huge divide following the referendum held to leave the European Union, which resulted in heaps of public xenophobia and racism. It was (and still is) a troubling, uncertain time for anyone fighting for better equality for women, people of colour, and LGBT+ groups.

At the same time, NBC began airing The Good Place. It was a sitcom that brought a root of escapism from the difficulties of the real world. It starred Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, a mean-spirited woman who dies and is sent to ‘The Good Place’, a corner of the afterlife reserved only for people who have been overwhelmingly moral in their lives on Earth. Realising there’s been a big mistake and she doesn’t belong there, she enlists the help of her friend Chidi to teach her how to be a decent person and earn her right to stay.

It was a hit with critics, with Vulture saying it “inspires a view of human nature where even the most selfish people can be compelled by an appeal to their honesty, compassion, humility, and commitment to help others”, while The Guardian called it “relentlessly optimistic”. Because of its do-well message, charming cast, and inclusion of real-world ethical philosophies and dilemmas, The Good Place would have fared well in any era of television, and yet it feels so much more important that it aired when it did.

In a time where it incessantly feels like the bad guys are winning – when real threats such as climate change or global pandemics are ignored by those in power – here was a show that promoted the value that humans can always become better versions of themselves.

Creator Michael Schur spoke to BuzzFeed News on the show’s message, saying how Eleanor’s character was selfish in the sense that she shut herself off from other people, therefore she doesn’t owe them anything and they don’t owe her anything. “But the show has sort of said, ‘No, that's not everybody winning. That's everybody losing because you're losing out on an important aspect of being alive on Earth, and you’re losing out on what you could contribute to a group of people”

“To me, so many fundamental problems is that people who are in the middle of a society are only thinking about, ‘How can I win? How can I be better? How can I defeat other people or rise above them? And they have a fundamental belief that what life on Earth is about is competition and if someone else is winning, that means they lose.”

The Good Place used this message by asking its core characters what they owe each other. The desire to become better people came in their friendship and were ultimately capable of improvement through the strengthening of these relationships. Ultimately, Schur hopes for viewers of the show will use that philosophy to become better people in their own lives.

We’re in the 2020s now. We’re looking back on a decade that’ll be seen as a time when fascism became trendy and the class divide drastically expanded. But through those clouds came a show that was persistent in its positivity. It was optimistic about human nature, that all people can consider kindness if they work on it together. After watching all four seasons of The Good Place, I can’t help but feel a little more hopeful about the future of humanity.

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