What Moral Lessons Can We Learn from The Good Place?

The Good Place first aired on NBC in 2016 and has spent four seasons tricking us into caring about moral philosophy. The show takes its final bow at the end of this year, and as we approach the series finale, we should all take a moment to appreciate both the literal and metaphorical lessons it has taught us. Spoilers ahead!

The series begins after self-proclaimed “Arizona dirtbag” Ellenor Shellstrop’s untimely demise via rogue shopping carts. Due to a supposed mix-up, Ellenor is sent to the Good Place, the show’s version of heaven. In an attempt to earn her spot in the Good Place, Ellenor, and later Jason, Tahani, and Micheal, begin taking ethics classes from former moral philosophy professor and Ellenor’s Good-Place-assigned soulmate, Chidi. Through the many twists and turns of the show, including the reveal that the Good Place was really the Bad Place all along, the motif of ethical dilemmas and lessons in morality remain a grounding constant. Here are some of the most memorable messages.

 

One of the main lessons that this show imparts is not to judge a book by its cover. The theme of things not being what they seem to be is at the forefront of the show through Ellenor’s mistaken identity. We also see this in the character Jason Mandoza, who was sent to the Good Place after being mistaken for a Buddist monk. This message, however, goes even deeper than just false identities. Each of the main characters, even those who are originally thought to belong in the Good Place, are first presented as embodiments of two-dimensional archetypes. Jason is dumb and immature, Chidi is a high-strung academic, and Tahani is a pretentious socialite. But as the characters grow and develop, the audience gets a peek into the layers that make up each person. We eventually learn about Jason’s unending loyalty, Ellenor’s ambitions to improve herself, and Tahani’s genuine desire to help others. 

Another essential message that The Good Place sends is that people can change for the better. In what started as a desperate hail-mary to avoid the Bad Place, Ellenor begins to honestly try to improve. She struggles along the way, but that’s part of what makes her character so human and relatable. We see one of the clearest illustrations of this theme of redemption through Micheal, who is a literal demon. Micheal began the show trying to torture the humans, but through mishaps and mayhem, he learns to care for them and longs to be a better being. Like Ellenor, Micheal struggles with ethics lessons at first, but eventually grows into a caring father-figure for the group, even going as far as sacrificing himself to give the humans a chance to get to the real Good Place.

Arguably the most important idea put forth by The Good Place is an acknowledgment of how the intricacies of modern life can make morality seem almost impossible. Season three reveals that the method by which people are assigned to the Good or Bad Place is inherently flawed. Someone may gain points for one action but the ripple effect of negative global consequences can completely overshadow the directly positive ones. Or, as Chidi’s explains, it’s like drinking almond milk to cut back on dairy while unknowingly contributing to unsustainable farming practices or unfair labor. The Good Place makes the radical point that people, at their core, try to be good, but the intricacies of modern life can get in the way. According to Michael, “every day, the world gets a little more complicated, and being a good person gets a little harder” and the only solution may be to do your best and be kind to those around you.

The Good Place is a delightful sitcom with an incredible cast of characters and entertaining storylines. But, at its core, it is an important piece of media with complex messages about human beings and morality. I am sad to see it end but I am excited to see how they will conclude a show that asks such big questions.

New episodes air Thursdays at 9 p.m. on NBC and are available for streaming on Netflix and Hulu.

Photos: Cover, 1, 2, 34