Mainstream Morality

While sitting in my Ethics class, performing conceptual gymnastics over the ideology of John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle, something truly surprising happened. My professor made a reference to one of my favorite shows on network television, NBC’s “The Good Place.” My ears perked up with excitement, having heard my “low-brow” comedy indulgence celebrated. “The Good Place” follows a gang of beautifully diverse, and recently deceased humans as they navigate the afterlife, forging friendships, building romantic connections, and most importantly trying to become better people. Basically like Dante’s Inferno, but with far less Europeans and much more frozen yogurt. 

Having garnered the attention of many, I realized that despite its being a mainstream sitcom, “The Good Place” really isn’t low-brow at all. In 3 seasons of punchy 22 minute episodes, creator Mike Schur, does something particularly special by fusing comedy with philosophy exploring the fundamental question: what does it mean to be a good person? And as if covertly sneaking an ethics lesson into primetime wasn’t impressive enough, “The Good Place,” doesn’t rely on the offensive comedy tropes embedded in the genre's past. The philosophy, the clever writing, and the shirking of offensive stereotypes, ensures that one can feel really good about watching “The Good Place”!

The debut of “The Good Place,” made a timely arrival on the scene - Americans are demanding more from the entertainment industry: More diversity, more character depth, and the opportunity to learn something from our entertainment. Fortunately for us audiences, filmmakers, and television producers are answering this call. Our desire for entertainment that is informative, entertaining, and aesthetically beautiful has led to a recent boom in documentary series and films. But these qualities don’t have to be reserved for documentaries and streaming platforms alone. The recent success of “The Good Place” and other shows like “Jane the Virgin,” “black-ish,” and “Master of None,” prove that the relationship between the content creators who subvert offensive, biased or outdated norms, and the audience is a two way street. 

In an interview with “The Good Place” creator Mike Shur, “ArmChair Expert” host Dax Sheppard expresses concern that nothing is safe to make fun of any more. Shur counters with the important fact that most people concerned about the limitation of comedy are not those who are marginalized in the wake of offensive humor. Shur calls it a more than justified tradeoff to ensure that “entire groups of people don’t feel marginalized and ridiculed.” 

Shur’s philosophy of “punching up” against damaging features of the comedy genre, the diverse and stereo-type negating cast, and the morality-infused plot make “The Good Place,” pure heaven.

By Hali Woods, NY Intern

Hali is a Film Research and Marketing intern at Picture Motion. She majors in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University and is passionate about the power of art and entertainment to do good and spark change in our society.