The Good Place Was the Perfect Antidote to the Trump Era
Mike Schur's metaphysical masterpiece saw us through the Bad Place.
After four seasons, NBC’s The Good Place ended its run last week with a super-sized finale. And while the show ended as creator Mike Schur had planned, comedy fans are nevertheless sad to see one of the most original and heartfelt sitcoms of the decade wrap up. Like life, the series was sweet, moving, and all too short. If you didn’t cry during that finale, you might be a fire squid.
But what really struck me about the series was its impeccable sense of timing. The Good Place premiered on September 19, 2016, weeks away from the presidential election. It went on hiatus only 6 days before election day, returning in early 2017 to round out the back half of the season. And the world had changed upon its return.
The election of Donald Trump was easily one of the most shocking and horrifying political events in our country’s history. Had Democrats lost to a “typical” Republican, we would have still been sad and dispirited. After all, we’ve lost to Republicans plenty of times over the years, and they to us. It’s politics as usual. But to see the reins of the country handed over to someone so brazenly unqualified, so nakedly cruel and ignorant and mean-spirited, so boldly corrupt, was a trauma many of us still haven’t recovered from.
The days and weeks after the election were spent in a daze of depression, anxiety, and gut-wrenching hopelessness. Trump’s win pulled the plug on whatever optimism and idealism was still keeping our collective hearts beating. We thought we were better than this (though plenty of us knew we weren’t). In the midst of this existential crisis, The Good Place returned.
On January 19th, just one day before Trump’s inauguration, the season one finale “Michael’s Gambit” aired. The episode featured Eleanor (Kristen Bell) realizing the truth about the afterlife, namely, that they were all in the Bad Place. It was a shocking twist that rewrote everything we knew about the series. I vividly remember screaming at my television when Michael (Ted Danson) grinned and let out an evil laugh.
The revelation that everyone was in the Bad Place was the perfect encapsulation of how so many of us felt ever since the election. An upending of our world that changed the way we saw ourselves and each other. A reckoning for our ignorance and cruelty and cavalier behavior. We were all now living in the Bad Place.
On inauguration day, social media was flooded with GIFs of Kristen Bell saying “THIS is the Bad Place!”. That GIF tapped into a shared sentiment, a sort of gallows humor as Trump took office, our collective dread distilled into the perfect bite-sized chunk of pop culture vocabulary.
Ever since, the GIF has remained painfully relevant. Environmental protections rolled back? This is the Bad Place. Trump provokes nuclear war with a tweet? This is the Bad Place. With every abuse, we were reminded of where we were.
But then, something happened. The Good Place rebooted itself and its world expanded. The show was no longer about a couple of dirtbags trying to grift their way into Heaven. It became about the redemptive power of a supportive community. As the Soul Squad set about reforming eternal judgment, they gave us a powerful template of ordinary people making their way through Hell by supporting and loving one another.
At a time when our country has never been more divided, The Good Place gave us an effortlessly diverse and soulful tale of four humans, a demon, and a Janet struggling to be better to themselves and to each other. And as the series progressed, that singular struggle was expanded to create a more understanding and nuanced approach to the afterlife, all based on the theory that if humanity gets enough tries at it, they can improve themselves. What a lovely thought.
Losing The Good Place was hard enough. Let’s hope we can make it through the 2020 elections a little bit better, kinder, and less Bad Place-y. Until then? Take it sleazy, friends.
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