The Wit and Wisdom of The Good Place

If you believe that the Michael Schur-led TV show the good place was a sitcom, you would be mostly wrong. It is, in fact, a remarkable examination of life and death gift wrapped in existential comedy.  The Good Place may well be the most thought-provoking show in the almost 100 years of the medium known as television.  (editor’s note:  the first broadcast television station started in 1928, in Schenectady New York and featured the image of a Felix the Cat doll rotating on a turntable was broadcast for 2 hours every day.  It’s safe to say that The Good Place represents a marked improvement over that particular program). 

The sitcom invited viewers into a dizzying examination of “meaning-of-life-and-love” philosophy.  The teachings of Aristotle, Plato, Kierkegaard and Nietzche come alive in amusing thought-experiments featuring four very flawed humans and a charming demon.  The result was a series of wise and humorous gems that likely will age well in the coming centuries.  

Among the life lessons it offers are: 

  • It’s never too late to improve yourself
  • How important it is to be empathetic
  • Make decisions, even if they aren’t the best ones 
  • The consequences of your actions upon others
  • The never-ending pursuit of happiness
  • You create life’s meaning

The series started with a brilliantly foretelling sign that reads:  “Welcome.  Everything is Fine”, a phrase that viably competes the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”.   If anyone answers an inquiry with the word “fine”, then you know it’s not fine at all.  Crisis lurks beneath.  Hilarity ensues. Here’s a selection of some of the wit and wisdom of The Good Place:

IMPROVEMENT

“Anytime I had a problem and I threw a Molotov cocktail, Boom!  Right away, I had a different problem”

“Oh, really? Is it an error to act unpredictably and behave in ways that run counter to how you were programmed to behave?”

“The point is, people improve when they get external love and support. How can we hold it against them when they don’t?”

“The fact that it makes you nervous is exactly why you should do it.”

“My whole life, whenever I encountered any obstacles, I would simply say, ‘I would like to speak to a manager.’ But in our relationship, there was no manager. There was no one who could fix this for me except me.”

“I assume he’s doing the same as every human. Some good days. Some bad days………. He’s messing up, and trying again, and messing up again, and then getting things wrong, and then trying to make them right. That’s what everyone does.”

“In case you were wondering, I am, by definition, the best version of myself.”

“Hi, guys! I’m broken.”

“What matters isn’t if people are good or bad. What matters is, if they’re trying to be better today than they were yesterday. You asked me where my hope comes from? That’s my answer.”

“I would say I outdid myself, but I’m always this good. So I simply did myself.”

“If kids knew half the stuff their parents were up to, they’d lose their mind.”

“You know my whole life, whenever I encountered any obstacles, I would simply say, “I would like to speak to a manager.” But in our relationship, there was no manager. There was no one who could fix this for me except me.”

“You are a giant chunk of spinach in the teeth of the universe!”

“Well, what’s interesting about you is… I don’t think you ever got past the “me versus us” stage.”

“I wasn’t a failed DJ. I was pre-successful.”

EMPATHY

“I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

“I had a friend that said whenever she was doing something bad, she’d hear this little voice in her head… Distant little voice, saying, ‘Oh, come on now. You know this is wrong.’ And then when she started doing good things, that voice went away. It was a relief.”

“Sometimes, when you’re feeling helpless, the secret is to help someone else. Get out of your own head. Trust me. The next time someone asks for help, say yes.”

“There are still some people in this world that we care about, so I say we try and help them become good people… why not try? It’s better than not trying, right?”

DECISION MAKING

“Remember the thought experiment where you’re driving a trolley and you can either plough into a group of people or turn and hit one person? I solved it. See, the trolley problem forces you to choose between two versions of letting other people die. The actual solution is very simple: sacrifice yourself.”

“In football, trying to run out the clock and hoping for the best never works. It’s called “prevent defense.” You don’t take any chances and just try and hold on to your lead. But prevent defense just PREVENTS you from winning! It’s always better to try something.”

“Here’s an idea. What if we don’t worry about whatever comes next?”

“When I say I’m meditating, I’m just trying to figure out what the fork is happening.”

“Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re gonna follow them.”

“I know it sounds crazy. But if it weren’t crazy, they wouldn’t call it a leap of faith. They would call it a sit of doubting.”

“Where I’m from, most things blow up eventually. So I learned that when something dope comes along, you gotta lock it down! If you’re always frozen in fear and taking too long to figure out what to do, you’ll miss your opportunity”

“It turns out life isn’t a puzzle that can be solved one time and it’s done. You wake up every day, and you solve it again.”

“I came up with hundreds of plans in my life, and only one of them got me killed.”

“Just decide to be decisive.”

IMPORTANCE OF OTHERS

“Michael, we have rules, procedures.  We’re the good guys – we can’t just DO things.”

“If soulmates do exist, they’re not found. They’re made.”

“These days, just buying a tomato at a grocery store means that you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming. Humans think that they are making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they are making.”

‘Lies are always more convincing when they’re closer to the truth.”

“I got a cut on my hand. The year was 2491 BC, so that’s pretty much all it took. You got a cut or you drank water that was not hot enough, then boom, dead. I would’ve killed for a vaccine. Any vaccine. It’s so crazy that you guys just don’t like them now.”

“The point is, people improve when they get external love and support. How can we hold it against them when they don’t?”

“It’s like I was dropped into a cave and you were my flashlight.”

“I once posed as a hot prom date for my cousin, both helping him and later, according to his therapist, not helping him.”

“I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

 

HAPPINESS

“It’s not about who you know. Enlightenment comes from within. The Dalai Llama texted me that.”

“The true joy is in the mystery.”

“Vacations are fun only because they end.”

“If you try and ignore your sadness, it just ends up leaking out of you anyway. I’ve been there. And everybody’s been there. So don’t fight it.”

“You’re cool, dope, fresh and smart-brained. I’ve never seen you dance, but I bet you’re good, ’cause you’re good at everything. You’re awesome! Be nicer to yourself.”

“The problem is, if all you care about in the world is the velvet rope, you will always be unhappy, no matter which side you’re on.”

”’Fair’ is the stupidest word humans ever invented, except for staycation.”

“I guess all I can do is embrace the pandemonium, find happiness in the unique insanity of being here, now.

“The journey is the destination.”

“Humans only live 80 years, and they spend so much of it just waiting for things to be over.”

MEANING OF LIFE

“That’s what makes it special. I won’t exactly know what’s going to happen after I die. Nothing more human than that. Besides texting people that you’re five minutes away when you haven’t even left the house.”

“Every human is a little bit sad all the time, because you know you’re gonna die.  That knowledge is what gives life meaning.”

“Now we’re going to do the most human thing of all: attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!”

“Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task . . . The whole book is about how we should try to find rules other people can’t reasonably reject, and then he ends it by saying, ‘the search for how to find those rules will go on forever’.”

“It turns out life isn’t a puzzle that can be solved one time and it’s done. You wake up every day, and you solve it again.”

“And I didn’t think I would ever be at a cocktail party in literal Hell, lecturing my teacher/ex-lover about moral particularism, but life throws you curveballs, bro!”

“Your big revelation is Life is complicated? That is not a revelation. That’s a divorced woman’s throw pillow.”

“You said that every human is a little bit sad all the time, because you know you’re going to die. But that knowledge is what gives life meaning.”

“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”

“Searching for meaning is philosophical suicide. How does anyone do anything when you understand the fleeting nature of existence?”

“Picture a wave in the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through, and it’s there, and you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave. And then it crashes on the shore, and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be for a little while. That’s one conception of death for a Buddhist. The wave returns to the ocean, where it came from, and where it’s supposed to be.”

“Once again, none of these philosophers is ever talking about masturbation.”

“There is no answer.  The answer is Eleanor”

OUR TAKEAWAY

The very last scene of the very last episode depicts Eleanor’s little glint of light landing on a “rando”, inspiring him to bring Michael his misplaced mail instead of throwing it away. This simple act of kindness provide’s Schur’s final message of hope: that in all of us lies at least a small spark of goodness, and that if we try our best to fan that spark into a flame, we’ve done our part for the universe.  Getting better.  Giving to others.   Those two things alone can make our time on this blue ball a good place. 

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