I still believe that the only reason that you improved in Michael’s fake neighborhood is because you thought there was a reward at the end of the rainbow. You’re supposed to do good things because you’re good, not because you’re seeking moral dessert.

When it comes to most TV sitcoms, we expect them to be funny. Clever even. But we don’t really expect them to get us to think about life’s bigger questions. And we certainly don’t expect them to be particularly educational. Maybe that’s why I’ve come to enjoy The Good Place so much. It’s not at all like most TV sitcoms.

Without spoiling too much, the show is basically about the afterlife. Good people go to the “Good Place” and bad people go to the “Bad Place.” Of course, things aren’t quite so simple and that’s how we come to dive deep into the world of moral philosophy. Like, what does it even mean to be a good person in the first place?

At one point, they discuss the trolley problem, for instance. You’re driving a trolley and it’s headed straight toward five people, but you can divert the trolley onto another track where you’ll “only” kill one person. What is the “right” thing to do?

What if we were to change the circumstances such that you choose between five convicted murderers and one kind-hearted philanthropist? What if you could save the lives of five people by harvesting the organs from one healthy person? The answers are not so easy… but I digress.

Acting as a mediator in disputes between the Good Place and the Bad Place is Judge Gen (short for “hydrogen” since that’s the only thing that existed in the beginning), played by Maya Rudolph. She’s the one who uttered the quote at the top of the post. And that really got me thinking again about whether it is possible to be truly selfless.

Are you doing good things because you get a “moral dessert” of some sort, a reward at the end of the rainbow? Are you motivated to do good things because they make you feel good? Or are you actually doing good things purely because they’re good? And you’re good? Again, the answers aren’t so simple.

Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place

You know the sound that a fork makes in a garbage disposal? That’s the sound that my brain makes all the time. Just this constant grinding about things I’m afraid of or things that I want, or want to want, or want to want to want…

To this end, I find myself identifying greatly with the character of Chidi Anagonye, played by William Jackson Harper. The ethics professor has a horrible time making even the smallest of decisions, because he can’t help but to weigh all the factors and potential ramifications. Which hat should I wear? What muffin should I eat? It’s so loud inside his head, like a fork stuck in a garbage disposal.

As I’ve said about myself before, I think I might think too much. Or I might even think I think too much about thinking. I think. That’s how Rodin’s Thinker (Le Penseur) became the logo for Beyond the Rhetoric. At least I think so. Was it the right decision?

Just because a show tackles serious subject matter and difficult moral dilemmas doesn’t mean that it can’t also be lighthearted and featured slapstick comedy too. The Good Place is remarkably refreshing, original, and truly thought-provoking. Both the first season and the second season are available now on DVD and via streaming. The third season is underway and airs Thursdays on NBC and Global.