Bingeing The Good Place in the bad place [November 20]
Have we all sprinted out of our Melbourne lockdown caves, vowing never again to spend six months on the couch watching the goggle-box? Are we regretting that we didn’t spend those long winter months learning how to yodel, instead of bingeing on Netflix? Not me. I’m feeling super grateful to the screenwriters whose stories kept me sane in the pandemic. Three shows in particular – American comedy The Good Place, French spy thriller Le Bureau and the Emmy Award-winning Schitt’s Creek – shed light on why we struggled so badly with the restrictions on our freedom during lockdown.
At the heart of each of these series were conflicts involving the individual vs the collective. They all posed the question – what are the benefits of selflessness? They all offered the promise of redemption if their characters chose love and self-sacrifice over selfishness and greed. (No big spoilers, I promise).
I started with The Good Place, in which the brattish Eleanor has a freak accident and finds herself in heaven. Trouble is, there’s been a mistake. She’s meant to be in The Bad Place. Eleanor is offered a chance to stay, but only if she gives up her anti-social habits. With help from her mate Chidi, an ethics professor, Eleanor gets a crash course in moral philosophy. Over and over, the characters have to choose whether to help themselves or help others. Turns out that helping others has personal benefits. Sound familiar? All those lockdown rules that we endured saved lives including, possibly, our own.
My next binge was Le Bureau, in which French spy Guillaume has to choose between loyalty to a collective (his spying mates) or an individual (the woman he loves). Betraying the collective could have fatal consequences, but so could the alternative. The same dilemma is illustrated in The Good Place, when a runaway tram forces the characters to choose between mowing down one person or five. There’s no good answer. Some ethical problems are as wicked as that damned virus.
Final binge was Schitt’s Creek, in which a formerly wealthy family washes up in a small town and is forced to rely on the goodwill of strangers to survive. Turns out most people are kind and generous, and those qualities are contagious. Gradually the characters’ narcissism is replaced by resilience, their loneliness by love. Sound familiar? Perhaps the sacrifices we’ve made in lockdown have made us all better humans.