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6 reasons Mormons should check out ‘The Good Place’

“The Good Place” stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.

 

NBC’s comedy The Good Place is that rare combination: it is 1) smart; 2) hilarious; and 3) getting robust ratings. (Please don’t let me jinx things by openly praising it; it’s happened before that just as soon as I discover a show, the Powers That Be cancel it post haste. It’s hard not to feel personally responsible. RIP Veronica Mars, Firefly, etc.)

The show, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, begins when Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell) opens her eyes after dying and discovers to her relief that she’s been sent to “The Good Place.” There Eleanor finds lovely neighborhoods with individually tailored homes and an abundance of frozen yogurt shops, because OF COURSE.

The problem? She’s pretty sure there’s been a mistake. So she tries to hide her true identity from the resident bureaucrat-cum-archangel Michael (a bowtie-rocking Danson) while she takes a crash course in how to be a better person.

This is an entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful show for just about everybody, but Mormons in particular may appreciate a few of its key points.

1. The best mother-forking faux swears this side of paradise!

Tired of adopting your fake curse words from Napoleon Dynamite, which is so 2004? Eager to beef up your alt-vocab with some Mormon-approved sauciness? Look no further than The Good Place, where Eleanor can no longer swear but gamely keeps on trying. The parameters of heaven just won’t quite let her get away with that kind of language, which she thinks is a load of bullshirt.

2. Works matter.

In the show’s calculus, every action yields a positive or negative value that affects a person’s eternal destiny, whether it’s gaining .54 points for singing to a child or losing 53.83 for disturbing a coral reef with your flipper. You can gain points for purifying the water source for a whole village (+277) or lose it all and then some for sexual harassment (–731.26). Moral actions make a difference—an approach that Mormons will find familiar.

On the other hand, as we learn through the series as it progresses, those good works also aren’t enough.

(In the spirit of my own eventual reckoning, I am not revealing any spoilers about how these various elements play out over time, including the awesome what-the-fork plot twist at the end of season 1. Depriving others of their own enjoyment of the show would result in a -7846.29 deficit in my eternal arithmetic, and that’s a risk I cannot afford.)

3. You’ll have a soulmate in heaven.

Mormons are very into the idea of a two-by-two heaven, and The Good Place does not disappoint. Everyone finds their soulmate there, at least in theory. What’s vastly different from Mormonism is that no one seems to have had those relationships (or any prior relationships, weirdly) before arriving at the Good Place.

4. You can take it with you.

It’s what Mormons always knew, right? Everything you learned and did here is portable to that magical afterlife.

Chidi, Eleanor’s assigned soulmate, was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy in life. So who better to tutor Eleanor in the finer points of rudimentary moral behavior as she tries to become a person who deserves residence in the Good Place? Good thing he remembers everything he ever knew–and that he brought all his books with him.

5. Eternal progression is real.

One of the neatest things about watching the show is seeing how Eleanor grows and changes after her death. In fact, all the main characters do. Eleanor has to unlearn much of what she thought and believed in her human life, which was primarily about putting herself first. But she learns and matures, becoming more selfless, especially through her newfound friendships.

6. It’s helpful to have a “medium place.”

Eleanor is not a fan of the universe’s binary theology, which only appears to have a Good Place and a Bad Place. Is it really fair that a tiny fraction of the population gets ushered to the Good Place while the other 99+% are being tortured by, say, bears with two mouths down below?

“I wasn’t freakin’ Gandhi, but I was OK. I was a medium person,” Eleanor insists in the pilot episode. “I should get to spend eternity in a medium place. Like Cincinnati! Everyone who wasn’t perfect but wasn’t terrible should get to spend eternity in Cincinnati.”

The show’s binary theology makes Mormonism’s multi-tiered afterlife look better and better. In the Mormon scenario, a whole heck of a lot of us are headed for the terrestrial kingdom, and it’s actually a pretty great place to be. (Like Cincinnati, which I’m proud to say is my own city. Living in Cincinnati for all of eternity would be pretty darn great, especially now that we have Fiona the Hippo.)

Season 2 of The Good Place won’t be available on Netflix until September, which is kind of bullshirt in my opinion. That’s a purgatory of waiting. But if you absolutely can’t last that long you can buy access for $19.99 on Amazon.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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