As actor Marc Evan Jackson – who plays Shawn, head honcho of the Bad Place – often says as host of The Good Place: The Podcast: “The Good Place is an unusual half hour of American network television.” He’s not wrong. While The Good Place is just as funny as creator Michael Schur’s other primetime hits (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 9-9), it isn’t typical for a network comedy to have philosophy professors on call to aide the writing staff.
The Good Place asks some amusing questions: Which U.S. Presidents were secretly bi? Is it ethical to drink almond milk when you know it has a negative environmental impact, but you love the way it coats your tongue in a weird film? Yet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and the gang also pose some unanswerable moral conundrums, and even after the finale, we may still find ourselves asking what it means to be a good person.
Now that our favorite weekly crash course in philosophy has aired its series finale, we may lose track of how to be our best selves. But when you need – as Michael (Ted Danson) would put it – a push in the right direction, you can always reflect on the lasting life lessons you learned from The Good Place.
Here are 10 of them…
01. Don’t Be An Ashhole – It’s Not That Hard
As Seen In… Season 1, Episode 5 – “Category 55 Emergency Doomsday Crisis”
The Rundown: In order to hide the fact that she doesn’t belong in The Good Place, Eleanor starts learning about ethics from Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper). Going back to school in the afterlife is a drag, but Eleanor is starting to get the hang of it. When she can’t decide what frozen yogurt flavor to get (How can you choose between the taste of “Full Cell Phone Battery” and “Finding Out Your True Bra Size”?), she steps aside to let the next person in line order while she makes up her mind. It’s a simple, effortless act of kindness – but for Eleanor, it’s a big step in the right direction.
The Lesson: Sometimes, being a good person is so much work. Sure, it would be really nice to do your friend’s laundry for them when they’re having a hard time, but that’s something that Season 1’s “Real Eleanor” would do. But even “Fake Eleanor” is capable of taking simple steps to not be an ashhole: don’t hold up the froyo line! Don’t leave dishes in the sink for Chidi to clean up! Don’t steal all the jumbo shrimp at the welcoming party!
Good to Remember When: You’re having a bad morning, so you go to the cafe for a pick-me-up, but it’s taking a little longer than normal to get your macchiato. You could yell at the overworked barista who’s just trying his best, or you could just… Not be an ashhole? It’s not that hard!
02. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
As Seen In… Season 1, Episode 3 – “Tahani Al-Jamil”
The Rundown: The tall, glamorous, socialite-philanthropist Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) is everything Eleanor is not. Tahani tries to befriend Eleanor, but our Margarita-loving anti-heroine is convinced that the gesture is a phony trap. Eleanor must accept that Tahani’s gift – a plant – is really just a plant, and not part of a larger scheme to sabotage her spot in The Good Place.
The Lesson: As the series goes on, Tahani becomes more vulnerable, revealing the lasting impact of her parents’ impossibly high standards on her self-esteem. In later seasons, Tahani begins to look up to Eleanor for her courage and resilience, while Eleanor remains in awe of Tahani’s effortless grace and elegance. Sometimes, we’re more forgiving of others than ourselves – when you’re your own worst critic, try to imagine yourself from the perspective of your closest friends.
Good to Remember When: All of the people you went to college with are getting super fancy jobs at super fancy places, and you’re still figuring it out. But there’s no use in comparing yourself to them; you’ll do you, they’ll do them, and you’ll all be just fine.
03. Pobody’s Nerfect?
As Seen In… Season 1, Episode 11 – “What’s My Motivation”
The Rundown: After her neighbors in The Good Place find out that she doesn’t belong there, Eleanor throws a party. She gives a speech to all of the guests and apologizes for the trouble she has caused, but one neighbor asks, “What can you possibly say to us that will make up for your actions?” Shrugging her shoulders, Eleanor replies, “Pobody’s nerfect?” The terrible spoonerism somehow manages to crack-up the crowd (probably because they’re actually demons trying to torture her, and they’re playing the long game).
The Lesson: Sometimes, you’re going to fork up. But don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s part of being human. Shake it off, figure out what went wrong, and learn from it.
Good to Remember When: Your cover band is playing a set at the local sports bar, but you mess up a little bit during your big solo on “Santeria.” You’re feeling kind of down about it, but there’s no use dwelling on things you can’t change. If the drummer gives you shirt about it later, just shrug and say, “Pobody’s nerfect?”
04. Think Outside of the Box
As Seen In… Season 1, Episode 13 – “Michael’s Gambit”
The Rundown: Holy motherforking shirt balls! Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (Manny Jacinto) have been in The Bad Place all along. With some critical thinking skills that would make the Arizona public school system proud, Eleanor solves the puzzle that the all-knowing demon Michael deemed unsolvable.
The Lesson: The Good Place teaches us that friendship can help us overcome insurmountable adversity. But, if you’re friends with people like Jason Mendoza (also known as DJ Music), you might also want to lean on your own intellect.
Good to Remember When: If you have a complex problem, it might require a nuanced solution. For example, let’s say you’re a United States legislator…
05. When All Else Fails, Throw a Molotov Cocktail
As Seen In… Season 2, Episode 11 – “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent”
The Rundown: The “Soul Squad” are wanted in The Bad Place for escaping the demons’ torturous grasps. As a last resort, they resolve to find the Judge of the universe (Maya Rudolph), but in order to get to her chambers, they must traverse through The Bad Place. The others are nervous about their lack of a plan for this high-stakes mission, so Jason offers his trademark wisdom: throw a Molotov cocktail, and boom! Now you have a different problem.
The Lesson: Just blow things up?
Good to Remember When: There’s a showdown between your 60-person dance crew and the rival 60-person dance crew.
Click ahead to learn more lessons from The Good Place…
06. It’s Possible To Be Too Selfless
As Seen In… Season 3, Episode 9 – “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By”
The Rundown: It’s a running joke throughout the series that Doug Forcett (Michael McKean) – an unassuming, average dude from Canada – has come the closest of all humans to figuring out what the real afterlife is. Naturally, he came to this conclusion as a teenager on a shrooms trip. Michael and Janet (D’arcy Carden) pose as newspaper reporters and visit Doug’s home to find out how the most ethical human in history lives – but, they find that Doug is so preoccupied with maximizing his afterlife point total that he leads a miserable existence. He only eats lentils and radishes, and he only drinks his own filtered waste. When he accidentally steps on a snail, he embarks on a weeks-long walk to Edmonton to donate $85 to a snail charity (sending a check in the mail would increase his carbon footprint).
The Lesson: We should be mindful about the consequences of our actions. We should be conscious of our environmental impact and our effect on others, and strive to keep getting better. But, if you end up drinking your own urine on a regular basis, you might want to take a step back and reevaluate your lifestyle.
Good to Remember When: Your coworker needs a ride to the airport early on Sunday morning, but you’re really busy this weekend, and you were looking forward to finally having a chance to rest, do laundry, and call your grandma. It would be really generous of you to help out, but it’s just not in the cards this time. You might feel bad for saying no, but it’s okay to set boundaries and understand your own limits. Maybe next time around, you’ll be able to say yes.
07. Bureaucracy Can Be Counterproductive
As Seen In… Season 3, Episode 10 – “The Book of Dougs”
The Rundown: Michael discovers a horrific injustice in the afterlife system: it is now impossible to get enough points for The Good Place, so every human who has died in the last 500 years has gone to The Bad Place. When he points out this crisis to The Good Place committee, they are appalled, and present Michael a plan: they will spend 400 years selecting members of an elite investigative team, and then once that’s done, they will get to the bottom of this. When Michael balks, a committee member replies, “Michael, we have rules, procedures. We’re the good guys – we can’t just do things.”
The Lesson: Yes, rules exist for a reason – but, if you follow the rules so closely that you lose your sense of empathy, then you risk forgetting that helping each other is more important than filling out administrative forms perfectly.
Good to Remember When: You’re a professor, and your syllabus states a no-tolerance policy for absences on exam dates. A student misses an exam, but later provides proof that she had to rush home for an unforeseen family emergency. It might be a pain to readminister the exam, but… Remember that bit about not being an ash-hole?
08. No One Is Beyond Redemption
As Seen In… Season 4, Episode 7 – “Help is Other People”
The Rundown: To quote Jason, Brent (Benjamin Koldyke) is a “toilet full of broccoli.” He mentions every chance he gets that he went to Princeton, but that’s not even close to the worst thing about him. He’s the epitome of every reason why the #MeToo movement exists, making off-handed comments about how, on Earth, he was really good at burying HR complaints. When Janet won’t wear skimpy outfits at his request, he decides that he doesn’t belong in The Good Place; he belongs in The Best Place. Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and John (Brandon Scott Jones) have given up on helping Brent, but Chidi throws a hail mary, lashing out at Brent to try to explain to him why he sucks so much. Slowly, Brent starts to understand.
The Lesson: In the finale, we catch a glimpse of Brent trying – however minimally – to better himself. He asks, to paraphrase, “So I can’t tell a woman to smile, even if it’ll make her prettier? Aren’t I helping her?” For the Brents of the world, it may take thousands of Bearimys to learn how to treat others, but the best part of the afterlife is that time is infinite.
Good to Remember When: You go home for Thanksgiving, only to run into your middle school bully at the supermarket. He’s actually not that bad, and apologizes for being a ashhole way back when. You’re pleasantly surprised, but also, fork that guy – you don’t owe him shirt.
09. Eleanor Is the Answer
As Seen In… Season 4, Episode 9 – “The Answer”
The Rundown: The humans, Michael, and Janet are scrambling to figure out how to design a new, fair afterlife. You know, just your average, simple task. But Chidi – the resident philosophy professor – is “asleep” after completing the experiment. When he wakes up and reunites with his friends and his soulmate, Eleanor, he asks Janet to give him back a letter that he gave her before his memory was erased (it’s a long story). The letter reads: “There is no answer. But Eleanor is the answer.”
The Lesson: Whether it’s a romantic partner or a 60-person dance crew, our relationships with the people we love are what make life worth the struggle.
Good to Remember When… You’re stuck in a dead-end 9-to-5 job, and it’s fine, but it doesn’t fulfill you. You wake up every morning thinking, “Is it the weekend yet?” and your co-workers say, “Mondays, am I right?” at the water cooler. It’s not ideal, but it’s a good thing you have friends and family to cheer you on.
10. The True Joy’s In the Mystery
As Seen In… Season 4, Episode 14 – “Whenever You’re Ready”
The Rundown: In the series finale of The Good Place, the four humans, one-by-one, decide to pursue the afterlife of the afterlife. Janet, the all-knowing not-robot, reveals to Eleanor that what comes next is the only thing she doesn’t know. Sagely, Eleanor replies, “As a very wise not-robot once told me, the true joy’s in the mystery.”
The Lesson: There’s so much we don’t know by the end of The Good Place, but it feels fitting that we don’t have all of the answers. These are questions that we’ll spend our lives trying to figure out: what do we owe to each other? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is a good person just someone who is trying their best? We don’t know the answers, and neither does series creator Michael Schur. But the true joy’s in the mystery.
Good to Remember When… The credits roll after your favorite TV show’s series finale, and you realize that there are no episodes left to look forward to, but you still don’t know if Michael finished writing his psychedelic jam, “The Purple Train to Groovy City.”