Holy Forking Shirtballs

The Good Place

If you’re a fan of NBC’s “The Good Place,” you know curse words are cutely censored in the show’s heaven-like utopia. You may not be aware, however, that you’re laughing along to a first-of-its-kind comedy that accomplishes the seemingly impossible — blending sitcom humor with serious philosophical constructs.

Created by Michael Schur (whose credits include “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”) and starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, the show features a group of recently deceased humans who earned spots in a colorful afterlife called “the good place.”

Bell’s character, Eleanor, soon realizes her admittance is a mistake, which the audience sees in hilarious flashbacks of awful behavior, like posting her cousin’s credit card number on Reddit for saying she looked tired. To avoid being discovered, she decides to try to become a
better person, thus sparking a journey into moral philosophy.

“As a person, I find [the show] absolutely hilarious, and as a professor, it is very philosophically informed,” said Gwen Bradford, associate professor of philosophy. “The show even inspired a student to enroll in my ethics class,” she added.

“There seems to be a growing interest in ethics — certainly on Rice’s campus,” Bradford said. For example, the computer science department is adding an ethics and computing requirement, and the new data science minor will have a data ethics course requirement. Bradford is happy the show is helping audiences understand that ethics has a home in philosophy. “We’ve been studying it rigorously for more than 3,000 years. I’m grateful ‘The Good Place’ is showing that.”

— Kendall Hebert