The Atlantic

How The Good Place Goes Beyond ‘The Trolley Problem’

In Season 2, the terrific NBC sitcom continues to explore ethics without sacrificing complexity or humor.
Source: Colleen Hayes / NBC

Last month, the NBC sitcom The Good Place returned for its second year after a first season that was widely praised as “surreal and high-concept” and “ambitious and uniquely satisfying.” In the two-part pilot, the show introduced a woman named Eleanor (Kristen Bell) who dies and finds herself in a non-denominational heaven by mistake—and who decides to learn how to become a better person in order to earn her spot in the afterlife. With that premise, The Good Place revealed what would eventually become the show’s most important theme: ethics. To avoid being sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor enlists her assigned “soul mate,” a former professor of moral philosophy named Chidi (William Jackson Harper), to teach her how to change her selfish ways.

Many TV critics have acknowledged the show’s unconventional embrace of ethics. But few have delved into what makes ’s depiction of the discipline so refreshing, yet effective, as both comedy and an informal educational tool. As a bioethicist who teaches a class on ethics and pop culture at Fordham University, I’ve integrated clips from the series into my lectures for a few reasons.stands out for dramatizing actual ethics classes onscreen, without watering down the concepts being described, and while still managing to be entertaining. By spending multiple episodes building on the subject, the sitcom offers a thoughtful and humorous survey of a wide range of concepts that rarely get explored before a mainstream audience.

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