I have a proposal that I think will make Philosophy 101 more palatable for all college freshman: replace the course with a binge watch of The Good Place. Now, I do understand that there are people who enjoy deep philosophical arguments. I do get that. But, by and large, those people are already collegiate philosophy professors and are, in this context, the problem. Michael Schur, the brilliant creator of both Parks & Recreation and The Good Place, is the rare example of a person who finds philosophy fascinating and not terribly serious. The Good Place disguises is with humor and an afterlife landscape that seems like the sort of thing Douglas Adams would come up with after drinking a lot of off-label cough syrup, but the show is sneakily giving its viewers a more effective philosophical education than they’re likely to find anywhere in higher education. A perfect example of this is season two’s exploration of the trolley problem.
You see a runaway trolley moving toward five tied-up (or otherwise incapacitated) people lying on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track, and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two options:
Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the more ethical option?
One of the pillars of The Good Place’s own philosophy is that anyone can change for the better. Season two, in large part, follows the journey of demon Michael (Ted Danson) as he learns more about what makes humans tick. The most hysterical example of this is when Michael plops the terminally indecisive Chidi into the middle of a real-life trolley problem and…ups the stakes. The Good Place isn’t just a good time. As it nears the end of its third season, The Good Place has become the best comedy of the decade and arguably the best show on television.
I have rarely, if ever, been more wrong about a TV show than I was with The Good Place. Honestly, it’s not entirely my fault. The show’s advertising looked awful. I couldn’t imagine how anyone was going to be able to sustain a show about the afterlife, but then I didn’t know how much of a genius Michael Shur was. Not only did he manage to create a genius sitcom that takes place in religion-neutral Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, but he’s written most of the episodes. The show isn’t just funny, it’s seriously addictive. I watched each of the first two seasons in two annual sittings. Ted Danson is taking a victory tour as one of the best comedic actors in TV history as Michael, the architect of The Good Place. In the show’s pilot, Michael gives an orientation to the recently deceased as to how their life’s actions have gained the entry to this elite post-death paradise. As good as the orientation is, you need to pause and read all the hundreds of scoring criterion that pop up during his speech. If you’re in a show hole during the summer TV doldrums, this is one you definitely need to catch up on.
Each Thursday we look at what is going to be coming out in theaters this weekend, show you the trailers for the big releases, predict the box office winner and just generally give you enough of a carrot to pull you through the rest of the work week. July 29th brings three distinctly different films to challenge the crew of the Enterprise. Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne in the self-titled fifth installment in the Bourne Saga. Moms everywhere get their own Hangover as Bad Moms with Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell opens. The weekend’s other opener, Nerve, stars Emma Roberts in a thriller aimed primarily at teens. Continue reading In Theaters This Week (7/29/2016) – Jason Bourne, Bad Moms, Nerve→
Each Thursday we look at what is going to be coming out in theaters this weekend, show you the trailers for the big releases, predict the box office winner and just generally give you enough of a carrot to pull you through the rest of the work week. April 8th…..I won’t lie to you, people. It’s grim. The dark shadow of Batman vs. Superman is likely going to stay looming above theaters until Disney returns next week to save us. There are three new offerings to check out. Continue reading In Theaters This Week (4/8/2016) – Hardcore Henry, The Boss and Demolition→
The Veronica Mars movie is unique. It was funded by Kickstarter, demanded and paid for by the fans of the UPN drama which ran for three seasons in the early 2000s and made Kristen Bell a star. This isn’t quite a Firefly/Serenity scenario, but in terms of providing closure (and possibly an opening for more films) it serves the same kind of purpose.
The film takes place a decade after the end of the show, right in time for Neptune High’s 10 Year Reunion, something that Veronica has vowed to avoid. She’s moved on, gone to Stanford, gotten her law degree, is weeks from taking the bar in NYC and getting a job with a high-power firm. Then her ex-boyfriend is accused of murder (again…this kind of thing happens in Neptune if you watched the show). Veronica flies cross-country initially to set her ex up with a good lawyer, but as the case grows more complex, she finds herself being drawn back into the life of a private investigator and the draw of a case unsolved.
Mars feels very much like a double-episode of the show, which I mean as a high compliment. I enjoyed the show when it was on UPN and this played just like a season finale two-parter. All of the things that made the show likable: Bell’s characterization, Rob Thomas’ glib and smart scripts, and the fantastic relationship between Veronica and her father, show up in the film with tons of Easter eggs to fans. This whole movie is a love letter to the fans of the show (who did pay for it, after all). Is it a world-changing, ground-breaking film? No. I’m also not sure how well you’d enjoy it if you had never seen an episode of the show and went into it cold. I’d be interested in hearing the opinion of anyone if they did that.
The end left me smiling and hoping there are further installments in the adventures of Veronica Mars (things are certainly set up for more installments). I think the film proves that it’s not just a role for Bell in her youth. This could be her Sherlock, returning to the character throughout her life. It’s a smart, funny mystery that made me hope the fans don’t have to pony up for the next Mars adventure. 7.25/10