A TV theory for the rest of us.
To what degree do you think Kristen Bell is channeling Julia Louise-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes from Seinfeld when she plays Eleanor Shellstrop in The Good Place?
[Warning: light spoilers ahead]
You first see it prominently in season 2 episode 12,” Somewhere Else.” In it, Elanor gets a second chance on earth after being banished to — and nearly escaping — The Bad Place in the afterlife.
Here, we see for an extended amount of time how the character behaved on earth: Self-centered and mean-spirited, with hints of unearned exasperation. Basically, a notch below Elaine at her most manic moments.
The characters’ names are eerily similar. Then, factor in the idea that both Seinfeld and The Good Place revolve around a foursome of self-obsessed, shallow people. Oh, and Ted Danson, whose starring role on Cheers was the lead-in to Seinfeld for its first four seasons also plays a big part in The Good Place.
So, the Crazy TV Fan Theory of the week is: Is The Good Place the conceptual sequel to Seinfeld?
When Seinfeld ended in 1998, it almost perfectly capped off the end of the decade — and the end of an era of America. Just over three years later, after everything came crashing down one September morning, our society just wasn’t the same.
The ensuing ten years were referred to by plenty of pundits as a lost decade for the country — economically, most measurably, and also culturally, one could argue.
And, along with those changes came a shift in our entertainment appetites. Gone now are what we didn’t realize then were the carefree days of the 90s: when Nazis were still a punchline, the economy hadn’t crashed, and terrorism on American soil was still contained to action movies.
That was the time of Seinfeld: when millions of people had the peace of mind — and free time — to gather every Thursday and watch four assholes make a mess of the world around them.
Recall, now, how that show ended: The four main characters are jailed after being tried not necessarily for their actual crime, but more for their overall behavior over the years.
We watched the finale in my high school English class senior year in 1999. The teacher drew parallels to the works of Albert Camus — a name that pops up more than once in The Good Place.
Anyway, fast forward nearly twenty years. Now, just as we see what the lackadaisical attitudes of the 90s wrought (vitriolic talk radio, wall street deregulation, misadventures in the Middle East to name a few), we’re jarred out of that decade’s sitcom fantasy world to now look at where those characters would have ended up after they died.
Recall, again, that in the Seinfeld series finale, the four were sentenced to a year isolated from society. They end the show in a holding cell, stuck with each other.
In The Good Place, Ted Danson conspires to create an environment where his four subjects will torture each other for all eternity.
Of course, the Good Place gang begin to start becoming better people. And, once they realize they’re in the Bad Place, they actively try to better themselves in a challenging journey toward redemption.
In that light, then, it’s an exploration, on what has to happen next for sitcom characters and (let’s go macro here) our country at large to properly reconcile with its flawed past to become better.
With Ted Danson.