Archives for posts with tag: death

The afterlife and death has been a frequent setting for comedy-drama. Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me have all been and gone. They have never been out-and-out comedies though. Perhaps it has been seen as such a sensitive subject that, if you are to include jokes, you need something a bit darker to balance it out.

The Good Place dispenses with such a rule, with humour front and centre. The story focuses on Eleanor, who after dying is sent to ‘The Good Place’ as a reward for her hard work on earth. The Good Place is a community made up of similar individual who have been granted their dreams in the afterlife by The Architect, a God-like figure given human form.

But there’s a problem. Eleanor shouldn’t be here. She wasn’t good. In fact, she was awful. And when she behaves in such a way in The Good Place she creates a mini-apocalypse which can only be fixed by being good. So, in order to not be found out, she learns to be a good person with the help of her soulmate.

I’m only four episodes into the first season but there is a lot to like. The central plot is fleshed out by some side mysteries, it is intelligently constructed and the characters are slowly fleshing out nicely. Ted Danson is charmingly vulnerable as The Architect, a flawed but omniscient presence. Janet, his assistant, is also smartly drawn.

Best of all, it is actually funny. Ok, this is often as a wry smile rather than a belly laugh, but this is one of the shows that bears repeat viewing. The first time you follow the plot, the second time the jokes. In true Netflix-style, it also rewards the binge watcher with its promise of a cliff hanger at the end of every episode.

There are nods to My Name Is Earl in its themes of redemption and morality whilst side-stepping religion. Good is quantified statistically – how impactful and frequent were your good actions? This is totted up by some kind of celestial computer. No religious figurehead here – it is all formulas, which, in era where Google and Amazon watch you daily, is oddly believable.

Perhaps it could benefit from some bigger laughs. But this seems like an unfair quibble for a show that seems to be somehow quaint yet daring. The afterlife has never been so funny. Nor, in this post-modern word, so unnerving.

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Death, despite being one of the few guarantees in life, is little spoken about. It seems odd that the opening chapter of our life has a phenomenally popular show dedicated to it in One Born Every Minute, yet the equally important closing one doesn’t. Distaste, perhaps? Maybe, yet I can’t help feeling this is a little unfair.

One-off documentary Flashy Funerals was a step towards redressing this imbalance. It focussed around three funerals that were all a little extreme. Nathan’s saw thousands being spent on flowers and every corner of his life turned into a memorial. Fona’s (apology for any misspelling) featured a Lamborghini, a Shetland pony and a double-decker bus, the latter because he stole one once with passengers still on it. Sharon’s funeral featured a DJ and disco.

On the surface then, it was easy to mock the deceased’s families trying to create the perfect memorial. Certainly, the documentary played a clever ruse on the viewer, showing them the more eccentric items on the list of requests. I admit to laughing at the floral tribute to Nathan’s electrical toothbrush and some of the more ornate caskets in the showroom.

But then it hit you with a punch as the stories of the deceased unfurled themselves. Nathan had died in his early 20’s from muscular dystrophy. Sharon had been parlaysed for the best part of the last three decades after a mystery illness. Fona hadn’t had a family Christmas in years and had never married or had children. Life had been exceptionally cruel to them and this was their families’ way of rectifying some of the pain they had suffered. I went from laughing to welling up with tears at Nathan’s funeral. Suddenly, nothing that family did for him, or what any of the families featured were doing, seemed so ludicrous.

The star for me though was undertaker Matthew. I could watch a whole series of him putting together funerals like we saw on this show. He was kind, hardworking and determined. He knew he had a duty to do right by his clients and did so. He also offered, for me at least, the most searing insight into why we sometimes go to the lengths we do when we are saying goodbye to a loved one – “the funeral isn’t for the person who has died, it is for the ones they leave behind”. I can’t help feeling a show like this could make the whole process of grieving much easier to deal with.