My new favorite TV show is The Good Place. Yes, I’m coming to it ridiculously late, but isn’t that the life of a busy mom? I’d read about it years ago and felt intrigued by the premise of a comedic afterlife scenario. While I love Ted Danson and Kristen Bell and especially William Jackson Harper (who our family knew well from The Electric Company reboot), I worried it would be too much about the sadness of the afterlife and not enough about comedy. I was wrong. It’s a hilarious, smart take on the afterlife. Not only that but plants figure in to this charming, funny show, which delighted me.
A Potted Topiary and An Array of Cactuses
During the first season, Eleanor, who believes she’s been accidentally put into The Good Place (akin to heaven), is given a plant as a gift. It looks like a gardenia topiary, complete with white blossoms. It’s a perfect plant that she promptly makes wilt through her selfish actions. Later, when she realizes she may be the cause of the town sinkhole, she freaks out, which causes the plant to spontaneously combust in flames. A brilliant comedic moment.
A few episodes later, Eleanor has mercy-killed Janet, the non-human assistant. Janet, who’s been “rebooted” from scratch, lacks the knowledge to do much. Still, she maintains a sunny disposition. When Michael (Danson) requests the file on Eleanor’s earthly life behavior, Janet produces a cactus. This is silly and appropriate since Eleanor grew up in Phoenix and Janet vaguely associates the desert with Eleanor. That the show takes the joke to its extreme with several different species of cactuses and Janet being utterly convinced she, this time, has the file, displays the writers’ finesse and smarts.
There’s a last image of a plant I’m thinking of. When Eleanor neutralizes Michael’s fun in a scene I won’t give away, Michael plops down in a chair. Then, as if tempting Eleanor to do something about his behavior, he giggles and subtly knocks a plant off a table. It’s as if he’s saying “Hey, what do you think of that?” But with Danson’s delivery, the gesture is slight and only lightly challenging, utterly keeping with Michael’s character.
Plants on Television
The only time we see plants in movies or television is when a character lives in the woods or a jungle. And often they’re part of the scenery or an obstacle. Maybe it’s because plants are, by their innocent natures, good things that evoke peace and warmth. So, in some ways, using plants in The Good Place is a perfect match. We have a happy afterlife where it’s sunny all the time, people eat frozen yogurt whenever they want, and plants are everywhere, in constant bloom. Of course, if you’ve seen Season 2, you know there’s something more intriguing and sinister to that story. Still, I’m glad entertainment creators are incorporating plants into storytelling, whether it’s via deep metaphors for human conditions or as silly sight gags that make people laugh.
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Cactus photo by Mikkel Bech