The Good Place, Essay 1: Female friendships

My latest television obsession is The Good Place, a show about the afterlife, and a woman who isn’t supposed to be there. It’s pretty clear from the start that Eleanor has been sent to the Good Place by mistake, as they think she was an important humanitarian when in reality she sold fake pharmaceuticals to gullible elderly people. She is introduced to her afterlife soul mate, Chidi, who is an ethics professor. He agrees to help hide her identity and teach her how to be a good person to fit in. Their neighbors are Tahani, a British philanthropist and her soul mate, Jianyu, a silent Taiwanese monk.

The two other main characters are Michael, the immortal being  in charge of the Good Place, and Janet, the friendly AI who keeps it running. But they’re not discussed much in this post.

This show is brilliant, philosophical, and hysterical. I’ve been wanting to write my thoughts for some time, and am only now getting to it. Holidays, y’all. You know. (Did you have a good new year?)

Unfortunately, to blog about The Good Place, I’m going to have to spoil the hell out of it. This show has a lot more to spoil than the classic “will they/won’t they” sexual tension. So if you haven’t seen it, please please please go watch it and then come back to my post. Unless you like being spoiled. I’m not judging.

Eleanor and Tahani bond

Spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It turns out that Eleanor isn’t the only fraud. The silent monk is actually a pre-successful professional DJ from Florida (JACKSONVILLE!) named Jason, who’s basically a guy with a toddler’s brain – he has a heart of gold, is an idiot, and really doesn’t know right from wrong.

The best way to get to know Jason is to know how he ranks the F&F movies. Number 5 is Number 1.

While there’s not a lot of sexual tension in the show, Eleanor and Chidi do bond, as he is impressed with her growth and she appreciates his dedication to helping her stay in the Good Place, even though it means he may never meet his real soul mate. And Chidi, an intellectual like Tahani, helps Jason do things for her that she would appreciate, Cyrano-style.

In the Season One episode, “Chidi’s Choice,” a whole lot of stuff happens. Eleanor realizes she’s in love with Chidi. Tahani find’s out Jianyu/Jason is a fraud and that Chidi has been helping him talk to her. And the “real Eleanor” (Chidi’s real soul mate) is back from The Bad Place in order to change places with the Fake Eleanor.

The episode gives a lot of back story to Chidi: he has trouble with decisions, and we get a flashback to his childhood where, after his failure to pick kids for a soccer team, his best friend says, “Way to go Chidi. You just filibustered recess!” However, the real shining point is the relationship between Eleanor and Tahani.

After her realization, Eleanor sits Chidi down and gives him a very sweet, very clumsy, kind of insulting proclamation of love. “You’re way more of a buzzkill than any [former boyfriend] and yet I never want to leave you!” Then Tahani barges in and says she knows Jianyu is a fraud, and that Chidi has been helping him, which proves Chidi loves her. Chidi is shocked, and deals with it in a very Chidi way.

How Chidi deals with affection from two women.

The two women are left alone with the discomfort of realizing they want the same guy. They begin to argue, and then Eleanor stops and takes the story in a direction THAT NO OTHER SHOW HAS EVER GONE IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION.*

She says, “No. We are not going to be those women that fight over a guy. We have a weird, forked up friendship, but it’s our friendship.” And then she says they’re going to spend the day together.

They do something Tahani wants to do, which is watching a classic BBC comedy about a sophisticated woman and her friendship with an uncultured idiot, and then they do something Eleanor wants to do, which is give Tahani hair extensions. “These are real cheap. You’ll want to stay away from open flames and altercations at outlet malls.” Then she apologizes for hiding Jason/Jianyu’s identity from Tahani. Tahani forgives her.

More happens, like they wonder if Jason and Eleanor are soul mates, and then they find out that Jason has proposed to Janet the AI because she’s the only person who’s nice to him, and she has accepted. Eleanor and Tahani arrive to witness their wedding, which is one of my favorite weddngs in all of television and includes vows like, “Janet, my digital queen. We can dare to dream. Send nude pics of your heart to me. Jacksonville Jaguars RULE!” but that’s beside the point.

My favorite takeaway from this episode is that it introduced a love triangle and then sidestepped it ENTIRELY. Chidi does make a decision (we don’t know what it is), shows up to tell them, but they brush him off saying they both may have been mistaken regarding their feelings, and besides Tahani has an idea how to keep Eleanor in the Good Place for good, so they run off to figure that out. Chidi is left behind, having no knowledge of the Jason/Janet whirlwind romance, watching them dance at their wedding and repeatedly saying, “What?”

Thank you, Good Place writers, for giving two women a deeper friendship that isn’t focused on mooning over men, competing over men, or discussing what woman to backstab to get ahead (or get a man).

NEXT FEW BLOG POSTS: I discuss Mindy St. Claire and the male gaze, and come up with a way to make my two favorite bit characters, Tahani’s sister Camilla and Jason’s best bud Pillboi, regulars on the show. And also we must discuss why, on a scale from 1-13, 8 is the highest.

Pillboi

Pillboi

Joey Tribbiani: more respectful than you think

I like Friends. I acknowledge that it’s problematic (OH SO WHITE, and at least one joke per episode mocking one of the men for being feminine) but it is also

  1. Funny
  2. Groundbreaking regarding gay marriage in pop culture
  3. Really funny

I don’t get how so many different people can be so close. Ross is constantly mocked for his love of science, for example. You’d think once he’d like to hang with people who don’t pretend to fall asleep when he says anything about his work. There are glaring inconsistencies: Chandler moving from Knicks fan to a feminine dude who never watches ESPN and knows nothing about sports. Monica and Chandler arguing about buying an arcade game and then Monica freaking with joy when Phoebe buys them a Ms. Pac-Man machine. Monica being hyper competitive until she’s in charge of a kitchen of people who don’t like her, then she is someone who fears conflict. Where the hell did Ben go? Why doesn’t Ross react to Rachel taking Emma to France with her?

Yeah, I’ve had some fun with the TV Tropes Friends page.

EntertainingI was thinking about Joey the other day, the guy who sleeps with women and never calls them back. Reprehensible behavior and it makes me wonder why the women in the group like him. But I realized something startling recently: Joey respects women’s agency. If a woman says no, he is done with the pursuit. No “why” or wheedling or following or creeping.

It happens several times:

  • He hits on the woman at the medical research lab, asking if he can do a study on his effect on attractive receptionists, she says they already have the results and they’re not good, and he says OK and walks away.
  • He is set up on a double blind date with Phoebe’s friend but focuses only on convincing Phoebe that he and her blind date are old friends. When his date gets up to leave, he says, “you’re leaving too?” and she says, “I will stay if you can tell me my name.” and he says, “have a good night.”
  • We don’t see the full conversation, but after Charlie dumps him in Barbados, he is sad, but says he has to go get another hotel room for the night. He doesn’t argue or try to make it work at least till they get home.

He may be superficial and only want hot women. He may have a revolving door to his bedroom. But Joey respects “no.”

If you don’t understand how revolutionary this is, read some stories about women dealing with men on online dating sites.

Then I got the NoStringsAtttached [sic] messages, with multiple guys sending me messages asking me to watch them cam, or meeting up with them within the hour, or talk with them on the phone or cyber. I would say no and they usually didn’t take it too well.

Also, a horrible feeling that there are some terrifying, awful men out there that will in one breath call you the most beautiful creature in the world, and then—when you fail to meet whatever demand or expectation they’ve laid out for you—will say things to you that you’re pretty sure only get said during prison riots.

I’ve read so many stories about women who get, “hello beautiful.” and when the women say, “not interested” the guys turn into “well I was just messaging you to make you feel good about yourself, you fat bitch.” 

Aside: Needless to say, I’m unbelievably grateful that I met my husband before online dating took off.

Ross and Chandler both do some questionable things. When Phoebe is sending massage clients to Ross’ apartment, and a client shows up when she isn’t there, Ross says he’s a masseuse too because the woman at the door is very attractive. The joke is that she has brought her father there to be massaged, and Ross has to rub an old man for an hour. Hahahaa! But I keep thinking about the lengths he would go to in order to touch a woman. Erk. In another episode, Chandler poses as another man when a woman makes a wrong number phone call, sets up a date with her, and then when her date mysteriously doesn’t show up, he arrives as himself to console her. Which isn’t quite tricking her into bed, but he tricks her in order to eventually have sex with her, nonetheless. So on the surface, Joey is the worst to women, but his flaws are all out in the open.

Say what you will about Friends. You’re probably right. But it definitely had some nuanced characters and the most womanizing character on the show was also the one who accepted women’s decisions without question.

Hannibal breaks suspension of disbelief [SPOILERS]

Major spoilers for Hannibal, up to S3, Ep1.

I’ll buy that Hannibal Lecter is brilliant. I’ll buy that he’s the most sophisticated guy that makes royalty look like the guy in my sixth grade class who dropped out of school because he was 16. (He wasn’t much to talk to, but boy he got picked first in softball ALL THE TIME.) I’ll buy that he has Bruce Wayne-like wealth where you don’t see him do much work but you see the result of his spending. I will EVEN buy that he is the devil made flesh, someone who watches the world with disconnected interest, poking at anthills to see how the ants will rebuild after the devastation. (This is how Mads Mikkelsen plays him, a Lucifer-like sociopath.)

But, god or not, Hannibal Lecter has the same hours in the day as the rest of us. And that’s where I don’t buy him.

Let’s look at a typical Hannibal day, as I imagine it:

  • 530am- get dressed, make gourmet breakfast of last nights kidneys and eggs. Vacuum brewed coffee. Contemplate the world and the rude.
  • 630am- Calisthenics, yoga, whatever he does to keep his “person suit” looking good. Shower. Dress very purposefully and tie his tie in a way that only tie enthusiasts know how to do it. (Some fanboy in Hannibal’s world has a Pinterest account with all of the creepy stalker shots of his ties. When Hannibal finds out, he will eat him.)
  • 730am- clean up from breakfast, tidy up his bedroom. Leaves house perfect.
  • 830am- work. As Hannibal trusts no one, he must spend the morning on paperwork, doing his own admin and accounting and scheduling.
  • 12pm- lunch. Small gourmet bistro. He lingers. Hannibal doesn’t rush his food.
  • 130pm- Time for patients. Somehow he makes cray-cray money on his four patients that he sees daily.
  • 530pm- after-work errands. Again, I believe Hannibal trusts no one, so he does grocery shopping, dry cleaners (SO MUCH DRY CLEANING), and bank on his own. While Hannibal may use a gourmet grocery delivery service for his truffles and he has his Jamon Iberico and his illegal ortolan suppliers, I bet he shops for his bleach and his scrub brushes and his plastic on his own.
  • 7pm- Time to cook dinner. Whether it’s for himself or a party, it will be gourmet and it will be perfectly prepared. A macaroni noodle has never crossed his lips.
  • 9pm- Real work time. First off, gotta go see Miriam Lass, the hostage he’s brainwashing. Feed her. Probably bathe, replace tampons and toothpaste supplies. Bit more brainwashing. Drive back.
  • 11pm- Murder time. Gotta stalk, kill in just the right way, clean up all evidence, arrange the remains in a horrific puzzle piece for Will Graham, the true love of his life. One more evidence-cleaning pass. Measure twice, cut once, that’s what Hannibal lives by.
  • 3am- Home. Shower. Probably should do an evidence-pass through the house to make sure he didn’t track  any evidence in, like a naughty dog.
  • 4am- Read. Listen to fine music. Practice the harpsichord. You can’t let these skills atrophy.
  • 5am- bed.

At some point in there he had the time to slice up Dr. Gideon and cook and feed him, while doing skilled surgery so that Gideon was neither doped up on morphine nor in visible agony.

It doesn’t add up. I don’t even think I’m giving him enough time for his hostage. Wasn’t she in Virginia? An hour or two away? I can’t remember and the wiki doesn’t help. Still, that takes a long time to do all that.

We can assume Hannibal cleans house on the weekends. But that’s a big, fine place, and he’s a wax-your-floors and polish-the-silver kind of guy. So his house cleaning has got to be an all-day thing.

And, yes, I know he doesn’t kill someone every day. His freezer would overflow. Duh.

But. It was the realization (brilliant, horrifying) that Miriam Lass was alive and a brainwashed hostage that broke me. You mean he does everything he ALREADY does, and manages to not only have a hostage and keep her alive, but have the time to travel to see her and BRAINWASH her too? Not enough time in the day, man. Just not enough time.

See, evil geniuses can’t afford sleep deprivation. Get enough sleep dep, you start acting drunk.

LECTER YAWNS, SQUINTS AT WILL: Will, are you wearing a crown of human thumbs tied together with orange yarn?
WILL, LOOKS DOUBTFUL: No, Dr. Lecter, why would you ask such a thing? Are you all right? Is this another test?
LECTER STUMBLES AND FALLS, SMILES UP AT WILL FROM THE HARDWOOD FLOOR: Totes. Just need a nap. Will, you’re my best friend. I don’t tell you that enough. We should totally eat someone together.
LECTER FALLS ASLEEP. WILL CALLS JACK TO ARREST HIM. END OF SERIES.

 

If you ask me, the move to Florence was probably a relief for him. No more worrying about his basement stash of meat, or his patients, and the only person he needs to brainwash is, conveniently, living with him. (Can’t WAIT for Bedelia’s story. That was my HOLY SHIT! moment in the first S3 episode. I’d been waiting for the story of what happened during her attack. Still many unanswered questions.)

IN other news, if you’re a Hannibal fan, you MUST read this blog. The food designer from the show regularly blogs each episode, and it’s fascinating reading about what she does, and how she handles things like Lawrence Fishburn’s dietary restrictions, and how hard it is to find a red grape this time of year. The latest blog post reveals that she was the mastermind behind Ep1’s snail theme.