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Heed the Wisdom of Big Noodle: The Worst Person of the Week on ‘The Good Place’

Turns out the afterlife is basically a tech company hiding behind its faulty algorithm

Maya Rudolph as the Judge on ‘The Good Place’ standing in front of an illustration of a fire NBC/Ringer illustration

On this week’s episode, The Good Place introduces a story arc that could carry it into Season 4, and our heroes receive another stay of condemnation. Their latest escape from eternal torture comes courtesy of an unlikely inspirational speaker: Jason. After Michael’s points-based presentation about the difficulty of ethically purchasing a tomato in a global economy fails to sway the Judge, Jason steps up with a story about his former dance-troupe partner “Big Noodle,” who was habitually late to rehearsal only because he was working three jobs to support his grandparents and their Willy Wonka–esque sleeping arrangement. Jason’s more emotional appeal lands, allowing Michael to jump in and propose that the Judge walk a mile in humans’ shoes before she, well, judges them. She agrees, and her whirlwind tour of human existence confirms what Nas has known for decades.

After the Judge admits that “Earth stinks,” she summons Shawn for a points-system symposium and suggests that the system is systematically undervaluing humans. Shawn, citing slavery and Limp Bizkit, insists that the system works as intended and that humans are actually irredeemable. Michael maintains that they must be underrated because the four humans he tried to torture kept learning to be better. Shawn points out that Michael didn’t document their supposed improvement, and that even if those four weren’t terrible, they could be a small-sample fluke. This time Chidi snaps the impasse. Still reeling from glimpsing the “Time Knife,” he proposes a science-based solution inspired by constructing the near-death-experience study with Simone: Repeat the experiment with a new group of humans. If the results are reproducible, it will prove that humans aren’t fundamentally flawed; they’re just victims of a system that sets them up to fail.

For this week’s Worst Person, we have to go big picture. Sure, Shawn was evil: He opposed Chidi’s plan, forced William Shakespeare to listen to the plot of the Entourage movie, and made a Michael skinsuit to use to potentially torture his friends. But Shawn is always evil, and he did acquiesce to the Judge’s conditions, which was good behavior by Bad Place standards. (Plus, Shakespeare already wrote plays about bros who drink, carouse, and glom on to a famous friend; Entourage is really a modern retelling of Henry IV, Part 1.) And while it seems cruel of Mindy St. Claire to reboot Derek half a million times—however suave he seems now—we have bigger moral fish to fry.

This week’s Worst Person is whoever’s responsible for setting up a system so flawed that no one got into the Good Place for 500-plus years, and no one knew of or acknowledged the problem. Series creator Michael Schur says that while the concept of the points system being skewed by the complications of modern existence wasn’t inspired by any specific event, “We’ve been talking for ages about how any points system that measured actions and their ripple effects would judge people much more harshly in the modern, hyper-connected world.” By failing to account for that built-in bias, the Good Place basically became a tech company that’s hiding behind its algorithm; if a company screwed up this seriously in real life, it would be called before Congress to answer inane, tech-illiterate questions by parroting, “My team will get back to you on that.” Even on Earth there would be some kind of accountability, and as the Judge discovers, “Earth is a mess, y’all.” Paradise should be better than this. And while I hate to question the Creator, isn’t anyone omniscient in here?

The Judge is supposed to be, yet before she took a quick jaunt down to Earth, she evidently hadn’t heard about racism. That little oversight seems like it could be a bit of a problem for someone whose job is assessing human morality. At least she’s willing to take action when she learns there’s a flaw in the scoring system, unlike the Good Place committee, which wanted to take thousands of years to find a solution, or the accountants, who pretended there wasn’t an issue at all. (Schur’s shows have historically not been kind to accountants, but between that and their ’80s era equipment, this is a new low.) The Good Place points system is like the opposite of passer rating, or like comparing a baseball player’s stats from the Steroid Era and the Year of the Pitcher without considering the context. Any amateur sabermetrician knows you need to adjust for era to put performances on the same scale. Someone should tell the accountants about OPS+.

Now, maybe I’m wrong to suggest that candidates for The Good Place should be judged on a relative scale—that, say, the top X percent of humans should qualify for admission every year because they’re better behaved than their contemporaries. Maybe the standards for admission are absolute, such that if humans get worse as a species, the best individuals still won’t deserve to be in. But any system that says humanity on the whole is worse than it once was doesn’t pass the sniff test. We may suck as a species, but we’re better than before.

Granted, in some ways we’re collectively doing more damage than before. But that’s only because there are more of us and because we have better technology, not because we’re more evil. No one in the afterlife seems to care a whit about intentions; it doesn’t bother Michael that Doug Forcett is on his best behavior only because he’s obsessed with earning points, and neither the Judge nor the accountants pays attention to whether a person is knowingly doing harm. Maybe the Good Place’s programmers should attend a Chidi-taught philosophy lesson. Algorithms are all designed by someone, and the Good Place’s designer doesn’t seem so intelligent.

Admittedly, humans aren’t any better at this. But one would hope an eternity would be enough time to get it right. If there’s a silver lining to the news that the Good Place is impossible to enter, it’s that it no longer seems like the idyllic destination it’s cracked up to be. (On the other hand, it still beats being marbleized.)

For us, of course, the Good Place’s bureaucratic incompetence is great news, because the show’s plot runway just got a lot longer. Eleanor and Chidi are enjoying domestic bliss with the freedom to do it whenever and wherever they wish (as long as looking at clowns doesn’t kill the mood). Jason and Janet are back together. And a few fresh faces are likely coming to the cast as soon as Michael conquers his panic attack. The Good Place is strongest when its plot twists don’t jeopardize the deep bonds between characters. It’s heartening that the next tug-of-war between angels and demons could come at the expense of a new group of guinea pigs, not the ones we want to stay together.

Most GIFable Moment

Ted Dance-on’s viral flossing lessons paid off.

When Eleanor asks him why he thought it was a good idea to dance, Michael says, “I don’t know, it makes people happy? Is it helping?

It’s not helping Eleanor, but it’s definitely helping us.

Laziest Architect

A picture of Ted Danson as Michael staring off into the distance with a finger under his nose All screen shots via NBC

In the IHOP conference room, Michael says he’ll “build a new neighborhood” for the new human recruits. Later, we find out that by “build a neighborhood,” he meant, “stare at a wide-open field holding a rolled-up blueprint, then call Janet and have her design the whole thing.” In light of his past projects, this is probably for the best. And I can’t pretend I wouldn’t have had Janet write this recap if it was an option.

Classiest Cocktail

Jason Mantzoukas as Derek wearing a tuxedo and holding a martini glass full of green olives

Derek might need another reboot.

Subtlest Parks and Rec Reference

The poor sap who unwittingly puts himself farther from The Good Place by buying a tomato is Douglas Lerpiss of Snerling, Indiana, presumably a member of Pawnee’s sprawling Lerpiss clan.

A screen shot of Douglas Lerpiss’s point total, showing additions and subtractions for “Purchased one (1) ‘Gardener’s Delight’ tomato from Food and Stuff grocery store”

If possession of a non-fried vegetable is a felony in Jacksonville, it’s probably a capital crime in Pawnee.