So basically my family told me to watch The Good Place while we were out at dinner last Tuesday, and I immediately proceeded to blow off my entire life to binge watch the entire first season because I loved it. It’s not brilliant in that high quality artsy way that usually gets me, like Utopia1 or The Terror, but it was exactly the sweet spot of clever/sweet/funny I needed, and I’m weirdly invested in it. And in Janet. Because I am actually a robot, even if she is not.
It’s also giving me a kind of measuring stick for when the dialogue in my current book is getting too heavy. Because even though the philosophy in The Good Place is super light, they do actually manage to cover a lot and it’s not always superficial. When they bring in a philosopher’s ideas to the storyline, usually Chidi just tells you what the philosopher generally says and then another character (usually Eleanor) relates it more colloquially to the situation, if I’m remembering correctly. The actual philosophy here is mostly in our imaginations, fueled on by montages of them studying. It’s not exactly Plato. But, for example, when they do the trolley problem, I think they do a good job keeping it light and plot-driven without sacrificing the conceit.
The YA book I’m working on right now is way more dialogue driven than previous ones, because I feel like there’s more room for humor in dialogue, and I wanted it to feel like a romp, or a radio drama. I’m still unfortunately walking with my own crutches, so I’m pretty sure there are massive chunks of philosophizing and extensive descriptions that will get blasted out of the manuscript, but overall I’ve done a better job using action and dialogue to move the story than ever before, and I’m really proud of that. I can tell my instincts are getting better, because while I’m writing, I do catch the sections that are just conveniently loading concepts onto two different characters so I can wrap quotation marks around what is obviously a two paragraph extended meditation. Quotation marks do not make dialogue. I mean they do. But like, in the artsy sense, they definitely don’t.
When I think of what I’m trying not to do, I always think back to these slim little bastards put out by Hackett publishing. I’m actually not sure how many there are, maybe just the two I actually remember, which are about whether or not animals have personhood, and the super weird death one. These are awesome if you want to know what it would sound like if you overheard two computer simulations of humans having a discussion that accurately convey a large amount of information into your brain but falls hard on the wrong side of a Turing test. They are less awesome if you’re writing YA fiction and tackling difficult theoretical subjects.
The problem with The Good Place is that you need to come to class prepared. It doesn’t give you enough information within the show2 in order to actually argue any philosophical points even with the characters. It’s not “fair play philosophy,” to use the mystery comparison. Your comprehension of philosophy is actually kind of part of your suspension of disbelief in a lot of cases, and when it’s not, it really stands out because Chidi basically delivers a lecture on it that’s set apart from the narrative.
That’s cool, in this case, but I do think there’s a happier medium you can achieve in a book that’s a bit heavier on the information without losing the humor and snark. That’s the medium I’m looking for. That said, The Good Place is awesome for what it is, and I’m completely hooked.
Although…what the fuck is up with those Australian accents???