The Good Life, Examined

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I watched a few episodes of The Good Place recently, the NBC show about the afterlife.

Actually, I also watched a few episodes of The Good Doctor, which is an ABC show. I’ve never seen The Good Wife on CBS, although now I’m thinking a lot about collusion.

I came to The Good Doctor from a place of malignant boredom, given that I stopped watching network television procedurals in the 1980s, aside from a passion for E.R. that lasted through its air-out-of-the-balloon conclusion. I’m not opposed to the form, just the commitment of time and the organic predictability, so I’ve missed out on any show ever that had CSI in its title, not to mention Law and Order, which sounds familiar and may be still on as far as I know.

I was a little drawn to The Good Doctor because it featured Richard Schiff as a main character; Schiff will always be Toby Zeigler from The West Wing (which, dang, might also be a procedural by definition), and my affection for that show and its characters is pretty well established. This was opposed by the trailers for the show, which showed Freddie Highmore delivering what appeared to be an over-the-top, borderline-offensive characterization of a high-functioning autistic person.

Being the father of an HFA son, as well as being exposed to many, many others throughout this experience, it was still only borderline. Mostly it just looked stupid and amateurish, as if Highmore were channeling Siri via some Rain Man filter.

So I was relieved and actually satisfied to find out that, yep, it’s exactly that sort of performance. It rankles me still, after six episodes. Pretty sure I’m going to watch the seventh.

Because, somehow, Highmore is compelling anyway. I don’t recognize the person as a real human being at all, but again: this is network television, not HBO. My standards are automatically lowered, and as I said, I was seriously bored. It kept my attention, as ridiculous as a lot of it is. I mean, Monty Python is pretty ridiculous. My approach seems sound.

The Good Place was also a result of too much time, although more up my alley. I’ve enjoyed a few network sitcoms (although I again give the edge to HBO, with Silicon Valley and VEEP, and a few others I’ve really liked), and while I suspected I’d not soon see the subversive comedy of Parks & Recreation, say, or 30 Rock, I figured it was possible I’d could find another favorite.

My personal jury is still out, although the first 2-3 episodes were intriguing. The Good Place owes a bit to Albert Brooks’ genre offering, Defending Your Life, which is a favorite, but then this is fertile ground. Pondering the afterlife, usually in comic terms, is a pretty old form.

As Brooks did, The Good Place approaches the subject through a meritocracy prism, with actions and behaviors during life calculated in the next phase, determining one’s final destination and adding to the hijinks. In this case, the judgment has already been made and we see the results.

Also in this case, the quirk here is that somebody snuck into heaven. Somebody who didn’t measure up, and who desperately desires to stay undiscovered and so tries to learn how to be a good person. Cue the hijinks.

I enjoyed those few episodes; I’ll watch a few more, probably, eventually. Ted Danson is a hoot. It looks nice.

And it made me think about judgment.

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I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past week or so being mad at Kevin Spacey, and wondering about that.

First, I could argue that Spacey’s alleged behavior, while pretty awful and despicable, is small potatoes. Sure, men harass men; women harass men, and women harass women. Humans can be horrible, alert the media. But Spacey’s power, while impressive, doesn’t seem as intimidating as, say, Weinstein’s, and his actions feel more traditionally lecherous and annoying than threatening. The victims seem to have been traumatized in some instances, and seriously irritated in others, but there doesn’t seem to be violence and I’m a little surprised no one decked this asshole. I don’t want to minimize, but I don’t want to dilute reality: this has overwhelmingly been a man-on-woman crime.

And I really don’t think it’s the ick factor, the unwanted advances coming from another orientation, or the slimy way he tried to cover his ass by coming out in his apology. Puhleese. Everybody knew, and nobody cared. Or cares. It was pretty disgusting but I don’t think I’m knee-jerking in solidarity with the LGBT community.

I think I’ve been focused on Spacey because I was more familiar with him; most of these guys are unknown to me other than by name and reputation. Kevin Spacey has been onscreen for a good part of my adult life, and in films and with performances I often admired. For the past decade or so, he’s seemed too oily for my taste, on and off the screen, but at least I knew and respected what I could glean of his life as well as work. Maybe no longer my cup of tea, but a good actor.

Anyway. For whatever reason, he’s the one I’ve been focusing my anger at lately, and I think it’s the familiarity that’s the most interesting thing here.

Assuming Harvey Weinstein, Bryan Singer, Oliver Stone, Brett Ratner, etc., stay out of jail (maybe an unsafe assumption, but rich-people justice is a different game), I can also assume they can live off their bank accounts, careers destroyed, lives irreparably damaged, but life needs met.

But a performer, no matter their comfort insurance, has other priorities, and legacy is a big one. Whatever happens to Bill Cosby in his remaining years, his accomplishments, his comic genius, will be buried forever under the wave of accusations and judgments made by us. For most of us, he will be Bill Cosby, rapist. Full stop.

So, yeah. Spacey has been booted off House of Cards, his agent and publicist have dumped him, he ain’t going back to The Old Vic, and if he appears in another show or film I’ll be surprised. And that’s gotta hurt.

Everything you’ve worked for, every award, every acclamation, poof. In 50 years, sure, someone will resurrect The Usual Suspects and analyze Spacey’s performance, but he’ll be dead and so will the rest of us. From an entertainer’s standpoint, he’s already dead. His career is not only over, it’s forever diminished by his creepiness.

And whatever you imagine an afterlife to be, there seems to be a satisfaction here that I can wrap my brain around. We don’t have to picture Kevin Spacey in an earnest discussion with St. Peter, trying to schmooze his way through the pearly gates. We can watch Judgment Day in real time, right here in this life. Guilty guilty guilty. Not even Verbal Kint could talk his way out of this, and at the moment it feels like justice.

Chuck SigarsComment