Holy....! Each week we’ll discuss an episode of ”The Good Place” along with a Jewish text or idea or two that relates to the theme of the episode. Hosted by Jon Spira-Savett, rabbi and lover of great TV comedy and ethical philosophy, along with different co-hosts who teach Judaism and Torah and are smart and funny. We may not be as funny as ”The Good Place” itself, but we channel our own inner Chidis and Janets, as well as our Eleanors and Michaels and Tahanis and Jasons. Subscribe now, check in at tovgoodplace.com, and follow us at @tovgoodplace or on Facebook!
Chapter 46: What We Owe Our ”Enemy”
42:16On The Good Place, Michael’s last-minute attempt to salvage the experiment and win some extra points for the new humans puts Brent alone in a sinkhole. Simone and John decide to leave him there, but Chidi gets in with Brent and ends up face-to-face with him for the final seconds of the year On the podcast, Rebecca Rosenthal and Jon Spira-Savett discuss who might be our “enemies” and what we responsibilities we have to them, in a moment of need or as long as our lives are connected. Click here for show notes.
Special Episode: Kirston Mann, Costume Designer on ”The Good Place”! (Just in Time for Purim!)
59:28To coincide with Purim, the festival with masks and costumes, we talk with Kirston Mann, costume designer on “The Good Place”! Sari Laufer, Ilana Schachter, and Jon Spira-Savett talk with Kirston about what her work entails and hear her insights into how costume serves storytelling on television. We delve into the characters of Eleanor, Tahani, Janet and Jason in particular, and what she, the script, and actors all brought to the costume design process. We reflect all together on how what we wear can conceal, reveal, get in the way, help us do our job or help us change and grow. We zero in on some moments in the series where changes in dress are particularly significant. Kirston turns the tables and asks the rabbis some ethical questions about the story of Esther in the Bible. And of course much more! Click here for show notes.
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Chapter 45: Human Nature, or Just a Bad Week?
38:17On The Good Place, Michael tells Bad Janet about a week halfway through the experiment that made things worse because of Brent, yet despite the setback the team regroups. On the podcast, Leora Kling Perkins and Jon Spira-Savett mull over the Talmud-era debates on whether humans should have been created in the first place. Does addressing questions like that even matter for our actual moral lives? How can truth, about the big picture or another human being, coexist with hope? Click here for show notes.
Chapter 44: Be(come) Yourself -- A View From College
47:59On The Good Place, Tahani worries that her entertaining skills aren’t a valuable contribution to the experiment, Michael goes up against Vicky wearing a Michael suit at Demon-Con, and Derek tries to fill in for Janet while Michael and Jason are off trying to rescue her from the Bad Place. On the podcast, Jon Spira-Savett talks with two college students, Sadie Meltzer and Lela Spira-Savett! First we talk generally about how they relate to The Good Place, and where they think Judaism fits into their ideas about personal ethical growth. Then we get Lela’s and Sadie’s perspective on this episode and dive into Reb Zusya of Hanipol’s teaching that on arrival at World to Come, he expects to be asked not “Why were you not Moses?” but “Why were you not Zusya?” Click here for show notes.
Chapter 43: Ethics Without God, Judging Without Evidence
53:58On The Good Place, Eleanor and the others have to assess Glenn’s claim that Michael is actually demon Vicky in a Michael suite -- and they have to help keep the neighborhood going in the meantime without Michael and it turns out without Janet, who has been kidnapped by the Bad Place). On the podcast, Elliot Goldberg and Jon Spira-Savett mull over ethics without God and critique King Solomon’s approach to judging others when the most important evidence you’d rely on is ambiguous or just isn’t accessible. Click here for show notes.
Chapter 42: Feedback
45:39On The Good Place, Eleanor tries to orchestrate Chidi’s growth behind the scenes by sending Jason to reveal that he is not a monk and to swear Chidi to secrecy. Yet it only leads Chidi to stomachaches. Tahani tries the same with John by bringing him to various VIP experiences so she can coax him to learn ethics, but eventually she has to figure out how to talk with him directly about his hurtful work on earth. On the podcast, Rebecca Rosenthal and Jon Spira-Savett delve into the Torah’s mitzvah of hochay’ach to’chiach -- a delicate dance of direct feedback, sensitivity to how the other person receives it, and awareness of what is going on within yourself that prompts your feedback in the first place. Click here for show notes.
Special Episode: Todd May, Philosopher and Consultant on The Good Place!
56:31Our second “insider” conversation with someone who worked on The Good Place! Todd May is a philosopher to whom Michael Schur reached out early in the show because of Professor May’s book Death (The Art of Living). Todd talks and laughs with Jon Spira-Savett about a range of topics, including: motivation (of characters on the show, and of Jon); community and ethical growth; whether the show actually has anything to do with the afterlife; Kierkegaard in a nutshell; how the show gravitated in an Aristotelian direction over time; how Todd’s writings about death connect with the show; how a professional philosopher thinks about the role of entertainment and clergy people in bringing big ideas to a wider public; Michael Schur’s high standards; and the role of Jewish historical experience in cultivating a commitment to justice. Click here for show notes.
Chapters 40-41: Shadow, Mask, Mentor –- Three Ways (Back) to You
57:10On The Good Place, it’s the start of a new and final season! Eleanor poses in Michael’s role as architect and tries various plans to reshape Brent. When she struggles, the group loses faith in her and so does Eleanor herself, until a pep talk from Michael leads her to change her perspective (and her outfit). On the podcast, it’s also the start of a new and final season, so Sari Laufer and Jon Spira-Savett start off by checking in on what we’ve learned through the rewatch and the podcast so far. Then we explore the concepts of the shadow side, masks, and mentors, which turn out to be three different approach angles on teshuvah. We find ourselves revisiting the biblical Purim story, where Mordechai can help Esther find herself because of a key moment where her destiny and her people’s are on the line at the same time — much like Michael and Eleanor do yet again. Click here for show notes.
Chapter 39: Who Could Be A Friend? (Season 3 Finale)
1:00:20On the final episode of Season 3 of The Good Place, Tahani encounters John the gossip columnist, and Eleanor leans on the group as Chidi decides he needs to erase his memories of her when Simone arrives in the new experiment. On the podcast, Elliot Goldberg and Jon Spira-Savett return to the theme of friendship – through their experiences as “architects” in schools and camp, and revisiting a Talmudic-era teaching about what friends do for each other’s life and moral development. Click here for show notes.
Chapter 38: Points and Counterpoints
54:10On The Good Place, Michael and Shawn battle before the Judge over whether the complexity of modern life, coupled with the four humans’ progress, require a reassessment of the point system. Chidi comes up with the idea of a new experiment involving different humans, and the Judge tweaks the ground rules before ordering Michael and Shawn to comply. On the podcast, Daniel Kirzane and Jon Spira-Savett scamper widely across Torah and Talmud in our own tweak of the podcast’s ongoing attempt to synthesize points, intentions, and teshuvah in an elegant way. We discuss whether life was in fact less complex in the past, and whether the way we ourselves (and others) tell our stories looking back can actually change the point value of our actions retroactively. Also, Daniel tells us about being one of the #tomatorabbis, supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a successful campaign that has transformed the ethics of tomato consumption in the past decade! Click here for show notes.