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The good life, examined I Chuck's World


Last updated 11/15/2017 at Noon

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

Now that I think about it, I also watched a few episodes of “The Good Doctor,” which is an ABC show. I’ve don’t think I’ve ever seen “The Good Wife” on CBS, although now I’m sensing a pattern. I have no idea what it means.

I came to “The Good Place” from a not-so-good place, which would be a place of malignant boredom. This is always the season for it, when options become as limited as daylight, and spontaneous walks to the beach get less attractive. I try to resist the siren call of the small screen, but resistance is apparently futile.

My trip to “The Good Place” was the result of too much time, then, and idle eyes, although in fairness to my questionable taste in television, it’s been getting a lot of press attention over the past year. The subject matter felt a little cliché; pondering the afterlife, usually in comic terms, is a Hollywood trope that goes way back, usually with guardian angels and reluctant humans, from the classic Powell and Pressburger “A Matter of Life and Death” to Albert Brooks’ more recent take in “Defending Your Life.”

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 of “The Good Place” 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 comedy.

I enjoyed the few episodes I watched; I’ll watch a few more, probably, eventually. Ted Danson is a hoot. It’s short and funny, and helps pass the time.

And it made me think about judgment.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past week or so being mad at Kevin Spacey, and wondering about that. In our current flood of stories about men behaving badly, there are plenty of villains to pick from. Some are more familiar than others, and I assume my contempt is bred from that.

We’ve always been a culture of clay feet: raise ‘em up, tear ‘em down. Even our most selfless celebrities have a skeleton or two dancing away in the broom closet, I imagine, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we learn the details.

This doesn’t appear to be anywhere near new.

I think I’ve been focused on Spacey because I was more familiar with him. He’s 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.

Not such a good human, it appears. The stories about Spacey and the others have spawned a cottage industry of articles, explaining how we’re supposed to deal with ethical dilemmas around fallen idols. Can we still watch Woody Allen movies? How about Mel Gibson? If we see a show or film, and find out in the credits that Louis C.K. was somehow involved, is there an entertainment confessional or penance we can pay, or should?

I can’t personally work up the energy to care. Even if I avoid any movie that has a whiff of Weinstein involvement, plug my ears and hum loudly if a Louis C.K. video clip passes across my monitor, my choices are irrelevant.

Judgment has already been passed, and that’s the most interesting thing here.

Assuming these creeps stay out of jail (maybe an unsafe assumption), I also assume they can live off their bank accounts, careers destroyed and lives irreparably damaged, but needs met.

A performer, though, 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, 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 100 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. Not even Verbal Kint could talk his way out of this, and at the moment it feels a little like justice.


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