Where Hell Seems a Heav’n: Tracing Milton through NBC’s The Good Place
‘I would argue that NBC’s The Good Place is deeply rooted in the writings of John Milton, the internationally-renown 17th-century poet, polemic, civil servant, and intellectual. A number of prominent lines, character concepts, and fundamental themes from Milton’s lapsarian epic Paradise Lost underlie key elements in The Good Place, particularly with regard to the show’s central twist, its questioning of afterlife authority figures or structures, and the attention it implicitly draws to the concept of restorative justice.’
– Jack Wolfram
Jack’s wonderful essay explores the way in which The Good Place television series draws its foundations from Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost. This insightful work was extremely enjoyable to read because it makes a convincing case for a very unusual comparison; Netflix box sets and seventeenth century poets do not usually arise within the same sentence!
Jack analyses how the show’s plot twist, that The Good Place is actually The Bad Place, mirrors Satan’s concept, in Paradise Lost, that you ‘can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n’. Jack explores how the drama and the poem both engage with the idea of questioning central authority figures, and he also draws an interesting contextual point that Milton did this in his own life by helping to dethrone Charles I. As the essay draws to a close, Jack explores the commitment of NBC’s production to restorative justice as an alternative to the binary judgement system in place within The Good Place and Paradise Lost. I thought it was particularly interesting that Jack relates this to a contemporary context by stating that such an ‘afterlife system allows minimal to no opportunity for rehabilitation or reform, much like our own abysmal penal system within the United States’. References such as this and the overall popular culture theme of this essay makes it a very modern and refreshing work, but also shows us how the problems rooted in our own contemporary moment have been interlaced with questions human beings have been asking themselves for centuries.
If you have watched The Good Place, you will be able to see how applicable Jack’s argument is to the show and will undoubtedly appreciate his essay even more. As an editor very much interested in the interrelationship of art forms, this connection between the drama of a television series and poetry is something I would like to see a lot more of within the magazine in the future. It might also be interesting to consider the drama of the cinema or the stage in relation to textual art as well.
Amber Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief
Original feature image by Rakicevic Nenad; retrieved from Pexels.com.