The Good Place: Janet and Michael

“To activate your Janet, press nose for three seconds.”

The Good Place takes a fundamentally intellectual approach to morality: the more you learn about it (from Chidi), the more likely you are to understand the most moral choice and the ethics involved in that choice. It’s about the head, not the heart. That framework, though, really only works for humans. What’s the analogue for a non-person like a Janet? Specifically, for our Janet, the smartest Janet in the universe?

The answer seems to be for her to become more human. Janet’s programming is to make her humans happy. The development of her personality (via numerous reboots) has made that a more difficult situation for her. But self-reflection—as well as some low-key lying—allows Janet to develop a more complex orientation towards both others and herself.

Janet gets some hilarious help from Michael, who plays the part of wacky doctor/anyone who has ever tried to reboot a computer. The Random Object Generator test, in particular, was both delightful, since ostrich meat is funny for everyone (except ostriches, who don’t like this show), and meaningful, since nothing is wrong with Janet. She’s just having growing pains as she grapples with Tahani and Jason’s relationship. We’ve all been there. Even ostriches.

The result is quite comical, and I mean that in both the ha-ha sense and the formal sense. Standard narrative comedies move from the realm of a slightly broken status quo, to the carnivalesque of wacky topsy-turvydom, to an improved version of the status quo. And there’s nothing more topsy-turvy than Janet, who is basically the neighborhood’s operating system and butler, going on the fritz.

Since everything works out in the end—Eleanor's advice that Janet find a rebound guy seems to work perfectly—this episode also highlights the touching connection between Michael and Janet. Although Janet isn’t technically a woman, or female, or anything like that, she still reads that way on screen, and that makes the Michael/Janet relationship one of the most touching portrayals of something that is rarely portrayed: a platonic relationship between people of the opposite sex. They’re teammates and co-conspirators. And Michael loves Janet enough not to kill her, even if the fate of the neighborhood, and therefore his own existence, is on the line.

In other words, as Janet has developed, so has Michael. Not through an intellectual approach to moral philosophy, but through open-hearted communication, bonding over time, and the kind of friendship that lets you tell someone when their outfit makes them look bottom-heavy.

Incompatible with Objective Truth:

• Vicky: “Needles!”

• Janet: “I know what you have to do now. Kill me!”

• Janet: “So it looks like it’s adios, Janito.”

• Michael reading the how-to-Janet manual reminded me of my recent frantic googling to figure out how to unfreeze my cell phone. Oh, of course you press those buttons in that sequence for that amount of time. So intuitive…

• Chidi and the needles. Need(le) I say more?

Four out of four six-foot sub sandwiches

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

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