The Good Blog: Chapter 5

A few weeks ago, The Good Class switched up its premise with a crazy Mike Schur visit, and during our last class meeting, we let that sit. But this week, we switched it up again(!) with a visit from Pamela Hieronymi, officially rounding out our Philosophy Trinity: Meghan, Chidi, Pamela. The Good Class got to know several important details about Professor Hieronymi including her favorite philosophy (contractualism) and her philosophical spirit animal (Dr. Peter Strawson).  After an interesting warmup that concluded with two members of the Philosophy Trinity (not Chidi) discussing Derek Parfit’s wardrobe selection and the upshots of his separation of self theory (disjointed future self, teleporting, split brains, and other normal stuff), it was time to talk The Good Place. Continue reading

The Good Blog: Chapter 4

The Friday after our meeting with Mike Schur, The Good Class returned to its regular programming. But the visit was fresh in all of our minds, and we were all itching to talk about everything we’d learned, so the first thing we did was debrief. Everyone seemed to agree that the day was almost 104% perfect. All of us (including/especially our professors) have seen some guest speakers who aren’t so great at teaching what they know to others, but Mike Schur was not only smart-brained but also able to get across all the interesting things he had to say in a funny and entertaining way. He was cool with answering whatever crazy questions we had. We also liked that we got to talk to him in both the lunchtime and theater settings–all in all we got a very well-rounded experience. Continue reading

The Good Blog: Chapter 3 – SCHUR DAY

The day was finally here: “Schur Day.” We all arrived to our lunch with Mike Schur in outfits that said “Today I’m meeting a famous person, I better have my shirt together.” We were bright eyed and bushy tailed hoping that Mike could tell us all of the secrets of The Good Place and what the heck we had to do to make our dreams in entertainment come true. We sat in a big circle and ate lunch (only nervously spilling one glass of water) and began our deep dive into the brain of Mike Schur. 

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The Good Blog: Chapter 1

The story of this class begins, in a way, with Regis Philbin. 

Regis served as the bridge between the world of Notre Dame and the world of Michael Schur, creator of The Good Place. A bridge that allowed our letter, expressing our undying love and appreciation for the show and inviting Michael Schur to campus, to reach Schur’s hands. He agreed, and from that point til now our professors, Christine Becker, Ricky Herbst, and Meghan Sullivan, have been working tirelessly to make this the most thought- and resource-intensive 1 credit course in the history of Notre Dame (right down to spending hours trying to discern the font used in The Good Place… to no avail. — UPDATE: NDFTT alum Matt Mancini, who is part of the Good Place editing team, has checked in to report that the font is “Brandon Grotesque with a modified “Q” “g” “j” “p” “q” “y”. Thus, we call it “Brandon Good Place”.). Today, it was time for us students to see if this class truly is “The Good Class” as promised, or if we’ve been fooled into torturing each other all semester… 

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Course Syllabus

       FTT30111/PHIL33101: THE GOOD CLASS

Course Description
This one-credit course offers an interdisciplinary deep dive into the ground-breaking NBC sitcom The Good Place for students in the Department of Film, Television, Theatre and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. We’ll look at the philosophical theories of goodness and human flourishing embedded in the episode’s stories. We’ll consider how moral change figures in comedy and how television helps shape the conversation between popular art and morality. We’ll analyze the economic and aesthetic forces that guide work like this and dig into the details of how the show was developed, produced, and received. And finally, we’ll do the most human thing of all: attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!

Course Policies
Attendance: You are required to attend all sessions, with exceptions allowed only for documented illness and university-excused obligations. Pobody’s nerfect, but more than one unexcused absence will result in an Unsatisfactory grade and a devastating declaration that Ya basic. 

Readings and screenings: You are expected to complete assigned readings and screenings for the day they are listed on the syllabus. All readings are available via Sakai, and screenings are available either on Sakai or Netflix. If you do not do the readings and watch the screenings, your brains will be removed, studied, and batted about Notre Dame Stadium like beach balls.

Honor Code: The scripts we read this semester are proprietary information and must not be distributed or shared in any way with anyone outside of this course; any violation of this rule will constitute an Honor Code violation. The Strong Questions and Final Reflection assignments submitted for this class must be completed on your own by virtue of your own ideas and efforts, while the Blogging Assignment must be undertaken only by the students in their assigned group with all outside sources duly credited. See http://honorcode.nd.edu/ for more information about Honor Code guidelines and procedures. Bottom line: Do not cheat off of Chidi, and if you do cheat on the BuzzFeed quiz “Do you know all the slang words the Kardashians invented?” at least be honest enough to admit you did. Also, no killing. Killing is one of the most famous moral no-nos.

Grading: The course will be graded on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis. We will rate you in five categories: dancing ability, coolness, dopeness, freshness, and smart-brained. Beyond that, if you attend all sessions, complete the required assignments according to the listed guidelines, and regularly participate in class discussions, you will receive a Satisfactory. If you are deficient in at least one of these areas, you will receive an Unsatisfactory. We promise the grading will be fair, even though fair is the stupidest word humans ever invented, except for staycation.

Assignments

1) Strong Questions for Guest Speakers: A strong question is one which you genuinely want to discover the answer to, is likely to be enlightening for the group, and helps us engage in a funny or serious way with a big idea behind the show. Students will be asked to prepare and submit two strong questions for each of our three guest speakers: 

  • In advance of the Michael Schur session, each student will compose and submit two strong questions to ask about The Good Place. One question should be related to production and/or media analysis. One question should be related to a philosophical theme underlying one or more of the episodes.  
  • In advance of the Pamela Hieronomyi session, each student will compose two strong questions about the philosophy behind the episodes.
  • In advance of the Michael Swanson session, each student will compose two strong questions about the development and studio oversight aspects of the show.
  • Sample questions: “You haven’t seen Hamilton?” “Hey, did you hear about Stephanie?” “Apples you eat their clothes, but oranges you don’t?”

2)  Blogging Assignment: For each class session following the first meeting, a group of 2-3 students will craft a media-rich summary of the day’s key takeaways for public distribution on the course website, which must be posted by the next class session. Do this good thing because you’re good, not because you’re seeking moral dessert. 

3)  Final Reflection: Each student must submit by November 1 an individual final assignment that reflects upon their overall class experience. This assignment can be in any format of the student’s choosing: a personal essay, an episode review, a video essay, a spec script scene, a poem, fan art, etc. That’s right, you don’t have a final exam. It’s something way worse: A choice! That you have to make! With the student’s permission, this assignment will be shared on the course website.


Course Schedule and Weekly Learning Goals

Friday, September 6: What Is So Special About The Good Place?

Episodes to watch: Ep101 “Everything is Fine” and Ep112 “Mindy St. Clair”
Reading: Ep101 writer’s draft and shooting script and “Moral Saints” by Susan Wolf 

  1. Introductions: What Do You Make of the Show?
  2. Overview of network TV’s formal rules and exceptions in the GP pilot.
  3. Overview of network TV practices via the pilot development of GP.
  4. Understand the central question of virtue ethics that structures the GP pilot.
  5. Raise questions we hope to answer across the semester.  


Friday, September 13:
The Good Place & Typical Sitcom Episodic Structure/Seasonal Structure/Aesthetics 

Episodes to watch: Ep113 “Michael’s Gambit” and Ep203 “Dance Dance Resolution”
Reading: Morreall, “Philosophy of Humor,” Epstein, “Writing the Script,” and Ep113 & Ep203 Shooting Scripts

  1. Analyze how the GP S1 finale changes the series premise, propels next seasons
  2. Identify conventional and unconventional plot elements in Ep 203 and pinpoint differences between script and final production.
  3. Introduce broad concepts in humor theory and aesthetics.
  4. Discuss the use of cliffhangers as plot devices.
  5. Prepare as a group for Michael Schur’s visit.


Monday, September 16: SCHUR DAY 12-2pm

Note: Class meets with Mike Schur in 2nd Floor Founder’s Room at DPAC.  Lunch (room temperature clam chowder, basically a savory latte with bugs in it) will be served.

Episodes to watch: Ep 309 “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” and Ep 311 “The Book of Dougs”
Reading: Anderson, “The Ultimate Sitcom” and Sider, “Hell and Vagueness” 

  1. Understand differences and similarities between the initial pitch for GP and the final product. What was the process of developing the idea?
  2. Discuss the philosophical benefits and paradoxes of The Point System.
  3. Formulate two strong questions to discuss with Schur about philosophy and/or production.

Monday, September 16: SCHUR DAY CONTINUED 6-7:30pm
“Can TV Make us Better People? A Conversation with Michael Schur.” Washington Hall. This is a ticketed event.  We will distribute tickets for you in class. Doors open at 5:30pm.


Friday, September 20: Fan and Critical Reception & Marketing

Episodes to watch:  Ep 305 “Jeremy Bearimy” and Ep 313 “Pandamonium”
Reading: Gilbert, “Conspicuous Consumption: Industry Interpellation and Fan Consumption at San Diego Comic-Con”

  1. Debrief the Schur visit and discuss insights that came up.
  2. Discuss fan and critical discourse surrounding the series
  3. Analyze and debate critical reaction about whether Chidi and Eleanor earn soulmate status by Ep 313.
  4. Learn about the show’s promotion at Comic-Con from guest Melanie Kohnen, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Lewis & Clark College


Friday, September 27: No Class.  Do something good!

 

Friday, October 4: Virtue Ethics for Script Writing with Guest Pamela Hieronymi

Episodes to watch: Ep 111 “What’s My Motivation?” and Ep 205 “Existential Crisis”
Reading: Donahue, “How Accurate is the Good Place’s Philosophy?” and Hieronymi, “The Reasons of Trust” AJP

  1. Discuss themes in contemporary virtue ethics and how well the show captures current ethical theory.
  2. Formulate two strong questions for Prof. Hieronomyi about the connection between virtue and humor.

OPTIONAL: Prof. Hieronymi will give a public lecture for the Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Study at 3pm. “Fairness, Sanction, and Condemnation.”  You are welcome to attend.  Reception afterward from 5-6pm.

 

Friday, October 11: The Place of The Good Place in the TV Industry with Skype Guest Michael Swanson, VP of Production at NBC Universal

Episodes to watch: Ep 107, “The Eternal Shriek” and Ep 310, “Janet(s)”
Reading: Harrington, “The ars moriendi of US serial television: Towards a good textual death”

  1. Formulate two strong questions about the studio perspective on The Good Place
  2. Consider what aspects of The Good Place across each of its seasons would either concern or thrill a studio executive
  3. Debate the decision to end the series at Season 4
  4. What do you think would constitute a “good death” for The Good Place? How would you end the series?

The Good Class Application Form

To be considered for admittance into The Good Class for the Fall 2019 semester, you must fill out the application form at this link and submit it via Google Forms by 11:59pm on April 7.

Please note:

  • Only declared or anticipated FTT majors and Philosophy major/minors at the University Notre Dame are eligible to apply.
  • The class will be small, so seats are limited and the application process will be competitive.
  • Students will be informed of the admittance decisions by April 12.

If you’d like to contemplate the application questions before launching the form, they are:

  1. Why do you deserve to be admitted into The Good Class? Provide specific reasons accompanied by the approximate points (see explanation) you believe you have earned for each of these achievements.
  2. We recently discovered that no one has passed The Good Class in centuries, so please provide your suggestions for how the course should be fairly graded going forward.Answers should be no longer than 400 words each, and creativity will be rewarded.

Course Description

FTT 30111/PHIL 33101: The Good Class — The Philosophy and Production Behind The Good Place

This one-credit Fall 2019 course at the University of Notre Dame will offer an interdisciplinary deep dive into the ground-breaking NBC sitcom The Good Place.  We’ll look at the philosophical theories of goodness and human flourishing that back the episode scripts. We’ll consider how moral change figures in comedy and how television helps shape the conversation between popular art and morality. We’ll look at the economic and aesthetic forces that guide work like this. And we’ll get into the details of how the show was devised, pitched, and produced. There will be five 90-minute class meetings, plus an in-depth session with showrunner Michael Schur. Participants will be expected to watch and critically analyze episodes of the series, engage with relevant secondary literature (including some secondary viewing), and submit writing assignments.

In order to be admitted into The Good Class, students must submit an application form no later than Thursday, April 7. Instructions for submission and a link to the application form can be found at http://sites.nd.edu/thegoodclass/. Only declared or anticipated FTT majors and Philosophy majors/minors are eligible to apply.

Instructors: Meghan Sullivan (Philosophy), Christine Becker (FTT), Ricky Herbst (FTT)

Meeting times: The first five Fridays of the semester, 11-12:30, plus a lunchtime meeting on Monday, Sept 16.

Location: B043 DPAC

Coming Up… The Good Class

This is The Good Class, a class about The Good Place. Sponsored by: otters holding hands while they sleep. You know the way you feel when you see a picture of two otters holding hands? That’s how you’re gonna feel every day.

The architects: Christine Becker and Ricky Herbst, Department of Film, Television, and Theater, and Meghan Sullivan, Department of Philosophy, at the University of Notre Dame

Welcoming you in Fall 2019. Good luck racking up points for admittance in the meantime!