‘The Good Place’ is Michael Schur’s latest project. It’s a brilliant series and marks an all time high in the comedy producer’s career. One thing in particular, however, stands out about ‘The Good Place’ and makes it a modern day classic: Eleanor Shellstrop. Eleanor is the main character of the comedy induced series and she is portrayed by the actress Kristen Bell. But why is this character in particular so brilliantly executed? ‘The Good Place’ is a near-perfect show that functions amazingly and one character stands in the center of all that. How and why?
The following article contains massive spoilers from the TV show ‘The Good Place’. Do not go further if you have not watched ALL OF IT.
The basics of Eleanor.
Eleanor Shellstrop starts of as a terrible person. It’s shown numerous times through the flashbacks throughout the show. She wasn’t a mediocre person; no, she treated everyone in her life, people she knew and people she didn’t, with complete disrespect and profoundly selfish behavior. Example one: she will say to complete stranger that ‘she doesn’t care if he dies’ when they try to talk to her about saving the environment. Example two: she will deliberately forget her friends and ditch them, possibly forever, to sleep with a guy that she just met. Eleanor Shellstrop was indeed a truly horrific person and she didn’t even belong in the Medium Place; she belonged in the Bad Place.
She is, however, somehow likable. The writers have applied a few specific methods and characterizations to Eleanor to make her an enjoyable character and someone who the public wants to see more of. Because, realistically, if she was missing the following characteristics, Eleanor would just have been an evil character that no one would have liked watching.
Why she works.
The characteristics: one, Eleanor is funny. She has a certain sarcastic sense of humor that many people strongly relate to. When she pops a joke, the viewer forgets the bad things she’s done because she’s charismatic and makes them laugh. Characteristic two, Eleanor has a rather negligee attitude; she is generally ‘chill’; she doesn’t stress (at least not in a bad and annoying manner) and chooses to spend her time in a rather relaxed manner. Once again, this feeling resonates with the viewer: they feel at ease and, strangely, safe with Eleanor. In this case, this feeling may be subconscious, but, nevertheless, it’s there.
And third, Eleanor’s desire to improve herself. But more on that later.
How the show functions.
It must be mentioned now how the show deliberately structures it’s plot around one person’s character development. Eleanor’s main aim is literally to become a better person and thus, avoid eternal damnation. The show is literally structured in a way that its main purpose and main source of moving forward is the character development of Eleanor Shellstrop. This makes it a lot more easy for everyone: the writers have an excuse to provide a valid reason for Eleanor’s change overtime and the viewers are spoonfed some great character development. The writers have also made it a lot easier on themselves by introducing the character of Chidi.
Now Chidi would usually be the actual definition of plot-device. The ethical professor’s literal purpose, at least in the beginning, is to make Eleanor Shellstrop a better person. Michael Schur has, of course, worked great past this and made Chidi into a believable and great character himself. The fact remains, however, that he is a great device to help develop Eleanor. It is created so smartly though: they have literally made Chidi Eleanor’s teacher. This way he still functions as a complete human being, while she is literally taught character development. It’s quite fascinating and, truthfully, brilliant what the writers have done here: the main character is taught character development by a literal teacher and it works for both of them.
Eleanor’s overall development.
Later on, the show gets a lot more in depth in Eleanor’s character and character development is served no longer only through the help of Chidi. In fact, later on the writers choose three methods to provide some more depth to Eleanor.
One, her own self-realizations. As the series goes on, Eleanor understand many new things about herself. She states many times that she now realizes that she was a bad person and sees now how wrong she was in many of the things she was doing. She goes back to her childhood searching for the root of her bad behavior and questions a lot of the things she did when she was alive. These self-realizations do two things: one, new information is fed to the viewer and simply watching the scenes makes them understand more about Eleanor; two, the mere fact that she realizes that she was a bad person provides a significant amount of character development to her.
Two, Eleanor continuously acts as a better person. As she realizes how bad she was, she aims towards being better in the afterlife. Her actions prove to that many times as she does a lot more selfless things to help her friends. Of course, this only happens after she is dead and meets Chidi. These good actions consequentially make her a good person.
The third method to providing depth to Eleanor is her own need and desire for self-improvement. This may not seem like such a big thing, but in reality, when a person wants to improve themselves, they immediately become a more complex, and ultimately better human being. If Eleanor had no desire for self-improvement all the points mentioned above would be meaningless and illogical: she would never understand she is a bad person in the first place and would never do good things if she didn’t want to. It’s cause and effect.
The culmination point.
In the latest episode, the Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason must all face the Judge to determine whether they truly belong in The Good Place. It’s worth mentioning here, for the sake of the show, how brilliantly this episode was executed. A similar method to what the writers did with Chidi is used here as well. To test whether the characters have moved forward from their previous selves and become better people, they are all given different tests. Think about it. They are given literal tests for character development. That is incredible smart from the writers and quite understandable to the viewers.
Eleanor’s development culminates in this episode as all of her friends fail, but she doesn’t. Not only does she pass, thus proving she is no longer a bad person, but she also lies to her friends about it, presumably to not make them feel bad about themselves. This combines all factors mentioned above: Eleanor’s understanding (method №1) of her previous bad nature makes her want to change (method №3). Sequentially, this leads to her actually changing and passing the test. Furthermore, she does a good thing (method №2) by telling her friends she actually didn’t pass. It’s the perfect culmination for her character development and fully presents everything the writers have accomplished with her.
‘The Good Place’ is, indeed, one of the best TV shows currently on television. It’s a near-perfect show with numerous qualities that make it so. In the center of it all, however, stands Eleanor Shellstrop. A character whom the writers have created and developed geniusly. And it all works: Eleanor is slowly becoming a beautiful human being in a logical and interesting way. Her development is surely one of the best things about ‘The Good Place’. She is the perfect exmpale of how character can and should be handled. It’s forking genius.
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And there you have it! A character analysis of Eleanor Shellstrop! What do you think of Eleanor? Do you like her? Anything else to add to my thoughts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, please. Also, don’t forget to LIKE and SHARE this article if you enjoyed it and SUBSCRIBE to Our Movie Life.
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