Thursday February 21, 2019

HBO dropped a trailer for The Case Against Adnan Sayed. The series “will explore the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, a case brought to global attention by the hugely popular Serial podcast. The Case Against Adnan Syed premieres March 10.“

Desus & Mero premieres tonight on HBO. More below.

Pop debuts Flack tonight.

I didn’t want to even acknowledge this nobody again, but . . . Jussie Smollett should have stayed under the rock out from which he crawled. Now, instead of hiding under a rock, he can spend his time in the clink. Full story is below.

He’s currently in custody after turning himself in.

Per Chicago P.D., “[t]he stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied by his salary.”

Who isn’t?

Right behind Smollett on the moron leaderboard is Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson.

“Charter Communications, the No. 2 cable operator in the U.S., has announced plans to launch Spectrum TV Essentials, an OTT video service for the company’s existing internet customers who don’t already get pay-TV from Spectrum. Rolling out by the end of March, the service will cost $15 a month. It will offer live and on-demand programming from more than 60 lifestyle, entertainment and news channels owned by the likes of Viacom, Discovery, A+E Networks, AMC Networks and Crown Media. Starting in May, subscribers will also be able to get Spectrum Originals, a portfolio of shows created by a new programming arm of Charter. Sports — generally considered the ‘glue’ of the traditional cable bundle — is not an ingredient in Spectrum TV Essentials.”

Netflix’s upcoming docu-series Formula 1: Drive to Survive is set to premiere March 8 on the streaming platform. From the makers of Senna and Amy, the 10-part series will take a deep dive into the world of formula racing, following several race throughout a variety of countries including Melbourne, Bahrain, Canada, Austria, Singapore, Austin and Brazil, before culminating in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. James Gay Rees and Paul Martin are executive producing alongside show runner Sophie Todd.”

The deceptive simplicity of Netflix series Dating Around.

While we’re on the topic, here is some F, Marry, Kill with Dating Around folks.

Lion and Rabbit got this week’s unmaskings… and they’re Empire‘s Rumer Willis and former *NSync singer Joey Fatone, respectively.

Wendy Williams will return to her talk show post on March 4. “Williams has been on leave from The Wendy Williams Show since Jan. 18 to deal with health issues including a fractured shoulders and complications from Graves disease, an immune system disorder which the host was diagnosed with last year.”

Nice to see that Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston still exchange birthday gifts.

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Per Variety, “[i]t wasn’t too long ago that Desus Nice and The Kid Mero were living their lives as Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez, two bored Bronx guys throwing jokes on Twitter about their frustrating jobs. But six years after joining forces, they’re poised to crash the overwhelmingly monochrome late-night talk-show party with their wicked wit, supreme confidence and a glossy new Showtime series, Desus & Mero, that bows Feb. 21. 

“Lounging in the neon, graffitied space at New York City’s Milk Studios, where they record the Bodega Boys podcast that launched their collaborations, Desus and Mero have just finished their first run of test shows for the Showtime venture. They aren’t necessarily surprised that they’ve climbed to such heights so quickly. (As Desus said on a recent episode of their podcast, they ‘do iconic s— accidentally — it’s just organic.’) But every so often, their leap into celebrity makes them reflect with awe on how far they’ve come.

“‘Five years ago, we were searching the couches for a five-dollar bill to get a Dutch, smoke weed and come up with some stupid plan like “If we invent spoons, we’ll get out of the hood,”’ Desus says.

“‘Now,’ adds Mero, ‘Anthony Anderson will text us when we’re in L.A. and be like, “Motherf—er, you’re in L.A. and didn’t tell me?!”’ [Not sure that’s something to brag about, but ok.]

“So it’s no wonder that Showtime has high hopes for Desus and Mero as they set about anchoring the network’s first real foray into the genre. But they see their roles in the TV landscape a little differently. ‘It’s a show that comes on at late night,’ says Desus, sitting next to Mero in the Jam Room the morning after the test run. ‘But it’s not a “late-night show”’ as anyone else has traditionally done it. 

:Sure, Desus & Mero might have hosts, celebrity interviews and an 11 p.m. start time. It even boasts writers from late-night standards like Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (a marked difference from their late Viceland show of the same name, which had no writers room). Other writers are coming in from Twitter and beyond to hone their voices and conceptualize ambitious sketches and field pieces. And yet from where Desus, Mero and even Showtime are standing none of that means they have to adhere to genre norms, let alone swap their sweatshirts for stodgy suits. ‘We give them the resources and the time to realize all of their ambition on their show, [but] there’s nothing we impose,’ says Gary Levine, co-president of entertainment at Showtime. ‘Our goal is to have Desus and Mero be Desus and Mero.’

“That mission statement is what drew them to the network. As Desus puts it, ‘We’ve always enjoyed doing this — as long as we can do it our way.’

“Mero nods. ‘Everybody goes at the same thing the same way, in late night, in news, everything,’ he says. ‘And it’s like, yo, can we do something else?’

“‘We’re outside the circle, but that’s cool,’ Desus says. ‘Since we’re on the outside, we do whatever we want.’

“That casual defiance is what drew legions of fans to their Twitter accounts back in 2012, when they first caught people’s attention with their quick blasts of observational snark. They forged a partnership rooted in riffs and good-natured attempts to outdo each other. Both on-screen and in person, Desus tends to take the conversational lead, slipping in sly lobs for Mero to spike with enthusiastic punchlines. Their banter takes sharp turns into improvised jokes so often that they merge and loop with sometimes dizzying speed, usually only stopping when one of them is laughing too hard to keep going. 

:Their obvious chemistry led to a stint at Complex as talking pop-culture heads and fledgling podcasters (Desus vs. Mero). That led to their now hugely popular Bodega Boys podcast, which features a pointed tagline: ‘The brand is strong.’ In 2016, they got their own talk show on Viceland — the ambitious but barely watched cable channel, a joint venture between Vice Media and A+E Networks. Four nights a week, for more than 300 episodes, they traded bemused reactions to the news and entertained guests ranging from Jimmy Fallon to Erykah Badu. (The night Trump won the presidency, they hosted a live special with an up-and-coming Bronx artist named Cardi B.) 

“On a channel that ranks among cable’s least popular, they were a lone standout; for as much TV is out there, and as many talking heads as there are to choose from, there was no show quite like Desus & Mero to take on the increasingly bewildering events of the day. No late-night hosts spoke to Kanye storming the TMZ offices with pro-Trump rants, or white people calling the police on black bystanders, or the perpetual disappointment of being a Knicks fan, like they could. As with the podcast, the show felt like a long overdue way to fill an obvious void.  

“But, as Desus and Mero reportedly told Bossip last July, they believed Viceland ‘undervalued’ them by pushing for 160 episodes a year without providing the time or resources to realistically make that happen, prompting them to leave the network 18 months in. The duo also claimed that once Viceland knew they were exiting for Showtime, the network pulled the plug on the program two months before their contract was up. In December, Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc told Elle magazine, ‘They’re going to a platform that their audience doesn’t pay for.’ Asked about the Viceland beef a few weeks out from their Showtime premiere, however, Desus and Mero are more diplomatic. 

“‘We’re grateful for the platform and for the opportunity, but we’re always looking forward,’ says Mero. ‘Never backward.’ (As for Viceland, network president Guy Slattery tells Variety,  ‘We couldn’t be prouder of what Desus and Mero did here. They’ll do great things at Showtime, and we wish them every success.’)

“This ethos is also why, Desus and Mero say, having to explain their origin stories and credentials over and over to more ‘establishment’ (and typically whiter) audiences can be frustrating. Whereas even just a few years ago they’d be shocked by podcast listeners who wanted to snap their pictures after random hosting gigs, they are now selling out theaters that seat thousands of devoted fans (aka the #BodegaHive), who show off tattoos of the Bodega Boys logo and gush about how the podcast has made them feel less alone. ‘The wildest part is, we’re just having fun,’ says Mero. ‘It’s not forced; it’s just natural. And to know that it has that effect on people is wild.’ 

“They have followers all across the country, but New York City has a special affection for Desus and Mero, not just because they’re local but because they’re from the Bronx — and say so every chance they get. ‘Growing up, we’d get insulted for being from the Bronx,’ says Desus. But now, with them, Cardi B and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as leading examples, the mainstream appears to be recognizing the historically maligned borough as the birthplace of a new cultural wave. In fact, it was announced last week that Ocasio-Cortez will be the show’s first guest.

“Still, Desus adds, ‘there are people who know nothing about us, and they’ll be like, “Who are these clowns?” And then their Twitter mentions will be flooded for three days.’ 

“‘We’re just gonna start making s— up now,’ Mero cracks, which immediately sends them off on one of their lightning-fast tangents. 

Mero: Yo, we met in junior high, right, and we both got bit by the same radioactive spider —

Desus: We went to Wakanda because we were being bad —

Mero: Then we came back with vibranium and became the Avengers of comedy. Whoa!

“This kind of off-the-cuff (yet precise) diversion is what their fans value — which creates a unique challenge for the new Desus & Mero writing staff, tasked with replicating their raw chemistry in a different way. ‘Knowing what the fans love about Desus and Mero, [there’s] a lot of pressure to make sure that what we’re doing translates, but it’s also kind of a North Star,’ says senior staff writer Josh Gondelman, who came to the show after five years with Last Week Tonight. ‘The fans, like Desus and Mero, don’t tolerate corniness. They won’t take an inferior product and be grateful for it.’ (For what it’s worth, Bodega Hive, the stars reverently call their writing staff ‘the Yankees’ for being able to pick and flesh out jokes from their speedy repartee.)

“So it’s unsurprising that everyone involved in the show is careful to emphasize that they don’t want to mess with the Bodega Boys brand so much that dedicated fans don’t recognize it anymore. In fact, says Levine, Showtime is hoping the duo’s social-media base will consider the talk show a must-have and become subscribers. For their part, Desus and Mero are seizing the opportunity of more time, more money and greater creative control as an invitation to again move forward. ‘And no bleeps, no commercials?!’ notes Mero in awe. 'I was like, “Yo, layup!”’ 

“As for winning over people who might not know them, no one, least of all Desus and Mero, is concerned. They’re excited for the Showtime series to amplify their voices — and confident it will pay off. 

“‘We’re getting exposed to a whole new audience,’ says Mero, ‘and good s–t is good s–t, no matter which way you slice it.’

“Besides, Desus insists, it doesn’t matter where they are; they’ll always find a way to make people laugh — on their terms.”

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You really need to be watching this show: “WE is betting the appetite for its breakout series Love After Lockup will continue into the spring.

“The cabler has extended the show's second season by 10 episodes, which will premiere in the spring. That brings the total for season two to 24. The additional order comes after the Feb. 15 episode set new series highs — something it's done regularly over the course of the second season.

“The most recent installment drew 1.4 million viewers, 890,000 of whom (about 64 percent) fall in WE's key demographic of adults 25-54, after three days of delayed viewing. Both numbers are the best ever for Love After Lockup and were up by more than 20 percent week to week.

“The docuseries from Sharp Entertainment (90 Day Fiancé) follows couples who fall in love while one is in prison and the challenges they face after the inmate is released. 

Love After Lockup has been on a steady upward trajectory in the ratings for most of this season. Through 11 episodes, three-day viewership among all viewers, adults 25-54 and women 25-54 has more than doubled since the season premiere in December. Every episode since the season premiere has outdrawn the show's first-season highs.

Love After Lockup also outperforms WE's typical primetime ratings by wide margins. In 2018, the network averaged 441,000 primetime viewers and 189,000 in the 25-54 demo.

“The ratings climb — which mirrors those of the scripted cable hits Killing Eve and Dirty John — is all the more rare in an era when ratings for most series on ad-supported channels are in decline. More than three-fourths (60 of 78) ad-supported cable entertainment networks saw their primetime audiences fall in 2018.”

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Per The New York Times, “Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor who said he was the victim of a hate crime, was indicted Wednesday night by an Illinois grand jury that found probable cause that he had actually staged the assault he reported to Chicago police in January.

“Law enforcement officials said a grand jury had decided that Mr. Smollett falsely reported being attacked in a case that quickly drew national attention, and charged him with a felony count of disorderly conduct.

“Mr. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, had told the police that, while walking in downtown Chicago, he had been confronted by masked men who hurled homophobic and racial slurs at him, and announced it was ‘MAGA country,’ a reference to President Trump’s campaign slogan.

“Mr. Smollett had received an immediate outpouring of public support. Many cited his account as an example of another in a rising tide of hate crimes, which the F.B.I. reported last fall had increased for the third straight year.

“But the change in thinking by investigators as the case progressed began to unleash criticism against the news media and politicians who many critics said were too quick to embrace a sketchy account in their drive to tarnish the president. It became a nightly topic on Fox News for Tucker Carlson, who called it a case of identity politics run amok. ‘Identity politics is a scam,’ he said, ‘and it is not so different from the one that Jussie Smollett just pulled.’

“Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, said on Wednesday: ‘I think that the initial reaction suggested that there is a lot of credulity, especially among liberals who were looking at a story that seemed to confirm their impressions about Trump supporters.’

“Mr. Smollett has continued to vehemently insist the incident occurred just as he reported it. A representative for him, Pamela Sharp, said that she was ‘aware of the news’ but had no further comment.

“From the start, investigators had difficulty corroborating Mr. Smollett’s story, even with about a dozen detectives assigned to the case.

“No surveillance cameras caught the attack. There were no witnesses. He had not reported it from the scene, and when he got home was still wearing a noose that he said the perpetrators had placed around his neck.

“Investigators, though, were able to track two men who appeared on video footage not far from the scene that night. Using ride share data, they discovered the two were brothers who in fact knew Mr. Smollett. One had acted as an extra on Empire.

“The police initially identified the brothers as possible suspects in the attack, but then released them without filing any charges. The men had reportedly told investigators that Mr. Smollett had coordinated a faux attack and paid them to participate in it.

“The brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, were brought in as witnesses to the grand jury Wednesday evening with their lawyer.

“Filing a false police report in Illinois is technically referred to as disorderly conduct and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In Mr. Smollett’s case, the police said the grand jury had decided on a felony count, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

“Mr. Smollett’s lawyers, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, have said their client denies the police account. ‘Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,’ they said in a statement Saturday.

“It added: ‘One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.’

“Mr. Smollett’s possible motive in pursuing a plan the police now suspect him of drafting remains mysterious. Various theories have surfaced, one suggesting he might have been worried he was about to be relegated to a lower profile on Empire, perhaps being written out of the Fox series entirely. The network vehemently denied that was the case.

“On Wednesday, in fact, before the police made their announcement, Fox had put out another statement saying it was standing by Mr. Smollett. It called him ‘a consummate professional on set’ and said, ‘as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show.’

“A week before the reported attack, Mr. Smollett said he had received a virulently racist and threatening anonymous letter containing a white powder, later determined to be harmless. The F.B.I. is investigating the letter but has declined to comment.

“As Mr. Smollett first described the attack it occurred at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. He said his assailants hit him in the face, bruising him, then poured a chemical substance on him as he walked back home along Lower East North Water Street, after a trip to buy a tuna sandwich. Mr. Smollett, in a follow-up interview with detectives, said the attackers had mentioned ‘MAGA country.’

“Mr. Smollett’s manager, Brandon Moore, said he had been on the phone with Mr. Smollett and overheard part of the attack, a statement later confirmed by phone records released to the police.

“Within days, the police released an image of two men they considered ‘potential persons of interest wanted for questioning.’ Mr. Smollett would later say in an interview on Good Morning America that he was convinced the men in the pictures were his attackers.

“‘Because I was there,’ Mr. Smollett said. ‘For me, when that was released, I was like, “O.K., we’re getting somewhere.” I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.’

“On Feb. 13, the investigators detained the Osundairos after they landed in Chicago on a flight from Nigeria where they had flown just after the reported incident. Police raided their home and, according to CBS Chicago, removed items including an Empire script, a ski mask, a red hat and a magazine.

“Held for two days without being charged, the brothers, who have both acted and who train as bodybuilders, were reported to have ultimately provided investigators with an account that depicted them as pretend assailants in a bit of street theater intended to shake up public perceptions. Investigators came to believe that the rope used may have been bought by the brothers at the Crafty Beaver hardware store in the Ravenswood neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.

“Police scoured the area, recovering some videotape from neighboring stories in an apparent effort to corroborate the brothers’ account.

“Public opinion, once so strongly behind Mr. Smollett, began to waver in recent days. Al Sharpton, for example, who was among the people who had initially condemned the reported attack, said that if the incident was shown to have been a hoax, those responsible ‘ought to face accountability to the maximum.’

“In some ways the marked shift in opinion resembled the aftermath of last month’s incident in Washington where videos appeared to show high school students from Covington, Ky,. wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, engage in a standoff with an elderly Native American man. As more videos surfaced, the encounter appeared to have been more complicated. The students themselves had been subjected to ridicule by African-American protesters nearby and their defenders suggested they had been unfairly portrayed by a liberal media too quick to judge.

“In the Smollett case, the Chicago police continued for weeks to assert that Mr. Smollett was considered a victim. But in recent days, the demeanor of investigators changed. On Tuesday, they released an unconfirmed tip reporting that Mr. Smollett had been seen with the brothers in an elevator on the night of the attack. The report was later debunked but the change in perspective by the police was clear.”

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Per New York Magazine, “[w]hat happens after we die? In 2019, you don’t need to consult holy scriptures in order to find answers to the mysteries of the afterlife — you just need to turn on the TV. Despite the increasing secularization of mainstream pop-culture, depictions of the afterlife onscreen are currently a dime a dozen, with shows like The Good PlaceMiracle WorkersRussian DollForeverBlack Mirror, as well as an upcoming series from The Office producer Greg Daniels each advancing their own unique visions of demons and angels, heaven and hell, and everything in between. But why are we seeing such a glut of representations of this particular subject right now, and what can it tell us about our current cultural moment? We called up Dr. Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University, to pick his brain about TV’s new favorite subject. While Garrett was raised conservative evangelical, he now identifies as Episcopalian; his writing, including is 2015 book Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, focuses primarily the intersection between religion and culture:

Why is the afterlife such a cultural preoccupation for us right now?
I don’t think that there is a time when we have had this many kind of versions of stories of the afterlife kind of popping up in the culture. They are a way of helping us cope with some of the stresses and difficulties that we might be experiencing in the present moment. We’re living in a time of really high tension — for some people, it feels like we’re living in hell — and these shows use fantasy to help us deal with real-life concerns and issues and figure out things like what do we owe each other and what does real justice look like and what is generosity and what does an authority figure look like?

What’s different about the way the afterlife is represented on TV now from the way it was portrayed in pop culture in the past?
I think what’s really interesting about The Good Place is that normally in a situation comedy you don’t welcome character change. The idea that somebody like Eleanor could become a better person is not a useful trope for situation comedy, because what you want to do is cast these characters in a familiar role that viewers are going to come back to over and over again. I think one of the really kind of audacious things that The Good Place does is it says: I’m going to make a commitment to taking this character who was not so great in her life on earth and show her dealing with what is the usual purgatory narrative, which is self improvement.

And what about Miracle Workers?
That’s also kind of fun. In afterlife stories one of the big questions is how did we get here, and the concept of God is the center of that. That is usually impossible to do in a heaven story. God is the most boring character in Milton’s Paradise Lost. In most iterations of God that emerged from traditions, God is unchangeable. God is just a literal force of nature that doesn’t move, doesn’t shift and it’s the thing that Margaret Atwood is talking about in The Blind Assassin when she says that, “in heaven there are no stories.” The thing that they do in Miracle Workers is to humanize God so that God is not God the force of nature — he’s just a slob like one of us. Afterlife stories are often about fairness and unfairness on earth. If you live a good life it’s nice to know that maybe there’s a place where you’re going to be rewarded for it and conversely if you’re a jack-hole here that there’s a bad place where you’re going to spend eternity getting tortured. So having this God who is so human and so capricious and wanders around in his sweats, that kind of explains some of the crazy stuff going on in the world.

Both The Good Place and Miracle Workers position the afterlife as a bureaucracy. What does it reflect about contemporary life that the afterlife is represented as a sort of failed corporation?
They’re like afterlife versions of The Office, and I think that’s because for many of us that’s the place where we spend much of our time. The easiest mechanism for us to understand something intangible is by comparing it to what’s in front of our noses every day, so I walk into my cubby and I sit down and I turn on my computer and things get done or don’t get done as the case may be. If that’s how the afterlife works as well, then that seems to explain a lot.

A lot of these shows also explore monogamy, soulmates, and the idea of commitment that lasts for all of eternity. Could you talk a little bit about the depictions of romance in the afterlife historically and what do you think these current shows are exploring? 
This idea of eternal love is one of the tropes that we have in our romantic love language. When you say to someone that you’re going to love them forever, actually that probably has an expiration date. But in shows like this and also in the Twilight novels where you’re talking about vampire lovers, they’re going to be young and eternally together. That’s something that grows out of the Mormon scriptures, the idea of a temple wedding where you’re going to be married not just for this life but for all eternity. And so you have to wrestle with what that means.

In my book Entertaining Judgment I talked about how one of the reasons that we’re so drawn to these imaginative versions of the afterlife is that the scriptures don’t talk about it much, so we put all of these kinds of things together in our head. What would heaven look like for me? Is it the place where dreams come true like in Field of Dreams? Well that means that I’m going to spend a lot of days in the bleachers in Wrigley Field watching a Cubs team that actually wins.

There are all these different iterations and for many of us the primary relationships in our lives, the love relationships, are the things that make life meaningful. So I think of my grandmother who is 99 now and has lived for 20 something years. After my granddad died, every time I would talk to her the first thing out of her mouth would be about how she can’t wait to get to heaven so that she can see my grandpa. So for her it can’t be heaven unless she is with the person she has loved the most in this life. But what I love about these shows is that they are also wrestling with the tensions we deal with with that. I’ve had happy marriages and unhappy marriages and if I were stuck with my first wife for all eternity that would feel like the bad place.

In Miracle Workers and The Good Place, these eternal beings watching over us are just as flawed and useless as we are. Is that a newer trend in these kinds of stories? 
That’s a much more recent way of thinking about the occupants of the afterlife. I would say maybe 30 or 40 years ago we started getting some ideas that these eternal beings could transform as a result of experiences, though as far back as the ’30s and ’40s there are some films about angels who fall in love with humans. But it’s not until you get toward much more recent times where you have the devil or God or angels angels who are able to transform.

I wonder whether that reflects our increasing loss of sources of authority we can trust. 
Yeah I think that’s a really good insight. Steve Buscemi’s God [in Miracle Workers] is light years away from the God that would show up in the consciousness of many seriously religious people. For those of us who are wrestling with what the world looks like now and as you’re pointing out all the different institutions that have failed us, the questions is: What do we place our trust in? And so here have have a character or characters who at the end of the day really are kind of like us, trying to make their way the best that they can. I really love that character of Michael [from The Good Place] and I love the way that he changes and grows and transforms. That is actually the kind of afterlife I would like. I don’t want to be sitting around on clouds plucking at a harp all day.

It’s like that line from the Talking Heads song: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” In The Good Place all the fun people are in the bad place. All the rock stars, all the philosophers. Is that also a new trope?
That’s an interesting question. There are fun people in Dante’s Hell and people who probably don’t belong there; he was just angry at them at the moment and thought that this was a good place for them to represent one of the things that he wanted to speak out against. But I think partly what also is happening is that the way we see religion, particularly conservative Christian religion depicted in America, it looks really joyless to a lot of us. I’m a religious person but that’s not my tradition, and to imagine spending eternity with a group full of really white, really boring, really joyless people, I can’t imagine how that could be any version of a heaven that I would want to be a part of. When I hear my grandma talking about heaven it’s like first she gets to see my grandpa and then she’s going to sing all day and walk streets of gold. I think I’d rather watch some good television.

Russian Doll is another show that plays on that purgatory idea. Why does this idea of repeating things over and over again, like we see in Russian Doll or Groundhog Day or even in The Good Place, end up as a feature in so many of these afterlife narratives? 
Well I think that’s how we learn in this life. I’ve been going to spiritual direction, which is my version of therapy, for 14 years, and what I discover is I have to do something over and over again to develop a habit of virtue which is actually the idea behind virtue ethics. The other thing is that there’s this really beautiful idea of these eternal second chances. There have been times in all of our lives when we have said Man I wish I could do that over or I wish I hadn’t said that. To go back and be able to start fresh with a little bit more data and maybe a little bit more hope that you can do better, that’s a real attraction in those stories.

Has researching your book or watching these shows informed your own conception about what you believe happens to us after we die? 
I was raised in a tradition where we had very clear ideas. We thought we understood everything about the afterlife because of the way that we read the Bible. Where I am now, strangely enough is I have less idea than I’ve ever had about what the afterlife might be and at the same time more faith that there is something good at the center of the universe. I believe that there is something after this where I will be in communion with whatever it was that created me, but I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t think it looks like a baseball field in Iowa and I don’t think it looks like The Good Place and I don’t think it looks like fluffy clouds. I think probably if I turn out to be right about this, it’s going to completely blow my mind. At the end of the day I’m really okay living in the not knowing.”