Welcome to Fix It, our series examining projects we love — save for one tiny change we wish we could make.
Mike Schur’s afterlife comedy, The Good Place, is an example of a show that didn’t always have a perfect execution, but it always had perfect vibes. Even at its lowest points, it was still a beautiful, optimistic work that made viewers really think about what it means to be human and, in its oft-quoted Scanlon catchphrase, “What we owe to each other.”
One of the reasons The Good Place‘s rare combination of half-hour network comedy and intense moral philosophy discourse actually worked is because of the amount of effort its creators took to get the philosophy part right. People wrote articles about what moral philosophers thought of The Good Place (“Whenever Chidi gives those quick philosophy lessons and explains what people were saying, it’s always completely right and pretty accessible”); the many schools of ethical thought the show drew from to find its moral center (“The Good Place has laid out a moral vision that’s surprisingly sophisticated and deeply informed by academic philosophy”); and the impact of the show’s philosophy on human psychology (“For a light and amusing sitcom, The Good Place does a pretty good job with philosophy, and a pretty good job with human psychology, too”). The level of care taken with the study of ethics is evidence that the writers took this stuff seriously; as a result, the audience took their messages to heart.
Unfortunately, that same level of care was not applied to researching other things, or really just one thing as far as I can tell. There’s a grossly incorrect line in The Good Place Season 3 that has nothing to do with moral philosophy but is nonetheless completely baffling to…pretty much only me, if I’m being honest. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who was bothered by it, but it bothers me so much that if I could change one thing about The Good Place, it would be this ridiculous line of dialogue.
In Season 3, Episode 8, “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By,” the main characters have a fight scene with the Bad Place employees in a Canadian bar. Janet handles most of the combat and unleashes a can of not-a-robot whoop-ass on the demons, but Tahani gets a good crack in when she grabs a pool cue and faces off with a demon of her own. “Twelve years of fencing,” she explains, “en garde!” Tahani then grips the cue with both hands. brings it down on the demon’s head, and says, “Obviously I’d never do that in competition; that would be a three-tenths deduction.”
Fencing is one of those sports that sounds really cool because it’s sword fighting, but is actually kind of dweeby because it’s mostly footwork and figuring out which fencer has the right of way on the strip. Naturally, I fenced competitively for years. I was a foil fencer, which meant that my job was to stick people with the pointy end, but looking at Tahani’s terrible form, it appears she fenced saber, the version of the sport where you whack people with the side of your blade.
Tahani’s incorrect positioning (legs too straight, not low enough to the ground), her swap from gripping the pool cue/blade with one hand to two (doesn’t happen), and her lack of attention to spacing in reference to her opponent (she’s way too close) could be explained by her being out of practice and under duress. Her line about the three-tenths deduction, however, is inexplicable. There are no deductions in fencing. There are only touches, fencing’s version of points, and they’re awarded in positive integers, not in tenths. The only way to earn something like a deduction is if the fencer earns a red card by being a jerk, and even that awards a touch to their opponent — it doesn’t remove a touch from their own score.
I know the three-tenths thing is just a joke, but it’s not a particularly good one.
I know the three-tenths thing is just a joke, but it’s not a particularly good one. Tahani’s whole thing is being an over-the-top rich lady who’s obsessed with the rules of polite society, and giving her a flighty line about fencing point deductions doesn’t add to her character or make the scene funnier. It’s just bizarrely and glaringly wrong. The Good Place was smart enough to explain Aristotelian virtue ethics but they couldn’t check to see how an Olympic sport worked? That’s some weak sauce.
The three-tenths fencing line is not important at all, and yet, I cannot let it go. Every time I think about The Good Place Season 3, which was not its best season anyway, I think about the writers sacrificing an easily googleable fact for an unnecessary joke. It doesn’t stop The Good Place from being an incredible show that accomplished something totally unique on TV, but it loses three-tenths of a point from me for disrespecting the sport, nay, the art of fencing.