Is "Big Dairy" influencing TV Comedy "The Good Place"?
October 3, 2017 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I enjoyed the show and its pop-philosophy questions, but an unintended ethical question has been nagging at me for the past few days.

The first thing I noticed was the gag that Chidi assumed he was in "the Bad Place" because he picked almond milk for his coffee over regular milk - and he knew it was worse for the environment. Kind of funny, but it bugged me a little because I don't think it's true and this seemed a really subtle way of getting the wrong idea into peoples' heads.

And then he did the same gag two more times in subsequent episodes - mentioning how almond milk was worse for the environment - and I started to feel manipulated.

Then I thought about these amazing (dairy) frozen yogurt cups they show in just about every episode and I start to feel a bit Mel Gibson "Conspiracy Theory" crazy. Am I crazy, or do you think the dairy industry is exerting influence on the content of "The Good Place"?
posted by Dag Maggot to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You're overthinking this. In the first iteration of "The Good Place" -- all of season 1 -- yogurt is the food that's served in all the restaurants, and Chidi has the almond milk thought one time. At the end of this period, everyone's memories are wiped.

Then, in the 2nd season, food options have changed with every new iteration -- and by episode three, it's clear that there have been several hundred iterations. So one is "everything on a stick" and another is "all Italian" -- no focus on dairy at all.

The repetition of "it's the almond milk!" is meant to show that no matter what Michael does, his subjects -- Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason -- always manage to figure out that it's the bad place. So that means Chidi really only has that thought once -- and then his memory gets wiped.

See here for a funny, punny list of all the various food place names.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:26 PM on October 3, 2017 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: That makes sense. Big Dairy has obviously infiltrated MetaFilter.
posted by Dag Maggot at 6:29 PM on October 3, 2017 [27 favorites]

Best answer: It's extremely normal for TV programs to accept money or other consideration from advertisers in exchange for a place in the script. Some examples from a piece on this:
Product integration is a small slice of the advertising budget, but it can take on outsized symbolic importance, as the watermark of a sponsor’s power to alter the story—and it is often impossible to tell whether the mention is paid or not. “The Mindy Project” celebrates Tinder. An episode of “Modern Family” takes place on iPods and iPhones. On the ABC Family drama “The Fosters,” one of the main characters, a vice-principal, talks eagerly about the tablets her school is buying. “Wow, it’s so light!” she says, calling the product by its full name, the “Kindle Paperwhite e-reader,” and listing its useful features. On last year’s most charming début drama, the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” characters make trips to Target, carry Target bags, and prominently display the logo.

Those are shows on channels that are explicitly commercialized. But similar deals ripple through cable television and the new streaming producers. FX cut a deal with MillerCoors, so that every character who drinks or discusses a beer is drinking its brands. (MillerCoors designs retro bottles for “The Americans.”) According to Ad Age, Anheuser-Busch struck a deal with “House of Cards,” trading supplies of booze for onscreen appearances; purportedly, Samsung struck another, to be the show’s “tech of choice.” Unilever’s Choco Taco paid for integration on Comedy Central’s “Workaholics,” aiming to be “the dessert for millennials.” On NBC, Dan Harmon’s avant-garde comedy, “Community,” featured an anti-corporate plot about Subway paid for by Subway. When the show jumped to Yahoo, the episode “Advanced Safety Features” was about Honda. “It’s not there were just a couple of guys driving the car; it was the whole episode about Honda,” Tom Peyton, an assistant V.P. of marketing at Honda, told Ad Week. “You hold your breath as an advertiser, and I’m sure they did too—did you go too far and commercialize the whole thing and take it away from it?—but I think the opposite happened. . . . Huge positives.”
However, there is no requirement that these deals be disclosed to the public, and they are generally not.

I can't confirm that there is any dairy money involved in "The Good Place." I've never seen it so I can't speak to the details of your argument. But I don't think you're wrong to be suspicious. What you suspect would be kinda par for the course on TV.
posted by grobstein at 6:32 PM on October 3, 2017 [13 favorites]

Also, the new season has a gag all about how awful clam chowder, a cream-based seafood dish, is.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:42 PM on October 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

The ubiquitous frozen yogurt was called out as one of the "tells" that they were really in the bad place. So it was a subtle season long anti-yogurt joke*. Same with almond milk, in the sense that they are joking about Chidhi being obsessed about it at least as much as about almond milk itself being bad, right? It's supposed to be absurd to worry about that sort of thing and is a sign of Chidhi's dysfunction. So in that sense I don't think the examples really support the pro-dairy message you're seeing.

OTOH it's certainly conceivable they took money agreeing to "feature frozen yogurt" and "mention the environmental impact of almond milk" and this is the writers' subversive approach to dealing with that.

*At least I'm 99% sure they made it explicit in the series, could be we just joked about it IRL or on FanFare. There is at least one online quote relevant from Michael on frozen yogurt: "There’s something so human about taking something great, and ruining it a little"
posted by mark k at 6:47 PM on October 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

mark k,

I think you're overlooking something important here: anti-yogurt is pro-ice cream.
posted by amtho at 6:55 PM on October 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Whether it's pro-FroYo messaging or not, all those big beautiful bowls of it made me want some.
posted by Dag Maggot at 7:00 PM on October 3, 2017

It could be either way, hard to say without insider info.

Big Dairy is real for sure though, and sort of a Juggernaut of special laws and advertising campaigns using huge TV stars.

The Milk Powers that Be
retired 'Got Milk?' just a few years back, and have been shopping for something new.

Let me also say that I love milk and milk-derived products; ask me if you'd like to learn about the surprisingly easy ways to make delicious kefir and paneer at home.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:49 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

There is at least one online quote relevant from Michael on frozen yogurt: "There’s something so human about taking something great, and ruining it a little"

Michael Schur, creator of The Good Place, was also co-creator of Parks and Recreation. You know the show in which Ron Swanson says, "Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing."

Given that frozen yogurt and ice cream are both dairy products, I think it's more of a pro-ice cream stance than a specifically pro-dairy one.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:24 PM on October 3, 2017 [9 favorites]

Interesting question. I've always wondered if there was some kind of influence in the show Burn Notice, because the two main characters eat yogurt all the time, or if it was just supposed to be a character "quirk" that the writers wrote in for character development.
posted by gt2 at 9:22 PM on October 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I assumed that Chidi was vegan and so he felt guilty choosing almond milk over the other non-animal milks rather than over dairy milk. Perhaps it's actually Big Soy you should be worried about?
posted by melissasaurus at 2:54 AM on October 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Wait...they're in Brooklyn Nine-Nine too. Terry loves his yogurt.

I am here to say that yogurt isn't that great.
posted by amtho at 3:41 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

And in the Office, they used yogurt lids for the medals in the Office Olympics! Based on all the information evidence above, it is clear:

Fremulon is not an insurance company; it's a yogurt company.
posted by China Grover at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

For Burn Notice, I think that its more "Michael's got a slightly weird thing about nutrition and fitness" more than a pro-yoghurt thing (iirc, none of the other characters are into yoghurt and may have even made some derogatory remarks, almost certainly by Sam Axe at some point).

For The Good Place, almonds are pretty bad the environment (grown in California, almonds are notoriously known for their water consumption/requirements) whereas industrial dairy is also really bad (greenhouse gases, water and nutrients for pasturage, industrial corn/maize production for feed - maize is really low in protein, industrial production relies a lot of pesticides and fertilizers and all their attendant ills).

I think it's more "nobody's a winner."
posted by porpoise at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2017

Psst. You guys. There are ears everywhere.
posted by maryr at 2:16 PM on October 5, 2017 [14 favorites]

Anyway, I think you're on to something, all of those restaurant names are definitely cheesy enough to be under Big Dairy's thumb.
posted by maryr at 2:19 PM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

And in the Office, they used yogurt lids for the medals in the Office Olympics!

Also, the first moment that Pam knew she liked Jim was when he told her "This might sound weird and there's no reason for me to know this but that mixed berry yoghurt you're about to eat is expired".
posted by *becca* at 4:03 AM on October 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's a basic LCA for dairy vs almond milk. They conclude dairy is ten times worse for GHG emissions but almond uses 17 times as much water by volume. (Accounting for nutritional values the almond still uses a lot more water and the GHG comparison goes up for the dairy). Its not a full LCA.
posted by biffa at 5:19 AM on October 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I assumed that Chidi was vegan

It can't be that. In a later first season episode each person is served their favorite meal. Chidi's is fish-based, and he doesn't express any unhappiness with it.
posted by jedicus at 10:15 AM on October 6, 2017

I assumed that Chidi was vegan

It can't be that. In a later first season episode each person is served their favorite meal. Chidi's is fish-based, and he doesn't express any unhappiness with it.

Yeah my assumption was wrong - I forgot so many Chidi-being-an-omnivore scenes! As the creator of the show pointed out:
Also they haven't even put together how much Chidi likes eggs! So we still have time!

My next guess would have been lactose intolerance, but I think he eats the froyo at some point, so that theory is out as well!
posted by melissasaurus at 11:35 AM on October 6, 2017

In case it wasn't obvious, Burn Notice didn't have any room to advertise anything else over the super blatant Hyundai product placements.
posted by numaner at 1:08 PM on October 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The Good Place creator responds:
posted by Dag Maggot at 6:24 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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