“Whenever anyone tells me a story about their life, I always imagine all the people as being super hot. Otherwise, I quickly lose interest. Do you not do that? You can do it for free.” -Eleanor Shellstrop
The best art teaches us something about ourselves while providing a window into the world of others. Shakespeare knew this, Lorraine Hansberry knew this, the writing staff of The Good Place knows this. NBC’s best comedy (fight me) just entered its third season last week, and if you haven’t seen it, I will do my best not to spoil too much in this post, but my goodness, what are you even doing with your time?
While the show is an ensemble comedy, the first few episodes set up Kristen Bell’s character, Eleanor Shellstrop, as the protagonist. When we meet her in the afterlife — the setting of the show — she’s brash, selfish and very enthusiastic about seafood, but above all, she is loudly and aggressively horny. She hits on, flirts with, or remarks on the attractiveness of almost every person she meets. She’s obsessed with Stone Cold Steve Austin, sexually. Eleanor’s unabashed horniness (along with her competitive spirit and unwillingness to do things for others) is initially presented as an indicator that she does not, in fact, belong in “the good place,” a.k.a. heaven. But as the story unfolds and the depth of Eleanor’s character is further revealed, her horniess begins to take on a new, more becoming shape.
Take Eleanor’s comments about the hotness of her three closest friends on the show. Although these characters are Indian/Pakistani-English, Filipino-Canadian and African-American and of varying genders, it is never presented as pointed or fetishizing or, well, meaningful. As the object of Eleanor’s lust, these hot non-white people are allowed to simply exist in their hotness without attention being called to their otherness. The show also mercifully breaks the outrageous TV habit of filling a space with hot people who never acknowledge how hot they all are. Finally a television world exists that not only acknowledges the bone structure of its ridiculously hot cast members, but frames it as impossible not to. And in her sitcom-esque “will-they-won’t-they” relationship with Chidi Anagonye, played by William Jackson Harper, she is presented as the half of the relationship that is both more vulnerable and more sexually forthcoming. It’s all very refreshing.
While Eleanor may stand in the shadow of television’s other most sexually forthcoming blonde, she’s no Samantha Jones. Some of that may be due to the limits of being on a broadcast network and, well, The Good Place being an entirely different show, but the difference between Samantha’s sex-driven existence and Eleanor’s horniness goes beyond censorship standards. When we see Eleanor in potentially romantic situations with one of her co-stars, there’s a vulnerability there that counterbalances her bravado. Horniness and emotional intelligence can exist in the same person, and in giving her that kind of nuance, she’s able to completely own her desire without it serving as some kind of symbolic shortcoming, or indicating she is slutty, or that sluttiness is in anyway bad.
Female horniness is having something of a cultural moment, with Tina Belcher’s endlessly meme-able and relatable teenage horniness on Bob’s Burgers or the IRL lusting that goes down on the podcast Thirst Aid Kit. Or even the recent Nylon profile of Jenny Slate, which celebrates her horniness its very headline. “[W]hen Slate talks about being horny,” Kristin Iverson writes, “she is talking about desire, and about hunger; she is being blatant about what it is that she really wants in life, about asking for the things that make her feel happy and comfortable and loved.”
And as we watch Eleanor grapple with what it means to be a “good” person, her horniness transforms from something vulgar into something that signifies her ability to be vulnerable and forge genuine human connections. She goes from seeming in need of counseling, to counseling herself. In a show that’s meant to highlight the nuances of existence, take a scalpel to perceived flaws and excavate the humanity against the backdrop of death, Eleanor’s horniness is a reminder to appreciate those around you loudly and unapologetically, for women to honor their desires without shame, and, most importantly, to always take the free shrimp.
Photo via NBC.