A Series Like No Other
One of the reasons I was so willing to put The Good Place on my greatest series of the decade list, even though it wasn’t over, was that it was a series that didn’t fit any of the constructs of Peak TV. It was a comedy about the afterlife that dealt with philosophical constructs television almost never deals with in any format; it deliver more painful and shocking twists than you would come to expect from Shonda Rhimes or David Lynch; it was one of the most endearing and heartbreaking love stories that even Damon Lindelof can’t always match. And on top of all that, it was delightfully, wonderfully funny, delivering high comedy and stoner humor.
To explain why this series ended so perfectly one must go to the penultimate episode ‘Patty’, where after fifty episodes of straining, struggling and nearly destroying humanity, the Cockroach gang finally managed to come up with an afterlife system that worked. As a reward, they finally got to visit where we’ve been promised for the entire series: the actual Good Place. And it was a forking disaster.
Michael (Ted Danson) finally found out the reason that the committee running the Good Place seemed so inept — the Good Place didn’t work. It put across an idea that will probably piss off both the religious right and the agnostics: that even Paradise is a bad idea when it just goes on forever. When you have everything you could ever want, there’s no point of going on, whether alive or in heaven. When Jason got sick of getting everything quickly, you know it’s a shirtshow. So Michael finally came up with the solution: a door. When you finally get tired of Paradise, you walk through it, and… that’s it.
So the question came in the final episode: when would everybody we’ve come to know and love over four seasons decided to go through the door? And that what’s happened. It probably wasn’t a huge surprise that Jason got tired first: his final accomplishment seemed to simplest — beating a video game with a perfect score. But in his last day, he managed to find a way of finding joy with his friends, he threw the ultimate party, bonding with his father, and said goodbye to his soulmate: Janet. (D’Arcy Carden did some of her best work in this episode). Then he just waited.
Tahani (Jameela Jamil) , who for much of the series has been the weakest link, finally managed to get every single one of her arcs fulfilled. She learned how to do everything she’d wanted to do. She finally managed to have a real relationship with her sister. And in the most moving part, the afterlife system that designed finally got her parents to simply and purely say ‘They loved them.” Of all the characters, Tahani also managed to make her real skill work for everyone — use her ability for planning to become an architect herself. But the real sign that she had moved on came in a a great exchange with Michael where he said he wanted to say he knew her: “Name dropping is so gauche,” she said, “but it’s alright.”
Chidi’s decision to move one was probably the most heartbreaking of them all. After an eternity with his soulmate Eleanor (Kirsten Bell(, he finally realized that everything he wanted was achieved. The fact that even love doesn’t last forever will probably come as a heartbreaking moment of everybody who’s been shipping the two for four seasons, but its hard to be really angry considering the characters spent who knows how many Jeremy Beremy’s together.
And is telling that Eleanor decision to move on came not so soon after losing Chidi, but when she finally managed to resolve things with her mother. We’ve always know it was a tricky relationship, but the fact that her mother is finally following in her daughter’s footsteps — become an architect herself — was one of the more moving moments the series has ever done.
But it was telling that she couldn’t move on until she helped resolve one last problem — helping Michael. The arc that Michael has been on may be the most powerful in the history of this entire decade. In an era where even the best series have suggested that despite all their efforts, change is nearly impossible, The Good Place has basically argued the complete opposite in its run. This series basically says that even a character that has been around since the beginning of time designing evil can become a good person. This theme has been recurrent in the fourth season, particularly with Sean, the head of the Bad Place, who realized near the end that the system he’d spent eternity wed to was fatally flawed, but it’s been especially true for Michael. And its telling that after everything he’s been through, what he wants the most is to be human himself. Even knowing everything does about humanity, and knowing just how flawed the afterlife has been, he wants to experience it firsthand.
The last scene involved Eleanor, the first character we met, talking with Janet one last time before walking through the door. Janet finally confessed that the one thing she didn’t know was what happened after that, and Eleanor said in a sense that it didn’t matter, even though it did. The last minute of the episode will probably be analyzed for awhile, but it does seem to suggest that even in oblivion, we go on forever. And its telling that it was an act of goodness on the way out and that Eleanor really has grown on Michael.
The Good Place was nothing short of sublime all the way through. Starting out as one of the most pessimistic comedies on the air, it ended as one of the most optimistic. In an era where even the greatest shows have centered around horrible people, a series that says we can be good, that humanity, for all its flaws, can be capable of saving itself, even in the afterlife, was a tonic this world desperately needs, and not just as a television show.
The finale also touched on all those notes that final episodes should. It’s nice that showrunner Michael Schur acknowledged his other creation by having Ron Swanson show up to compliment Tahani’s woodwork. And in one last beautiful note, we saw Michael learning guitar — something he just couldn’t master in the afterlife — from Mary Steenburgen, Danson real life love. We didn’t need them there, but they’re good.
And there is one more thing about The Good Place that should be commented on — the way it playfully in the back half acknowledged Peak TV with the character of The Judge (Maya Rudolph). It was saying in its own way that even in eternity, great shows will live on, and be loved. So I’ll close on this: Judge, if you’re out there and in the summer The Good Place doesn’t dominate the Emmys, you have my permission to reboot humanity.