Final Season of an Extraordinary Comedy
The Good Place is one of the most brilliant shows ever created. I realize using hyperbole like this is something all of its residents would have problems with, but I don’t know how else to describe. This series deserves a prize just for making deep philosophical issues accessible to a mainstream audience — and entertaining as well. It has some astonishing performers doing incredible comedy, both in front of the camera and behind it. Every season, it does at least one episode that is truly revolutionary (‘Janets’ , anyone?), and every year, it ends with a twist that I think even the founders of Lost would be impressed by.
But all Good things must come to an end, and considering that the ratings have always been meek even by the standards of Peak TV, the creators have decided to end the series on their own terms. Which doesn’t make any less hysterical or poignant. When the third season came to an end, the Judge had ruled that to determine the fate of humanity, the experiment would be recreated. Michael (Ted Danson, give him another Emmy please) had a panic attack, and Eleanor (Kirsten Bell) took up the position of the Architect. However, the Bad Place schemed by bringing up the worst possible people… for the foursome we’ve come to know. This including the most heartbreaking twist to end Season 3: Simone, the neuroscientist who was so helpful in the experiment last year, was brought to the experiment. (We still don’t know how, and it’s going to be gutting.) Chidi, who was in love with her until his memory was restored, realized just how dangerous he was, and did one of the most selfless things in TV history: he agreed to have his memory wiped also, so the experiment could succeed, even if it meant not remembering his love for Eleanor.
Now, as Season 4 progresses, everybody is doing their best to keep the experiment working, even if it galls them. Eleanor, on top of everything else, is dealing with John Wheaton, a man who checks every box for white privilege and doesn’t seem to accept that he’s done anything wrong. Tahani is dealing with a blogger from her world, who spent his life destroying the lives of celebrities and the powerful… something Tahani has spent her life dealing with. Simone doesn’t seem willing to accept that any of this is real. And Chidi, after a dirty trick by the Bad Place, is now part of the experiment. Only now that his memory’s wiped, he’s enjoying himself. (Just one more shout out for William Jackson Harper)
Everybody knows how high the stakes are, but none of this has stopped the series from being hysterically funny and making emotional connections. When Eleanor couldn’t take the pressure, Michael came to her, and told her no uncertain terms that he thought he could beat them, and “you beat him three hundred times”. The realization that the best person to save humanity is someone as deeply flawed as Eleanor is one of the mot optimistic things I’ve seen on any TV series, particularly in the darkness of the Peak TV era. Bell seems to be daring the Emmy judges not to nominate her this year. (Considering that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Phoebe Waller-Bridge won’t be eligible, the Emmys would have to be working on a point system that this series mythology would appreciate not to.) Indeed, everything about this series dares even the remarkable flexibility of TV these days. Trying to determine whether true love is more important than the fate of mankind is a question you wouldn’t see even the most daring series try, much less a network comedy. And the way the series is willing to mock every cultural staple imaginable (the Judge is apparent a big binge-watcher; Tahani was mentioned to me the inspiration for eight characters on Game of Thrones) makes you want to watch every episode twice just for the jokes.
Will The Good Place cement its position as one of the greatest series of all time? Unlike most comedies, it probably will depend upon how it ends. But I am certain enough of its quality to be more than willing to include among the greatest series of the decade — yes along with Breaking Bad and The Americans and Jane the Virgin. I know that the fate of the universe depends on how it ends, but I care more to see whether Chidi and Eleanor end up together, or how the complicated triangle of Janet, Jason and Tahani finally ends. The universe may be a better place when its over, but the TV world will be a little darker when its gone.
My score: 5 stars.