The series finale of the NBC comedy The Good Place aired on Thursday, January 30th, bringing a hilariously philosophical (two words I never thought I’d put together) and heartwarming show to a satisfying close.
Over its short four seasons, the show, created by Mike Schur (of The Office and Parks and Rec fame), has amassed a cult following due in equal parts to its charismatic cast and brilliant writing.
As I finally watched the finale, having DVR’d it and then put it off as long as I could, I laughed and cried, as I have with many a finale of many a show.
But this show? This show has truly gone places no half-hour TV comedy has ever gone before — actually trying to put forth a reasonable answer to the question, “What happens when we die?” And also, “What does it mean to be human?” And also, “How can we be better humans?”
And on an understandable, even actionable level, it succeeds. A half-hour comedy. Brilliant.
So when I ask if The Good Place is a perfect show, here’s the criteria I’m using. (Spoilers ahead.)
Not Too Short, Not Too Long
The Good Place ended after its fourth season, one season shy of the coveted five season mark. As Kristen Bell said in a cast interview after the finale, it almost feels too short, but it was time for it to end.
The show ended organically, without stretching out the narrative, without any filler, keeping the emotional weight of the story and the characters intact.
So many shows have fallen into the trap of pushing past their prime, keeping the cast and crew employed but sacrificing a satisfying ending to the story.
Not The Good Place. It ended near the height of its fame — therefore ensuring its place in history among the best TV shows of all time despite its short, but not too short, run.
The comedic style of The Good Place is unparalleled. It’s part witty dialogue, part satire, and part absolutely bonkers situations.
In that way, it does have similarities to say Brooklyn 99 or Parks and Recreation. But The Good Place takes its comedy one step farther.
The comedy is almost always intertwined with the overarching plot and larger philosophical ideas of the show. There isn’t as much slapstick for slapstick’s sake (not that that isn’t also great).
For example, every main character’s signature joke highlights their flaws: Eleanor’s snark belies her insecurity and distrust of others, Tahani’s name-dropping highlights her overvaluing other people’s opinions, and Chidi’s indecisiveness sabotages his relationships with others.
Every joke, every comedic beat in The Good Place feels purposeful, blending with philosophy and heart to further the story, and that puts it on another level.
I don’t know how they cast this show, but man did they do a good job.
The cast spoke about their bond during the post-finale discussion, remarking that they pretty much immediately felt comfortable around one another. D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet, also noted that although Kristen Bell and Ted Danson were the most famous and experienced actors on set, they treated the others graciously and no differently than anyone else, and that made their group friendship easy.
The core six characters on the show fulfill the very satisfying dynamic of completely different personalities coming together to achieve a common goal, while understanding each other more and more along the way.
And then within the group dynamic you have more individual relationships like Eleanor and Chidi or Janet and Jason. But unlike so many other shows, they don’t split up the group, they add to it.
And then if that wasn’t enough, your more peripheral characters — Shawn the demon manager, The Judge, Mindy — are not only great foils for our main bunch but also hilarious and developed in their own right.
The Good Place is that rare unicorn of a show where every main character has a satisfying arc and backstory, but they’re even better when they come together and still don’t lose their individuality.
Twists and Turns
The season 1 finale of The Good Place was an epic bombshell that not only was an amazing twist but also had everyone wondering, “How the fork will they fix this?” (Spoilers here!)
The writers took a fresh concept — a woman trying to hide the fact that she is a Bad Person in the Good Place — then completely flipped it on its head — a group of people trying to escape from the fake Good Place and the demon who trapped them there — and then flipped it on its head again! — a group of people and a demon trying to fix the system of the afterlife so that it gives everyone who passes through a fair chance to get into the Good Place. Are you kidding me?? That’s genius.
I watch enough TV that I can often guess the direction a show is going. This one? Nope, not a clue, not a single iota of an idea. And I never felt like I had to try; I trusted the writers and actors to surprise me and keep me both entertained and thinking critically.
Always Getting Better
At its core, The Good Place is about trying to become your best self both for your own sake and the rest of humanity. It proposes that what makes humans human is their ability to keep trying and getting just a little bit better than you were yesterday.
It also acknowledges that you might not achieve the best version of yourself in one lifetime on Earth. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for our best selves. Because the point of striving for our best selves is then having the ability to help others achieve their best selves, while we’re all on this planet together.
The Good Place projects a vision of humanity that is not just idealistic, but actually inspiring and motivational. By watching the characters wrestle with their biggest flaws and improve themselves in order to help others, you want to get better too.
An Answer to One of Our Biggest Questions
What happens when we die?
As the show points out several times, life is only interesting because we don’t know what’s going to happen when we die, but The Good Place puts forth a pretty compelling hypothesis. It references different religious beliefs and philosophies constantly, but it ultimately does not side with one or the other in its vision of the afterlife. Again, major spoilers here.
The Good Place proposes that since most of us are “medium” people, that is, not completely saintly or evil during our time on Earth, that after we die we will go through a training program of sorts where we will eventually become the best version of ourselves. Then, we can take a test to get into the Good Place.
Once we pass the test, we have an afterlife filled with unlimited possibilities of the things we want to do and the people we want to spend time with. And once we’ve “lived” out all of those experiences, we have the opportunity to go through a door that will return us to the universe as… well we don’t really know, but it looks like cosmic particles that maybe go on to influence others on Earth to make good decisions.
It’s as good a theory as any, and it all goes back to the central ideas that people are capable of change and that there is value in helping others in their Earthly lives and beyond.
Especially during a time when there is so much uncertainty and divisiveness in the world, this not only hopeful but seemingly plausible vision of the afterlife is a very welcome change.
That’s a Wrap
So, to sum up, The Good Place meets the following criteria for the perfect TV show — the form of the TV show, if you will. (Sorry, had to throw in a Plato reference!)
- It doesn’t overstay its welcome and tells the story it needs to tell in just enough time to tell it.
- It has an impeccable cast that brings an amazing individuality to each character but also forms a compelling group dynamic.
- It has twists and turns you will not see coming, and then when you look back and see the signs, you kick yourself for not seeing, but it was so brilliant you have to forgive yourself.
- Its core themes are about being the best version of yourself, loving and helping others, making good decisions, and getting a little better every day you have, which doesn’t just feel like lofty idealism but is inspirational.
- And finally, it proposes an answer to possibly the biggest mystery we have as humans, and that answer is deliberately hopeful.
This is a series that both entertains you and makes you happily reconsider foundational beliefs you have about the meaning of life and beyond. What else could you possibly ask for in the perfect TV show? If you have not watched this amazing piece of inspirational comedy yet, go check it out on Netflix.
And until next time, take it sleazy.
Thanks for reading!