Review: ‘The Good Place’ refused to take the easy way out. And that’s exactly as it should be
Uncertainty and eternal nothingness versus the predictability of having every wish granted, indefinitely, in a celestial paradise that turns one’s brains to mush.
“The Good Place” gang traveled so far — death, afterlife, rebirth and several more nebulous states of being — only to face the toughest choice of their tortured afterlives when the existential NBC comedy ended Thursday after four wonderfully bizarre seasons.
The comedy that turned heavy questions about mortality and the human condition into rippingly funny television celebrated its own departure with “Take It Sleazy,” an hourlong finale that featured one last round of smart writing and off-the-wall conceptualizing, delivered by one of the best comedy casts in all of television.
Fans mourned across social media when the post-mortem journey of Arizona “dirtbag” Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), dim “hottie” Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), name-dropping socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and tortured, indecisive philosopher Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) came to a close.
In the end, each character chose a separate destiny, leaving the group in one bittersweet moment after the next, none of which tied the show up in a neat bow. And that’s a good thing.
“The Good Place” ripped up and rewrote its own playbook each season. It began at the end of earthly life, when four deceased strangers were thrown together in a realm they assumed was heaven. They eventually discovered it was the Bad Place, run by a demon architect, Michael (Ted Danson), and his all-knowing assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden). Then their memories were wiped, rebooted and wiped again — hundreds of times. Recognizing salvation in one another, they spent the subsequent seasons bettering themselves in the hopes of reaching nirvana together.
Created by Michael Schur (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), “The Good Place” was simultaneously the smartest and stupidest show on network TV. It mixed the Technicolor sensibilities of Sid and Marty Krofft with philosophical dilemmas of Platonic proportions, then sprinkled it all with a highbrow/lowbrow mix of pop culture references and off-the-wall humor.
What started as a wacky philosophical experiment funneled into a network series ended as a paradox-bending comedy that tested the limits of the linear sitcom — and challenged the mental flexibility of those who tuned in each week.
The finale was certainly more sentimental than what came before it, but it could hardly be sappy.
Jason, whose idea of paradise equaled the perfect jalapeño popper and vampires sporting jet packs, opted to leave the gang first. How did he know he was ready to step through the door? “I suddenly had this calm feeling like the air inside my lungs was the same as the air outside my body,” he said. “It was peaceful.” He left his love, Janet, with a “J+J” necklace to remember him by.
Chidi also decided to leave despite his forever girlfriend Eleanor’s ploys to keep him there. Trips to Greece! Paris! Chatting about Jean Paul Sartre! But he was ready, and sad as their farewell was, Eleanor understands: She’s also ready to move on. But there are a few things to finish in the afterlife — including arguing for Michael’s right to experience life on Earth as a human — before she steps out the door herself.
She wins that battle with Judge Gen (Maya Rudolph), and Michael steps out into humankind as the same sensitive, delightful dork that he was in the Good Place.
Tahani chooses to stay on as a planner of sorts, to make the Good Place even better. And Janet is, well, still not a robot. Nor a human.
The finale, which ends on a sweet, simple and humorous note, doesn’t try to compete with everything that came before it. That, after all, would be asking for a cruel death.
“The Good Place” was a perfectly absurd series, the success of which is something we’re not likely to see again in this lifetime. Whatever the fork this lifetime is, or was, or will be. Frozen yogurt, anyone?
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