Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 9, 2020

The Good Place ends on a satisfying but flawed note

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | February 6, 2020



Actress Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, the protagonist of the tv series The Good Place.

For the past four years or so, I’ve been a big fan of NBC’s The Good Place

When I first sat down to watch the pilot with my mother in our den at home, I couldn’t help but feel like I was viewing something truly special. 

The comedy, the characters and the philosophy the show chose so brazenly to discuss out in the open — it was all just really, really good. 

Season one of The Good Place is and will always be in my mind one of the greatest seasons of television I’ve had the privilege to watch. 

I seriously and sincerely rank it with the likes of season two of Fleabag, season four of Dexter and season four of Game of Thrones as well. It’s sharp, it’s clever, it’s heartwarming and it’s brilliant. 

This isn’t a hot take, either. Most anyone I’ve spoken to feels the same way about season one.

The next three seasons, however, are somewhat more controversial.

The Good Place just aired its final episode this past Thursday, Jan. 30. 

The creators chose to end the show on their own terms, deciding that this season would be the last before a single episode aired. 

This wasn’t an easy decision, I presume, but it was clearly reflected throughout the last episodes of the show. The question, then, is whether or not it stuck the landing.

I believe the answer, to quote George R. R. Martin, is “Yes. And no. And yes. And no.”

The thing is, The Good Place has varied wildly in quality for its final three seasons. I’d argue that a few of the best episodes in the entire show take place in seasons three or four (for example, season three, episode nine “Janet(s)” and season four, episode nine “The Answer” stick out as being particularly memorable and phenomenal). 

However, there were also more than a few duds. Even the second to last episode of the entire show was clearly contrived only to tie up all the loose ends in order to properly set up the finale and felt noticeably rushed and poorly executed. 

I’ve heard many, many people explain to me that they almost just wished that the show had ended after the very first season, for the reason that it was so much better than the subsequent ones.

I, however, disagree. There’s no question that the show faltered at points. In particular, a good chunk of season three felt irrelevant and boring, and the season three finale itself also had a few significant plot holes, although it did remain rather emotionally resonant regardless. 

Seasons two and four, while mostly being pretty great, did have their flaws as well. 

For these reasons, I don’t blame those people for feeling like the show didn’t last the way it ought to have. 

I think they have a fair argument, albeit one that may lack some perspective on the general arc of the show.

The thing is, The Good Place was always about more than just the story or the jokes, whether they were good or bad. 

It was about watching people change, about daring to ask if we truly are capable of improving ourselves and those around us and about whether or not humanity is actually worth something not because of what we’ve done but because of who we can eventually become. 

In hindsight, those wonderful questions were perhaps the least clear in season one. 

Now, that doesn’t change the fact that the first season was simply better television than the following three, but the point remains. 

Yes, there were bad episodes in the later seasons, and sometimes the show wasn’t as funny or as well-written as it had proven it was capable of being. 

Regardless, the show never truly felt like it lost that message, like it forgot those questions, and that’s what always kept me coming back as a viewer.

I’ll admit, the potential highlighted by the first season of The Good Place was never fully hit again. 

It didn’t truly live up to be a show as epic as it might have been, but I personally will never bow to those who say that the show should’ve ended earlier, because I think they are missing the point. The Good Place told a story about average people — some smart, some dumb, most of them unrealistically attractive — but still just people: humans who wanted to be better, who felt guilt for their mistakes and struggled to improve themselves. 

At the end of the show, you’ve seen what they went through, how hard it was for them to be better than they had been, but you also believed that it was worth it in the end. 

Sure, the philosophy may be more watered-down than some would wish, the theology more convoluted than ideal or the writing more inconsistent than desired, but I’m not here to argue that this is the best show ever made. I’m here to tell you that after four seasons of this show, I’ve laughed more, I’ve cried more and I’ve felt more appreciation for what it means to be a person, to be alive. 

Not every moment of this show was the greatest, but overall, it was always worth it. 

Ever since the moment I first heard Eleanor Shellstrop tell Chidi Anagonye the iconic words, “I’m not supposed to be here,” I was hooked on the show, and four years later, I have no regrets.

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