Culture Film & TV

Farewell, The Good Place

Farewell, The Good Place, you miraculous gem of a television show in this dumpster fire of a world. Here’s a show, about philosophy, and death, love, and heartbreak. It is a complicated web of plot lines, character developments and philosophical theory, interwoven with the silliest humour and slapstick flair. The perfect antidote to a stressed out and fast-paced world; it is no surprise that it has been termed ‘the smartest dumbest show on television’.

I cannot imagine what possessed the NBC executives to run with the show when Mike Schur (creator of Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Recreation) approached them with the pitch for The Good Place. On paper, it makes no sense. It is overcomplicated, confusing, stylistically bizarre and in places utterly ridiculous. The script is a mix of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Kirkegaard, and fart gags. There’s even a nod to Oxford’s own alum, Alain LeRoy Locke. The concept is a real risk. But what a gift was given to the world when Schur was given the all clear to create this masterpiece of comic television.

To describe what the characters on this show go through throughout its four seasons, you should look no further than this line from Michael – demon-turned-saviour of humanity: “It’s not that easy. He lived a whole life, then 802 afterlives, then a second life, then a second afterlife, then a third first afterlife, his psyche is like a giant bowl of M&M peep chilli”. With every season, through the constant memory-erasure of each character, we the audience get to know the beloved Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani better than the characters themselves. Each episode is a 20 minute blur of activity, and though so much happens in each instalment, it never feels rushed.

The world that is built for us just works. A miraculous afterlife, where nothing is quite what it seems. It allows for freedom in visual comedy, terrible horse drawings that come to life, a t-shirt with Einstein dabbing, giant golf balls running through the street. Yet contained within all this chaos is the beating heart that sustains this show; the fact that in all its fantasy, it appeals to the most unifying nature of humanity: our fear of our own mortality.

While much has been and will be written about the genius of the acting – Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell were masterful throughout – or the fantastical plot lines, it is the small details that I appreciate  most. The set decoration that echoes a throwaway line in season 2, the genius writing or the comic timing of the visual effects all add to the effect this show has. Tying it all together is its engagement with the most fundamental questions we have to grapple with as people; who are we, what are we doing, where do we go when this is all over?

The finale – perhaps one of the best hours of television I have ever watched – cements this shows’ place as one of the genre’s best. The Good Place was ambitious from the start, going in directions that made you suspicious of where it would head once the novelty had worn off. Aptly, the best decision made by the show’s creators was to end it at four seasons. Seasons 3 and 4 meandered their way into an astounding jump; twisting, twirling, double somersaulting, and with the finale, nailing the landing. The most satisfying part of the finale was its very finality, the decisive closing of the book. It made you as the audience feel like the characters: fulfilled, complete, and ready to walk through that final door at the edge of existence.

While we may be navigating a world that resembles more a Bad Janet’s void than the actual Good Place, this show has offered its own beacon of light to its industry. It implores the viewer to not only consider their own mortality, relationships and philosophical dilemmas, but to take up that mantra and make their own little contribution to the world. To paraphrase Marc Evan Jackson’s final remarks on the show’s podcast:

This has been The Good Place. Now, go do something good.