The night before the inauguration, a new NBC show quietly wrapped up its first season after a 13 episode run. Mike Schur’s The Good Place has now earned its second season renewal, so its game-changing twist will be followed up on next season, but I still can’t help but feel as though this was the worst time to take a break from this irreverent, thought-provoking, and quietly hilarious show.
A brief rundown of the premise: Eleanor Shellstrop arrives in the afterlife, is shown around The Good Place, and is introduced to her soulmate, who she is destined to spend eternity with. But based on anecdotes that are shared with her, she comes to realize that her entry to The Good Place is mistaken. She isn’t supposed to be there. The remainder of the season features her, her soulmate and several others in the “neighborhood” trying to improve her stead so she can stay.
Those looking for the quick joking pace and quirky cast of characters that they grew to love on Schur’s prior projects The Office and Parks and Recreation will find no shortage of them here; over the course of the season, there are running jokes about high numbers of frozen yogurt shops (“ruining something slightly, so you can have more of it”), amateur DJs (“that’s not music…that’s EDM”), and characters that you’ll grow to love just as there were on Schur’s other shows. However, there’s something deeper here that makes its disappearance from the airwaves just now ache a bit more.
At its core, The Good Place is a meditation on the idea of absolutes. Good versus bad, right versus wrong, The Good Place versus The Bad Place. As Eleanor spends more time among The Good Place’s other residents, she’s forced to think about how these concepts intersect- and viewers were able to consider these things as well, albeit while laughing about it. Meeting more and more neighborhood residents reveal things that we can name as objectively bad – like selfish behavior, stealing, selling illegal drugs to college kids, and more. But more often than not, the actions characters are confronted with, that we are confronted with, aren’t as cut and dry.
One of the fun sight gags of the pilot comes as Michael, the neighborhood’s “architect” talks about the process by which humans are assigned to the “Good” or “Bad” Place when they die- by the point values from their actions on Earth. Remaining loyal to the Cleveland Browns adds 53.83 points, while using ‘Facebook’ as a verb deducts 5.55. Petting a lamb, positive by 0.89; rooting for the Yankees, negative by 129.67. And viewers were encouraged to think about these questions in more complicated ways as the season wore on. What do we make of those who do the right things but for, to borrow a phrase from the oft-lampooned Bachelor, “are in it for the wrong reasons”? Or those who are too conflicted by their options to act at all, good or bad?
And most importantly, do you see why a weekly opportunity to ask these questions will be missed right now?
Social media feeds have been torn asunder throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, over the “right” way to think, the “good” candidate, and other questions that everyone seems to have become an authority on. While earlier episodes in the season speak explicitly about the academic philosophies behind these decisions (having a character be a philosophy professor seems an elegant solution for staging these discussions), later episodes let the viewer sort out those conclusions on their own. And by the end, when the show’s premise is flipped on its head (I’m not spoiling, just go watch it), when we see that little has been as it seemed from the beginning…let’s just say the idea of an unreliable reality feels a bit too close to home.
There’s an establishing shot in the premiere, that returns in the finale, of Eleanor sitting in front of a wall when she arrives in The Good Place, stating simply and in bold lettering: “Welcome. Everything is fine.” Many people, Good Place viewers or otherwise, could have used that reassurance when they woke up the morning after the season’s final episode. So hurry back, The Good Place. Your witty contemplation on morality and irreverent cast of characters to sort through it all with would be forking fantastic right now.