[This is a review of The Good Place season 1 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
NBC’s Thursday night comedy block has a history of including beloved and critically acclaimed series; the most recent lineup of must-see TV included The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community. Although it doesn’t span the entire two-hour primetime block of, NBC has somewhat resuscitated Thursday night comedy with Superstore and The Good Place. Developed by Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur, The Good Place premiere introduced Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who discovers she was sent to the wrong afterlife.
Throughout season 1, Eleanor has received help from the man with whom she was erroneously matched as soulmate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), her next door neighbor Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Tahani’s supposed soulmate Jianyu (Manny Jacinto) — who was revealed to also be in the Good Place by accident and is actually named Jason Mendoza. Meanwhile, Michael (Ted Danson), the facilitator of their neighborhood in the Good Place, and the human-looking guide Janet (D’Arcy Carden) have worked to figure out what went wrong.
In the one-hour The Good Place season 1 finale, ‘Mindy St. Claire/Michael’s Gambit’, Eleanor travels with Jianyu and Janet to a Medium Place inhabited only by one woman. Meanwhile, Michael must contend with the judge Shawn, who arrived in his neighborhood in the previous episode. Plus, Eleanor and her friends contemplate what it means to be in the Good Place.
All season long, The Good Place has been building to a confrontation and some sort of resolution to Eleanor’s presence in the neighborhood – even as she questioned the logic of the Good Place (Eleanor suggested she belonged in some sort of Medium Place earlier in season 1). These threads of Eleanor’s distrust in the “Good Place’s” logic were paid off in the best possible way when she realized during ‘Michael’s Gambit’ that she and her friends are actually in the Bad Place, with Michael was the architect of their incredibly specialized torture.
Throughout season 1, The Good Place has used humor to tackle the morally complex question of what makes a person good or bad. Eleanor – as both a character and the audience stand-in – is told early on that there are rigid rules to the Good Place. The point system determined that Chidi and Tahani were good, while Eleanor’s mistaken identity implied she was bad, with it later being confirmed by Trevor (Adam Scott) – and everyone can agree Jason is bad.
But, the actions of the characters seemed to be in opposition to the rules laid out by The Good Place’s world. Tahani was self-centered and prideful; Chidi was indecisive and often too wrapped up in theory to carry out any kind of action, whether good or bad. Meanwhile, Eleanor learned to be selfless and Jason fell in love with Janet – which presumes a level of empathy and compassion. These character traits and arcs allowed for a number of comedic beats, but additionally provided an even more complex moral dilemma.
All throughout the season, and especially in The Good Place’s season finale, the show let its characters shine – flaws and all – though they were helped greatly by the chemistry of the cast. Shur’s other sitcom success, Parks and Recreation, brought together vastly different characters who formed a kind of family, and the same can be said of The Good Place. Even as Michael was revealed to be an antagonist – a transformation that was delivered expertly by Danson – the interaction of the four humans, Janet, and the architect made for some heartwarming and hilarious moments.
In terms of the major character arc in season 1, ‘Mindy St. Claire’ made it seem as though Eleanor had finally completed her journey from self-involved Bad Place-dweller to someone deserving of a spot in the Good Place. The episode even highlighted what sent Eleanor down a selfish path – though she owned up and took responsibility for her actions – and how she died. Then, when given the choice between staying safe in the Medium Place or going to the Bad Place in order to save her friends, Eleanor chose to save her friends – and even fought against opposition from Janet, Jason, and Mindy herself.
But, when it seemed The Good Place had reached its logical conclusion, so far as the world had been established and developed in season 1, ‘Michael’s Gambit’ turned the series on its head. The reveal that Michael is an architect of the Bad Place rather than the Good Place, and the further development of The Good Place’s afterlife, provided for a quick turnaround of the show’s trajectory. In fact, since Michael wiped the memories of Eleanor, Jason, Chidi, and Tahani – and rebooted Janet – The Good Place is given somewhat of a restart over the course of a few minutes.
However, certain aspects are different: Eleanor leaves a note with Janet telling herself to find Chidi, while Michael replaced Chidi as Eleanor’s “soulmate” with someone more her well suited to the person she was in life. These differences offer a new intriguing premise for The Good Place, should the series be renewed for a second season. Considering the fun journey viewers took through season 1, it may be entertaining to see how these differences throw off Michael’s plan – or, if not done correctly, could be tedious.
That said, The Good Place proved over the course of season 1 that the show is able to take highbrow concepts like human morality and create a compelling and entertaining serialized comedy. While, on the surface, the reveal and fallout in ‘Michael’s Gambit’ seems to reset the series back to the start – even going so far as to include nearly identical scenes from the pilot – The Good Place has established an endless premise that necessitates serialized storytelling. All in all, Schur has crafted a truly unique and delightful series in The Good Place – one that will hopefully continue in a second season.
Screen Rant will keep you updated on The Good Place season 2 as more information becomes available.
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