NBC’s The Good Place has been something of a radical hit for the Peacock network. It helped revitalize the broadcaster’s comedy line-up and demonstrated that audiences will continue to support (in an almost rabid manner) unique, thoughtful, and funny sitcoms. The lighthearted, twist-filled afterlife saga of a group of not totally great, not totally bad people and the demon posing as an architect of the perfect place to spend eternity took on a reputation that nearly eclipsed the show itself. Over the course of three seasons, it has surreptitiously become akin to the new Lost networks have been clamoring for since Damon Lindelof’s TV phenomenon ended its six season run. It’s a strange position for the seemingly unassuming half-hour comedy to be in, one that comes with its very own obsessive fan culture that will no doubt be tested as the series embarks on its fourth and final season.
That The Good Place is calling it quits with season 4 is a sign of the Peak TV times, in that more and more, inventive shows are being designed with an endpoint in mind, rather than made to continue on in perpetuity until they eventually fizzle out. It’s also a sign that what creator Mike Schur developed when he sent Kristin Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto to meet Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden in the afterlife was a chance for NBC to be on the cutting edge (or as close to it as possible) of single-camera comedies without resorting to a reboot or revival of a much-loved or much-streamed-by-millennials sitcom. As such, its end is both unfortunate and also sign that the future of broadcast network comedy isn’t as dire as it might seem.
The same can be said for Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell) and her afterlife cohort as they begin the show’s end run with what is perhaps the highest stakes story the series has yet to offer. After all, what began as a not-great young woman trying to con her way into staying in an afterlife she didn’t deserve has now become the story of that same not-great (but trying to be better) young woman as she and her friends become the last chance for humanity to once again gain entry into the real Good Place.
Though it might seem as though such a lofty premise will distract The Good Place from what’s, well, good about the series, it’s quite the opposite. Over the past three seasons, Schur and his writers have put Eleanor, Chidi (Harper), Tahani (Jamil), and Jason (Jacinto) through the ringer in order to demonstrate that people can not only change, but they can change for the better. Season 3 ended with one last great twist (though, if anyone’s thinking there won’t be another before the series ends, they’re forking crazy) that left Eleanor in charge of the new (fake) Good Place and Chidi’s memories wiped, all so the gang can prove to the Judge (Maya Rudolph) that the whole system of accounting good and bad deeds is messed up and needs to be completely overhauled.
With that, ‘A Girl from Arizona, Part 1’ establishes what’s at stake for the gang, on both a personal and, well, far more grand scale. What’s different this time around is that the plot’s various moving parts are all out in the open. Sure, there’s the usual skullduggery being committed on a regular basis by Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) and the rest of the Bad Place goons, but even their shenanigans are set to be scrutinized by the Judge sooner rather than later. This frees up the show’s initial season 4 steps to not only move at a surprisingly brisk pace, but to focus more intently on the immense burden resting on Eleanor’s shoulders.
The Good Place boasts one of the finest ensembles on TV at the moment, but as the title ‘A Girl From Arizona’ suggests, it’s also capable of zeroing in on a single character, without it feeling as though the other characters are getting short shrift. Michael, Tahani, Jason, and Janet are all fitted with plots that have them dealing primarily with the task at hand, though The Good Place still finds time for Jason and Janet’s romance to become an issue, while Michael’s nervous breakdown looms large over Eleanor’s new duties as architect. But, for the most part, season 4 kicks things off by getting inside Eleanor’s shrimp-loving headspace, in particular how she plans to deal with her feelings for Chidi now that he no longer knows who she is.
It’s a bold move for a show that has earned a devoted audience by committing to a series of very bold strokes that could have ended in disaster. So far, The Good Place has proven itself capable in both the comedy and the big ideas department, which gives it an advantage heading into its final season. As one of the biggest shows in TV history recently proved, endings are hard. The Good Place seems determined to prove they don’t have to be.
The Good Place season 4 premieres Thursday, September 26 @9pm on NBC.