By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer
I’d venture a guess that many fans of truly great television series wish their favorite shows could continue forever. But like a vacation, great television is special because it has to end, and Michael Schur’s masterpiece “The Good Place,” with its setting of literal eternity, is no exception.
When Schur announced “The Good Place” would end. After its fourth season, it wasn’t because NBC had canceled it — it was because Schur himself said he felt he had told a complete story. This level of care and planning is undoubtedly why the end of each character’s story feels earned, not just for the character itself, but for the narrative as a whole. It’s a moving end to a wonderful show.
To achieve this moving end, the finale runs light on humor. Those hoping to laugh their way through “The Good Place” finale will be sorely disappointed, as will those yearning for the series’ signature absurdism. Beyond a handful of largely inconsequential gags, you’d be hard-pressed to call the double-length bookend “funny,” but it’s not trying to be. The show’s writers have had four seasons to master lowering the audience’s guard to land an emotional right hook, and those skills are on full display. I’m not ashamed to admit real tears were shed before the credits rolled.
The Final Chapter isn’t without fault. There are a couple of story beats which are given little explanation and the smattering of side-character cameos can be distracting, as if the showrunners couldn’t decide which loose ends to tie up and which to leave dangling. However, in a series where the entire premise is rewriting the rules of the universe, I’m willing to let go of plot contrivances.
No discussion of the show would be complete without touching on its philosophical themes. “The Good Place” dabbles in what I would call middle-market intellectualism, falling in a sweet-spot between academia and fast-talking internet commentators whose vocabulary exceeds their logical grasp. The show frequently manages to apply the concepts of moral philosophy in an educational way, and more impressively, remains engaging and entertaining while doing so.
“The Good Place” doesn’t expect its audience to know the material it draws from, but trusts it enough to apply the concepts when needed. In a way, the audience assumes the role of Eleanor, whose philosophical prowess has been continually expanding since the first season.
For most of its run, the show has been content to focus its philosophical lens on what it means to be a good person as the gang tried to save themselves and humanity from eternal damnation. Now, with each character at the completion of their arc, there’s nowhere left to go but into discussions of eternity versus mortality. In the process, “The Good Place” argues that while a definite end is mysterious, terrifying even, it is also relieving. Perhaps Schur, who wrote and directed the last episode, is talking about the show itself, ending gracefully and bittersweetly now that its run its course rather than trailing off.
So, to “The Good Place,” to Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, Michael and everyone who had a hand in bringing one of my favorite shows ever to life: “I hate to see you walk through the final door at the edge of existence, but I love to watch you leave.”