TV: The Good Place (Season 4)

March 8, 2020

Given the dire state of reality these past four years, what a boon it’s been having The Good Place lifting our fiction. Michael Schur’s brilliant comedy mixing fantasy and ethical philosophy ended in January, but I never got around to writing it up. This feels criminal, given it may be one of the most perfect TV shows ever made. I can’t think of a better antidote to sudden onset dystopia than The Good Place. It’s a series that doesn’t flinch from the difficult questions and moral conundrums of real life, but depicts a path forward to a better place and exerts a will to act on it. It’s basically the antithesis of modern political reality, and as such, an artistic vision worthy of reverence.

For the uninitiated, The Good Place follows the efforts of four deceased humans — snarky Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), indecisive intellectual Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), pretentious philanthropist Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), and impulsive Florida dudebro Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) — to first make sense of the afterlife, and later reform it. All four of them awoke in the afterlife to eventually learn that they are in the Bad Place, but during the course of their psychological torture they’ve managed to win over their jailer, demon-in-human-form Michael (Ted Danson), and his afterlife design intelligence Janet (D’Arcy Carden). The six of them work together to expose flaws in the afterlife’s reward system, and later challenge its architects to try to revamp the entire system. In season four, their effort reaches its last phase as they work to win over the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to a new way of managing the afterlife.

The Good Place is a slippery show to write about, because so much of its joyful power comes from the unique cocktail of surprise, invention, and heart it delivers. Attempts to describe that in detail are bound to pale in comparison. It’s zany, upbeat, and irreverent, but also complex and thoughtful. It confronts the concepts of good and evil — and the hazy zone in between — in a refreshingly direct way, with depth and intelligence. And while it acknowledges and understands the wide spectrum of human behaviors, ultimately it wields its messaging like a force for good. Its noble mission is to challenge us to contemplate the challenges of living ethically in the world, and it does so with honesty and sympathy.

Great comedy rarely rises to the level of feeling necessary. I would venture to say The Good Place does just that. The world needed this show, which leaves a legacy of heart-warming entertainment, thought-provoking commentary, and uncommon empathy for human suffering. A unique masterpiece.