There’s a real gut-check moment approaching in pop culture. I hope you’re ready. I don’t think I am. Not yet, at least. You’re going to have to be strong for the both of us. Because The Good Place is coming to an end after this season, its fourth, and that is bumming me out spectacularly.
The problem is that the show has been so good and so blindingly unique for so long. It almost shouldn’t have even existed. It’s a goofy show filled with dumb food puns and childish physical humor that also takes a deep and meaningful look at what it means to be a good person at a time when every choice you make can be traced back to some immoral act by some person or group. It’s a high-concept — possibly the highest concept — weirdo comedy that seems like something some streaming site would develop on a whim and it actually airs on network television. It stars Ted Danson, perhaps the nicest and most charming man alive (neck-and-neck with Henry Winkler) as a demon who delivers one of the all-time great recorded evil cackles (neck-and-neck with Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob) at the end of the first season.
That shouldn’t be a thing. And it wouldn’t have been a thing either, if not for NBC making a really wild offer to Parks and Recreation showrunner Michael Schur, as he explained to Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall.
“This all started,” he recalls, “from NBC doing something insane, which was telling me that they would take any idea I had and guarantee it 13 episodes. And what I took from that offer was, ‘Well, I now owe it to the concept of ideas to come up with a crazy idea.’ Why play it safe in that scenario?”
Schur was already fixated on notions of fairness and ethics. He first developed the show’s concept of a point system to get into the Good Place while fighting L.A. traffic and deducting or adding points for other drivers based on how they behaved on the road.
Let’s recap: A goofball comedy about ethics and the afterlife, one that deals with fundamental questions about the human experience, sprang from the mind of a dude who was caught in traffic one day, and a major television network that is owned by the world’s largest cable conglomerate greenlit the entire first season on blind faith. Are you starting to see what I mean here? The Good Place was a miracle before the cameras even started rolling.
And that brings us to the next unlikely part of all this: It’s good. It is so good. It is kind and sweet and warm and devilish. It sneaks serious ethical questions — the show did a whole episode about the trolley problem — in between jokes about Florida restaurants with names like Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump. One of its main characters is an all-knowing A.I. creation who dresses like a flight attendant and can conjure up anything your heart can flutter toward in that moment. Another is a breakdancer who throws Molotov cocktails at boats and has a best friend named Pillboi. Those two are a couple now. Kind of. Trying to explain The Good Place is hard.
Here’s what’s less hard to explain, though: Losing this show is going to hurt. There’s just nothing else out there like it. BoJack Horseman gets the silly/serious divide but can get way, way darker, which is fine but not always what I’m looking for. Big Mouth is a blast but way more loud and crass, the television equivalent to banging cymbals together, which I mean in the most complimentary way possible. Superstore and Schitt’s Creek are cool but not quite as ambitious on a grand scheme. I like all of those shows. A lot. This isn’t meant to drag any of them. This is just to point out what an astonishingly original thing we have on our hands here.
I don’t even really remember the last show I felt like this about. One that I’m not quite ready to lose. The final season of Veep was razor sharp but it felt like time to let it go. Game of Thrones limped across the finish line. I might need to go back to 2015, the year I lost three of my favorite shows ever: Mad Men, Justified, and yes, Parks and Recreation. (Michael Schur is pretty good at making television shows.) All of them ended at the right time. I still miss all of them very much. It’s fine. I’m fine.
I’m also getting ahead of myself. There’s still a full final season to go. Plenty can and will happen between now and the finale and we should do our best to savor and cherish it all. But we should also start preparing ourselves. This is the last week of summer camp. Our friends are leaving us soon. We’re all going to have to deal with that at some point.
And so, I ask you again: Are you ready to say goodbye to The Good Place? Are you?
‘The Good Place’ returns for its fourth and final season tonight on NBC.