Television Man | by Aidan Morgan
Spoilers follow for The Good Place
“I guess all I can do is embrace the pandemonium. Find happiness in the unique insanity of being here, now.” —Eleanor Shellstrop
“Holy motherforking shirtballs.” —also Eleanor
That’s it, friends. That’s all.
On the evening of Thursday, Jan. 30, The Good Place (NBC/Netflix) comes to an end. Over four short seasons, The Good Place has followed four deceased misfits as they wrestle with a version of paradise that seems strangely off, only to discover their yoghurt-happy heaven is hell. Many philosophy lessons and horrific puns later, the hapless squad — Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and Jameela Jamil) — outsmart their torturers, save the Earth and fix the broken system of the afterlife. And they do it all by remaining quietly, humanely decent.
It’s hard to pick out my favourite Good Place episodes. Even the weakest are packed with character grace notes and very, very funny jokes about Florida. Nonetheless, here are my top six. I realize comedy is extremely subjective and your tastes may vary. Please post your dissenting opinion on Facebook, where I will never read it.
“EVERYTHING IS FINE” (1.01) Network television pilots don’t have it easy. Within 23 or 45 minutes, they have to sketch out an entirely new world, offer up at least two or three compelling characters, and build a storytelling engine that will run for at least a season. It’s a demanding task, which is partly why so many network shows fit into instantly recognizable genres. Consider what Michael Schur and crew had to accomplish with the opening salvo of The Good Place: introduce an afterlife, give three of the main characters a hidden identity and throw in a potentially game-changing cliffhanger at the end. There are better episodes of The Good Place, but as far as pilots go, this one rules.
“JEREMY BEARIMY” (3.05) Season three is the series’ weakest with an awkward run of Earth-set episodes, but “Jeremy Bearimy” gets everyone back on course. Our heroes discover they’re doomed to hell, but they choose to do good nonetheless. And apparently, time in the afterlife isn’t linear — it’s a swooping, looping, back-tracking headscratcher that happens to look like a funky, handwritten “Jeremy Bearimy”. Also, Chidi makes a giant vat of chili with Peeps.
“THE ANSWER” (4.09) In season two’s “Dance Dance Resolution” (more on that below), Chidi wrestles with the knowledge that the gang have been stuck in an endless cycle of rebirth, as Michael (Ted Danson) puts them through hundreds of hells. “We’re experiencing karma but we can’t learn from our experiences because our memories are wiped each time,” he complains. In “The Answer”, Michael gives Chidi access to all his cycles of existence in order to keep The Judge of All Existence (Maya Rudolph) from rebooting the Earth. And yes, Chidi comes up with the answer.
“JANET(S)” (3.09) All hail D’arcy Carden, who plays Janet, the terminally chipper repository of all knowledge. In “Janet(s),” she rescues the gang by bringing them into her boundless void, but the situation goes sideways quickly. Watching her play each character, embodying their quirks and tics with just a line and an expression, is remarkable. Shower Carden with Emmys, you cowards.
MICHAEL’S GAMBIT (1.13) By the end of its first season, The Good Place had already become adept at game-changing twists but nothing compares to Eleanor’s profane epiphany. “This is the Bad Place!” she declares. Then Michael emits a diabolical giggle and the entire show reassembles itself in your brain. Paradise isn’t broken; it’s bad by design.
DANCE DANCE RESOLUTION (2.03) You’ll likely remember it as the one with the multiple Bad Place reboots and food puns (“A Little Bit Chowder Now” and “Pump Up the Clam” are my favourites), but that sequence is only the first act. By the 802nd reboot, morale has fallen apart, the demons have walked off the job and Eleanor and Chidi have escaped to the Medium Place. There they discover a series of uncomfortable truths about their afterlives and forge a new relationship with Michael, resetting the show’s status quo once again. It’s flawless television. Oh, and we also find out Jason had a 60-person dance crew back in Jacksonville called “Dance Dance Resolution: We Resolve To Dance”.
Seriously, that dance crew line kills me every time.