Archive | February, 2017

The Good Place and the Power of a Powerful Series Finale

3 Feb

The Good Place

Rarely does the final episode of any season of television, let alone of a comedy, force you to reevaluate the events of the entire season in its wake. Even rarer is that a plus rather than a minus, because the events have been immaculately enough crafted that the season makes a lot more sense under the new narrative, rather than less, and the entire show is richer for the change, sparking interest in revisiting old episodes to view certain bits in a new light.

That is, however, what NBC’s The Good Place pulled off in its finale. The Good Place had been an enjoyable sitcom in its short time, improving, like good comedies do, as it went forward, working out the relationships and chemistry between its leads, particuarly, developing strong rapport between Eleanor and her alleged soulmate Chidi and between Eleanor and her frenemy Tahani. More plotty than most sitcoms, the strictures of The Good Place’s universe helped keep it interesting and afloat while the comedy slowly improved.

And there were questions that formed, that seemed potentially if not quite plotholes, than strange decisions based on what we had known. Eleanor and Jason were obviously not supposed to be in the Good Place, that much was clear. The backstories and alleged rules of the Good Place, however, shed suspicion on Tahani and Chidi, who, while obviously way ahead of Jason and Eleanor, had their own issues which would led to them have been unlikely to enter the extremely choosy Good Place. We’re given to believe the motivation behind a person’s actions may be important in his or her final tally, and Tahani’s is purely to prevent being upstaged by her acclaimed artist sister. Chidi’s motivation is undeniably pure, but due to his crippling indecisiveness, he never really does all that much actual good in his life.

These developments were glazed over at the time, and were not quite notable enough to burst a hole in the premise, but enough to consider on momentarily. To Michael Schur and co., however, those developments were not peripheral, as it turned out. They were part of an artfully crafted set up designed to stun us when in the final episode we learn that what we, and our protagonists, believe is the Good Place, has actually been the Bad Place the whole time.

Schur consulted Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof while plotting the first season, an expert on both plotty science fiction television, and the fan pressure for answers and satisfying conclusions and clearly Schur was able to take something from the advice on either what to or what not to do.

The reveal itself is handled with aplomb, especially as the episode is cross-cut with Michael’s backstory, telling the story of his wanting to design his first neighborhood in a new and different way. Only after the reveal does it become clear that rather than take part in a new version of the Good Place, Michael’s constructed what he thinks is a gleeful and fun new way to torture bad humans.

And all of a sudden, with one change, the entire show is transformed, both past, and future. I was honestly unsure on how Schur prepared to continue on if The Good Place was renewed, and in the season finale we’re sent on a brilliant feint designed to leave us with just that question in mind, trying to think what could happen and who could be sent to the Bad Place if the show continued next season. By placing our fixation on that, Schur was able to distract us until Eleanor, of all people, figures out Michael’s secret.

When a twist comes as a complete, out-of-nowhere, surprise, that’s usually a bad sign that there was no foreshadowing and no possible way to foresee it. These types of twists can feel lazy or make viewers feel like they wasted their time watching an entire show when the whole world they invested in is changed radically post-twist. This twist avoids these dangers by being clearly well-planned and laid out over the course of the show, even though the fact The Good Place is a comedy, and the general disorientation provided by the unique premise kept viewers more off-balance then they would be if this was a prestige drama. No one on the internet was devoting weekly threads to fan theories, like they were for Westworld. This made surprising us both relatively easy and more worthwhile. This twist enhanced the replay value of the earlier episodes rather than diminish it, as the change makes earlier events relevant in a new way.

Next season, then, we’ll get a new look at this season, through a new perspective, as Eleanor, matched up with a new soulmate struggles to remember why she wrote that note. In one fell swoop, Schur took The Good Place from a show with a nice first season that got better as it went into a season to truly remember.