Since season one I saw the Good Place as something special. A series with an almost perfect concept to let wacky hijinx, fun characters, heartfelt scenes, and strong thought provoking ideas come up and play out naturally. All of this taken to the next logical extreme with the now famous season one twist. A twist so obvious but well constructed that it changes the game in a fresh way. However it also caused the very first feeling of FOGO (see that post for more details). Every season and season finale kept pushing that feeling of FOGO.
In retrospect, season one feels too safe. In other words it keeps up the facade of the bad things happening in paradise for too long to be effective. Playing off the audience’s knowledge of sitcom formula and structure to hide it is genius, even using Friends as the example to build off of is strong association, but considering how the other seasons go it lasts too long.
Season two is broken into really three sections… actually I’ll say every season after the first is. The first section (or last in season four’s case) is setting up the new status quo. Michael constantly failing and joining the Cockroaches starts season two and Michael making sure the gang gets back together in the real world in season three set up what happens later. Following that, each season has its own focus but has a similar end goal. They try to find the truth and become better only to realize they must travel somewhere else and outsmart the Bad Place in order to do it. Season two takes them to The Judge and Season three takes them to accounting. In both they find out the problem they’re seeking to solve is beyond the problem in front of them, but is instead, systemic.
Season four is different. Season four has the same three sections but broken up so that the ending is more of an epilogue and final statement about people instead of setting up a new status quo. This ends up being a double edged sword. On one hand it makes for a really strong ending. On the other is makes the first half of the season kind of uneven. To be fair they set up a hard scenario. It’s like season seven Buffy. The experiment must take place to see if people can get better, but we also can’t cut away from our original group and their growth as people either. In the end I think they pick the better option of focusing on Eleanor and the Soul Squad, but it does lead me to having questions of how much better did the four participants get in the experiment. For even as it is a weaker season overall it is still good because the show is more than its plot.
A show is made up of characters and there have been few so well drawn, written, and realized as Elanor Shellstrop, Chidi Anagonye, Michael, Janet, Jason Mendoza, and Tahani Al-Jamil. These six characters are easily some of the best TV has to offer. Part of it comes from how most sitcom characters have to be well defined in order for the comedy to happen. The comedic duo or trio is an archetype for a reason. This show goes beyond that, though, by having to constantly restart the characters, right them from different perspectives in their own lives and growths and still make them sound like them. Having to balance writing a character who learns about the afterlife, grows, goes back to the land of the living, must grow again, get her memories from past lives she forgot back, and then still keep working to be fully enlightened is no easy task for any writer. Yet, this show has to do it for a minimum of six people. Add onto that how everyone around them reacts to the changes and keep those consistent to the characters while being funny. It’s masterful work all by itself.
It goes further than good character writing. The team knows those characters so well that even in death they still find really honest ways for them to grow and change. By the end the team knows what each one of them wants to get out of life and when they’re satisfied. It just feels like the team really studied and thought about what those six would want while being honest with who they were.
Being honest about who the characters are is great, but the fact it is always so funny makes it better. A show like this could be, and is, very thoughtful about the concepts of being a good person, but it’s also a very good comedy. The use of the afterlife is a perfect setting for letting every kind of joke run wild. Subtle banter paired with sights gags, more developed skits, and absurdism allows for any number of jokes. All of which they succeed at hitting. The show’s setting is on a cosmic scale and they do everything they can with that. Of course with such a broad swathe of comedy not every joke lands. The Judge and Derek specifically feel like good ideas that don’t fully work. They still follow those characters wants and needs to comedic effect, but the performances never help fully sell them. But every show has weaknesses, comedy most of all.
The show also does way more than their budget seems to allow. I more respect the attempt than anything else, but the use of CGI in places does look really tacky when compared to the amazing sets they do build. The sets and how, even with the spotty CG, the show constantly looks amazing astounds me. The subtle muting and contract of the afterlife with the real world always works. Even the changes that come when the real world is changed by the new afterlife it all works and is well thought out.
But, aside from the comedy, great acting and characters, and great sets and presentation the reason I love the show is because it’s honest about what it wants and goes to the best, most logical places in that search. The show is about the quest to be a good person. It says that a journey like that is incredibly hard, but not impossible. It says that flawed systems that used to work need to be updated and changed to reflect the new world and needs we have. The show says that the world is hard and complicated. We face impossible solutions we can never hope to fully grasp. We are not all given a fair hand in life but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the possibility to grow. We do. Other might just need more time and practice.
I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!
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