An ode to NBC’s ‘The Good Place’



Opinion Columnist Taylor Lien pays homage to “The Good Place,” which aired it series finale on Jan. 30, 2020.


NBC’s “The Good Place” aired its series finale on Thursday night. I’ve been following this show since midway through the first season. This show has grown to be one of the most personally important shows I’ve ever watched for a list of reasons too long to recount. “Whenever You’re Ready” was the perfect ending to a show that had taken on the stakes of the entire universe. It was quiet in its delivery and it forced the audience to confront it’s mortality in a way that it never quite had before.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, “The Good Place” was a sitcom on NBC airing from 2016-2020 starring Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden and Manny Jacinto. It follows the recently-deceased Eleanor Shellstrop (Bell) as she maneuvers the Good Place, a Heaven-like posthumous destination. Based on her actions on Earth, she quickly realizes that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place and enlists the help of philosopher Chidi Anagonye (Jackson Harper).

This finale definitely had less jokes than other episodes but it served to never cheapen the message of the finale: life is precious because it is limited. We don’t know what happens next, but hopefully it’s peaceful. That’s a lot for a network television show to take on, especially one that pitches itself as a sitcom. Much of the show name-dropped a lot of Western philosophers including Emmanuel Kant, Plato, Socrates and Kierkegaard.

Yet, the finale took on a much more Eastern worldview with Chidi (Jackson Harper) discussing one Buddhist perspective on death. The entire episode centers around making your final peace with the world and the characters deliver it beautifully. That didn’t mean I wasn’t sobbing my way through it. It’s easy to say the finale was a pivot and, in a lot of ways, it wasn’t like many of the other episodes that had preceded it.

For me, it was exactly the type of finale I wanted. My favorite television finales are the ones that bend the rules of the show to fit the emotional catharsis we want for the characters. One of these is “One Last Ride” from “Parks and Recreation,” which happens to be another Michael Schur project. That finale takes us through the future of every character in a beautiful and satisfying way. “The Good Place” managed a similar concept, but in its own imagined afterlife way.

A finale is never going to satisfy everyone. The fact that a show like this found its audience on network television is something that will never cease to amaze me. Despite how you may feel about how things ended, it is a massive feat in 2020 to have a show like “The Good Place” air for the exact number of episodes the creator intended.

This show will be written about for years to come for its accomplishments in turning the sitcom concept on its head. Yet, I think it is impossible to talk about this show without discussing the way that in a time where network television is usually making safer bets, NBC bet on “The Good Place.” Michael Schur and many other people involved with the show have talked about the ways in which NBC has been very generous to the show and its production.

This type of kindness from a network makes me hopeful for the future of television. In an age where Artificial Intelligence is being developed to create movie scripts that an algorithm has said will sell tickets, this is the type of show we as consumers deserve. It is comforting to know while living in a time where ethical or moral choices are harder and more complicated than ever, there is a show that holds your hand and makes jokes to help the medicine go down.

It is obvious while watching the finale of this show, that everyone in front of and behind the camera loved working on this show. When watching a show as intimate and personal as this one, it feels like an added bonus that everyone on the show actually loves each other that much.

Shows like “The Good Place” don’t come along all the time. If they did, it wouldn’t be special. Something about this show, no matter how many times I rewatch it, will never fail to feel unmatched. Watching it for four years (mostly) in real time felt like I and everyone else on the Internet who won’t shut up about this show were in this together. I will probably never stop recommending this show to anyone who will listen, but I will never get tired of my friends texting me about season one finale twist, or the heartbreak at the end of the third.

This show underscores what it’s like to be human and the most universal experience we will ever have, death. It’s beautiful that in life, a show about death has brought so many of us together. Now, go do something good.