TV Review | The Good Place | Season 4 + Series Overview
Season summary: The experiment on self-improvement in the afterlife begins. Shawn repeatedly tries to sabotage the experiment, first by sending a demon to impersonate one of the test subjects, and then by having a Bad Janet impersonate Janet. The Judge agrees that the afterlife system is flawed, and Chidi and the others propose an alternative system based on testing humans' moral development after death. (Wikipedia)
I was up to speed with The Good Place when it took it's mid-season break before coming back for the final few episodes, before bingeing the entire series over the course of a weekend with a couple of friends and loving almost all of it from start to finish. I say 'almost' all of it because this fourth season has the lowest lows in the entire series that even some of the highest highs can't entirely rescue.
To get the negativity out of the way immediately, a quick reminder of where season 3 left off: to try and save humanity, Michael, Janet and the four humans are re-running the set-up intended to torture them in season 1 to see if four more humans (picked by the Bad Place) can improve just as they did. Unfortunately, it feels like there must be a real Bad Place considering how terrible the newcomers are.
I get that they're supposed to be annoying, irritating and unlikable for the audience and the main characters alike - and the actors do a good job of doing just that - but that's all they are. The four we've been following from the start - Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani - all displayed more depth and nuance by the end of the first episode than the new residents do after half a dozen.
It's the weakest writing in a show that is otherwise written so well with characters who change and evolve so little that you could skip any number of the scenes involving them and you wouldn't miss a thing because they never ever change. Even worse, I liked Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Simone before, but she's so badly-written here that it retroactively makes me dislike her earlier appearances too!
That's a lot of negativity with which to start off a review, but I thought it was worth getting out of the way immediately because every other part of The Good Place is still as good as it's always been. Do I really need to spend multiple paragraphs again extolling the virtues of the core cast we've followed across four seasons? Is there anything left to be said about their performances and the incredible chemistry they have with each other?
Actually, yes. As the end approaches, there is far more dramatic work required than usual for The Good Place, especially in the wonderful, wonderful finale. I have to give the most praise for Manny Jacinto as Jason, who has some genuinely clever moments, in addition to the first 'oh dip' moment in the last episode which makes you realise just how far all of them have come.
I'll freely admit that I didn't like the character of Jason to start off with, but came to really, really like him over the four seasons and this fourth season is Jacinto's best work. Jason is still not the smartest in the world, but he's unquestionably better than he was before - he might not be a deep or logical thinker, but he's the most in tune with other's emotional moods and also his own.
There's also praise for William Jackson Harper, who gets to play multiple variations of Chidi across the season, nails every single one and makes it all seem believable for one character to behave so differently in different situations - the nature of the show certainly helps the audience accept some things, but Harper is the glue that keeps it all from falling apart.
I could go on about the others, with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson as the absolute superstar performers and one hell of a double act. I could also sing the praises of D'Arcy Carden as Janet and Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn, who are also excellent characters that have changed immensely since the start. I could even acknowledge that this is Tahani's weakest season (unfortunately for Jameela Jamil) and she's still so much fun to watch.
As much as I would like to talk about all those things, I also want to get this published on time and writing out everything I want to say about the cast and the characters would make that an impossibility. Even picking out my favourite moments or exchanges in this last season would delay this review by another week.
'Whenever You're Ready' is the name of the finale and it is - for me - one of the most perfect endings for a TV show that I've ever seen. It's a series of goodbyes that keep hitting harder and harder with each one and it all feels like this is the only possible way The Good Place could ever have ended. It contains easily the most emotional moments in the show's run and the use of Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel completely broke me and my friends.
The Good Place's fourth season is the show's weakest, although the series has set such a high bar that it's still some of the best TV going, aided by a perfectly fitting finale that has brought tears on multiple re-watches. Despite the poor first half to the season, the main characters are all still excellent, the humour spot-on and the philosophy even more thought-provoking - especially once you know where it's all headed.
This bit isn't going to be too long because a lot of what is written above about how good the massive super-majority of The Good Place is to experience could be applied to the series as a whole. As a result, I'm going to keep this final section rather generalised in nature to avoid writing an entire book's worth of the various parts of this show that made me love it.
Again, the cast is brilliant and I love all of the characters, even if Jason was slow for me to warm up to and Tahani faded a little towards the end. Hell, it's difficult to choose a standout performer because of how well all the characters work with each other, with almost every pairing capable of producing humour and emotion, especially by the end with the history built up over four seasons.
My first instinct was to go for Eleanor and Michael as the top two, but Eleanor and Chidi were the heart of the show and their relationship rightly provides the most emotional moments of the finale. Then there's Janet, who is such a unique character played to perfection by D'Arcy Carden and who has possibly the best arc on the show of any of the characters.
Then there's how the story kept changing, thanks to either the situation requiring improvisation from the characters, usually resulting in something hilarious; or the characters forcing changes that often led to some of the most emotional and dramatic moments across the four seasons. The balancing act to keep the audience taking everything seriously while still laughing regularly is so brilliantly handled that I can't think of any other show that has done both so well at the same time.
Another huge plus point for The Good Place - or the majority of it, at least - was the realisation of which characters to not overuse. Case in point: Derek. After he was first introduced, I was desperately hoping that he wouldn't become a regular because that character could easily become annoying if used too much - instead, he became a great character to bring back every now and then, with Jason Mantzoukas a welcome presence with his earnest, childlike performance as Derek.
I think the biggest compliment I can pay to The Good Place is that it genuinely made me want to improve my life and how I treat others. I know some of the cast (especially Kristen Bell) were similarly affected through making the show, but it is such a positive experience that you can't help but to want to be similarly positive yourself.
Over the last couple of years, I've tried to be a little better each day than I was the day before. I haven't always succeeded, but I still tried and I would say that I am already in a better place personally than I was, even if it's not quite yet The Good Place. A big thank you to Michael Schur, the cast, the writers and everyone else who worked on this show - the biggest problem I have is that it had to end and that's about the best compliment I could give.