Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Whenever You're Ready: The Good Place Series Finale Post-Mortem [Contributors: Deb and Jenn]

It’s been a minute now since The Good Place ended. But though it technically wrapped up its journey, we’re not ready to stop talking about it or its impact on us! Deb and I joined forces, as only two girls from the absurd state of Florida can, to put words to our thoughts about this incredibly important, bright, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and hilarious comedy series.

Check out what we had to say about “Whenever You’re Ready,” which characters we relate to the most on the show, and what The Good Place taught us in the end.

What are your thoughts about the finale? Based on “Patty,” did you predict how the series might end?

Deb: I did figure the show would go where it ended up going after I watched "Patty." That episode kind of set up the only possible ending for everyone, as much as the idea of it pained me to think about. When the Final Door was brought up in "Patty," I couldn't help feeling like it was essentially them going, "When you're too bored to keep existing, go ahead and walk through the door and you'll stop," which felt super dark and sad to me, and nothing like I wanted from this optimistic show. Thankfully, I was right on most of the finale details (our heroes eventually walking through that door) but wrong on the nuances surrounding those details. Instead of making the motivating factor of going through the door boredom, or diminishing returns on paradise, or similarly negative emotions, the show made it all about feeling complete, accomplished, and (here's a returning theme on this show) being the actual best version of oneself.

And to be honest, the final "answer" to what happens after a person walks through the door — the idea that that person becomes inspiration for humans on Earth to do more good — sealed the deal and made the finale perfect to me. I always wanted Team Cockroach to end up in the Good Place but I also wanted them to find a way to keep helping humanity, and the ending managed to give me both those things.

Jenn: As soon as they began talking about walking through a door in “Patty,” I knew what was coming. Like you said, Deb, it was the only fitting end to the show though. Once they got to the actual Good Place, I kind of figured that they wouldn’t just end it there. The show had built up these characters and their respective journeys so much that I knew the eventual end to their character development had to be more than just reaching the Good Place.

It was truly a perfect way to wrap up the show though. If they had just ended in the Good Place, it would have been fine but ultimately something we could have predicted. What we really needed was to be able to see them grow beyond even the most perfect version of perfection and make a choice: stay or go.

Let’s talk about everyone’s final decision in “Whenever You’re Ready.” Each character chose to leave or chose a different path. How did you think that choice aligned with their character development?

Deb: Those final decisions are like a master class of excellent character development. Jason had his "perfect game of Madden" and reconnected with his dad, but his true moment came when he learned to be thoughtful and reflective after a lifetime of impulse control issues. Chidi realized he was ready to go when he noticed Eleanor had love and affection from her mother and had essentially become part of an extended family, but really his moment was the second he made an immediate, certain decision about needing to leave. Eleanor, who had been lonely and selfish all her life, got her moment after accepting an afterlife without Chidi, and after doing whatever she could to help the people around her who still needed help, like Michael and Mindy St. Claire. Tahani, since she didn't actually go through the door, is the most interesting case: she settled her personal affairs by learning everything she could and reconnecting with her family, but the thing that sent her to the Bad Place was her tendency to feign helpfulness — so, instead of going through the door, she actually sets to work helping people. And then Michael gets to be human!

Jenn: The fact that Jason was a fakeout of walking through the door until after Chidi was ultimately the most perfect piece of writing ever. But the decisions each character made to either stay or go were so in line with who they’d become. Eleanor was the most heartbreaking for me, because as soon as Chidi knew with a sense of peace that he’d fulfilled all he’d wanted to, Eleanor didn’t want to let go. And you’re right, Deb: Eleanor had spent her whole life on earth pretending she didn’t need anyone. The hardest thing she had to do, then, as an evolved version of herself was let the love of her life leave without her. And because there was still work for her to do, I love that Eleanor didn’t stay longer than she needed but stayed long enough to help more people… something Chidi would’ve been proud of. And Chidi, blessed Chidi. His peaceful decision is just so wonderful. He knew, in a way that he never knew things on earth. Tahani’s choice was so interesting. I don’t know if, out of the group, I would have expected her to stay. But she was kind of always the natural “next Michael” in some ways. Eleanor had played the role of leader for so long that for her to stay would have been unnatural. Tahani still had growing to do and new things to learn. Her personal affairs were in order, but I think she realized her job wasn’t done. MICHAEL GOT TO BE HUMAN AND IT WAS SO LOVELY.

What made The Good Place special, in your opinion?

Deb: It never shied away from this idea that we should help each other and strive to be better people than we are, even though a lot of lesser shows would’ve tried to undercut any sincere message with cynicism, for fear of coming off as too “cringe.” The Good Place took every opportunity to double down on its key concepts instead of throwing them away, and I think that makes it more special than just being funny, clever, and well-acted alone would have. Like, if the end of the show was a punchline — “They think they made it to the real Good Place but they’re actually still in the Bad Place! Roll credits.” — it would have severely diminished the show as a whole in my opinion. All four seasons of jokes, lovable characters, and the amazing cast would be the same, but the show would have still ended up less.

Jenn: I think one of the most lovely things about Mike Schur shows is that they’re comedies of optimism. The Good Place was a show about incredibly deep, profound moral and philosophical concepts wrapped in an ensemble comedy blanket of bright love. The show was never cynical; it elevated the best parts of humanity. It reminded us that it’s never too late to change into the person you can become. It reminded us that we can all be better. The end of the series emphasized those values. It gave its characters realistic, wonderful, and heartfelt send-offs. The Good Place was this crazytownbananapants series about a far-out concept that actually really humanized it. I think one of the things you can say about this comedy is that you truly saw humanity: the good and the bad and the ugly, but also the wonderful promise of change. It was funny and whip-smart and honestly everyone should study this show.

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Let’s talk more about character growth and development! How did the show do at shaping and developing our core characters throughout the seasons?

Deb: I’ve talked about this one before but I keep bringing it up because, as a writer, it fascinates me how well done it is, but the show’s ability to “subconsciously” grow characters through reboots and story resets is incredible. It was more a thing in season two and a bit of season three, but we also saw some of it when Michael woke up Chidi in season four, and it became one of the key elements of the afterlife system the Soul Squad developed: people, even without concrete memories of experiencing catalysts for growth, cannot help but grow. It’s just amazing how the show managed to make this happen on a meta-level (subtly changing the main characters in a remarkably consistent, but incremental, way despite reboots and resets being an “easy out” opportunity) and established it as a truth of The Good Place’s actual universe.

Jenn: I agree with you, Deb! The show’s ability to reset itself left us with some really cool character growth. I’ll always love Chidi’s most of all: he went from someone unable to make a simple decision to a person who was able to make the hardest decision of all with such peace. But more than just that, Chidi became confident (“Shut up! I’m confident now!”) and put his faith in things that were hard to explain. He fell in love, he made great sacrifices, and he gave that forever sob-inducing speech about ocean waves. Eleanor, too, showed incredible growth. I love characters who go from selfish loners to softies, and that’s who she became in the end in the best way. Eleanor was always more than just a girl from Arizona. She was a leader. She was a girl with a broken past who had to be hard to survive, and even in death, she tried really hard to not need people. It was so wonderful and a testament to Kristen Bell (that girl from Arizona speech kills me) that we saw all these incredible layers to our protagonist.

Honestly all of the characters grew on this show. Even Janet! Even Mindy! Even Shawn, a little bit! That’s what made The Good Place so dang good: CHARACTER GROWTH FOR EVERYONE.

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The Good Place was a show that threw us twist after twist, constantly reinventing itself. Did that work for you? Were there things that didn’t? What’s the most surprising or refreshing twist?

Deb: I loved all the twists, but honestly the most surprising and refreshing twist was there was no twist at the end. They got to the Good Place! It was a little bit terrible at first, but they fixed it! They spent thousands upon thousands of blissful Jeremy Bearimys together, making themselves and the people around them better, and then when they all felt like they were complete and ready to leave, they left and imparted some spirit of goodness on the Earth when they did. I was hanging out quite a lot around The Good Place discussions online and so many people, having gotten used to a show that pulled twists out of nowhere, were eager to see what the “last twist” would be: would they all end up actually still being in the Bad Place? Would the whole show actually be part of a demon test for Michael? A simulation from a rogue Janet? Nope, nope, nope! Everything was played completely straight and sincere, and I could not be more grateful.

Jenn: The end of the first season will always be one of my favorite moments to witness live on social media. The reactions to the twist that they were in the Bad Place was just SO good. I wasn’t generally as much of a fan of the show during the first half of season four as I wanted to be (I think so much time spent on other characters hindered that), but I really enjoyed the twists that were thrown our way.

There being no real “final twist” was refreshing. For a show that had done so many experimental things and rebooted itself a whole lot, I liked that we just got to witness the bow on the series for exactly what it was: a narrative bow, wrapped so neatly.

Was there a character you related to most throughout the show? If so, what drew you to them?

Deb: I connected to Chidi immediately. He’s an overly anxious bookworm who likes cold, overcast weather and staying indoors to read, which is me in a nutshell. Chidi’s a lot more selfless and is definitely a lot smarter (I’ve tried reading philosophy books — they’re really difficult) than I am, but he has the most elements I relate to out of everyone.

Jenn: I think I’ll always connect most with Chidi, too. I was always fascinated with the fact that his reason for being in the Bad Place was so much less “bad” than everyone else’s. And yet that’s what made it so powerful, too. Chidi didn’t realize how his indecision hurt people and being plagued with self-doubt isn’t inherently bad (it’s very human), but what you do or don’t do with it can be. I’m definitely not as smart as Chidi, but I relate to his fears and insecurities on a pretty deep level.

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What made you cry hardest in the series finale?

Deb: The “wave returning to the ocean” speech from Chidi legitimately broke me. When I was actually watching the scene, I was full-on sobbing and just thinking about it, all this time later, will still get me teary-eyed.

Jenn: Well, considering the fact that I started crying 10 minutes into the episode and did not stop until it ended, that’s hard to say. But that wave speech utterly broke me into sobs. And Janet saying goodbye to Eleanor was really heart-wrenching for me too. Janet really being there for everyone in their time of need was so poignant because she’s part of the squad. She’ll still be there after they’re all gone and it was hard to watch her say goodbye to almost everyone she loves.

Mike Schur obviously is the king of writing good-hearted ensemble comedies. What will you take away from The Good Place, specifically? What do you know or feel now that you hadn’t before the series?

Deb: In the most practical sense, I’m taking away how to create an amazing, heartfelt, hilarious story. But philosophically, I think those underlying ideas — the emphasis on self-improvement and that we owe it to one another to try and help — are going to stick with me for the rest of my life. Especially that wave returning to the ocean speech, which I think Mike Schur said on the podcast that was extrapolated from a pre-existing concept but as far as I’m concerned, The Good Place gave that to me. I’m thankful for that.

There was just this overwhelming sort of “peace” to everything about the show that I can still feel whenever I think back on it. It’s this ultimate feel-good show, not only because everything works out well for all the characters I love and I don’t get anxiety when I watch it, but also because its universal message seems to be “it’ll all be okay. Try your best, love people, and it’ll all be okay.”

Jenn: I think I’ll always take away that there’s a place for deep, philosophical concepts in comedy. Comedies don’t have to dumb themselves down to be accessible. Mike Schur and the writers found ways to make really high-level concepts palatable. And, moreover, he found ways to make them funny! I think, or hope, that The Good Place paved the way for experimental comedies to exist just like this one. And the other thing I’ll always take away from The Good Place is just how good it really was. I love comedies where characters gently jab each other but ultimately love and sacrifice for one another. That’s what Mike Schur and J.J. Philbin and Liz Meriwether and Gloria Calderón Kellett and others do: prove that there’s a place for comedies about people who genuinely have love for each other.

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Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Deb: I really hope the success of this show sets a precedent for Jacksonville, Florida being depicted in more media — specifically, I would like this city which I call home to develop an image as an insanely ridiculous swamp-town full of Jason Mendozas. It’d make me feel a lot better about living here.

More seriously, though, I'm just thankful for this show's existence. It's a ray of sunshine in an increasingly gloomy world and I thank Schur and the whole crew and cast for bringing it to us.

Jenn: I want more shows like this on television. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it a million times over — it’s so necessary to have good-hearted comedies on TV right now. The dark, cynical, sarcastic comedies where people hurt others aren’t bad, necessarily (sometimes they’re the ones that get the most awards), but I think The Good Place proves that people are drawn to optimism and nuance and brightness and joy too.

The fact that the show was able to blend these very, very deep and intellectual topics with comedy and character growth gives me hope for other writers and showrunners out there. The Good Place’s stories were always very intentional and thoughtfully-done. I never felt pandered to. I never felt talked down to. I never felt like the show was just doing things for the sake of shock or awe. Everything had a purpose and shows can learn from that.

(Also continue to make fun of Florida, Mike Schur. We deserve it.)

What did you love most about The Good Place? What do you miss? Sound off in the comments below!


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