“The Good Place” is about to embark on its final season, and here’s what you need to know.
Across its first three seasons, the afterlife comedy from “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office” alum Michael Schur has proven itself to be one of the most narratively unpredictable sitcoms to ever grace television. Between Season 1’s paradigm-shifting twist, the multiple timelines and the many, many memory wipes since, one could be forgiven for needing a refresher to keep everything straight.
So, to best understand how “The Good Place” will come to an end, let’s start by going back to the beginning.
Season 1 kicked off with Eleanor (Kristen Bell) waking up in what she would come to understand as the afterlife. Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of the Good Place, and Janet (D’Arcy Carden), his Alexa-like assistant, laid it all out: Humans accrue points during their lives on Earth, a method of quantifying morality and goodness. Those points determine who goes to the Good Place when they die — something like Heaven, but not quite — and who goes to The Bad Place — where they will be tortured by demons in comically horrific ways for all of eternity.
After a sequence of increasingly miserable developments, Eleanor eventually came to the realization that no one in her neighborhood actually belongs in the Good Place — not her, the self-described “Arizona dirtbag,” nor the indecisive philosophy professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), the condescending upper-cruster Tahani (Jameela Jamil) or the Florida Man parody come to life Jason (Manny Jacinto).
It was revealed in the Season 1 finale, in the show’s most ambitious twist, that Eleanor and co. had actually been in the Bad Place the entire time. Michael, who turned out to be a demon in a human suit, had been secretly torturing them all under Jean-Paul Sartre’s premise that “hell is other people.”
Across the next two seasons, they made multiple attempts to escape to the real Good Place, discovering along the way the inner workings of the accounting department which keeps track of the point system; the existence of the “Medium Place” inhabited by the single most deeply okay person from all of human history; and the all-knowing Judge (Maya Rudolph), the final arbiter of any and all afterlife disputes. At one point they even returned to Earth with their memories wiped in an attempt to prove that humans actually can grow and become better as people. (In Season 3, the show explained away all questions about continuity in one amusing and entirely unsatisfying “Jeremy Bearimy.”)
Heading into Season 4, by now working with Michael and Janet as “Team Cockroach,” Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason have been given one last chance by the Judge to prove that the point system is flawed and that’s the reason no human has been admitted to the real Good Place in hundreds of years.
They’re to take four humans bound for the Bad Place — as selected by the demons of the Bad Place led by Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) — and attempt to rehabilitate them. If they can help them become Good Place-worthy within the span of a year, all of them will be given a pass on being tortured in the Bad Place forever.
Last season’s finale introduced the first two test subjects, who had been chosen specifically to mess with the individual members of Team Cockroach (because, again, hell is other people): Chidi’s ex-girlfriend neuroscientist Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and John (Brandon Scott Jones), the Perez Hilton-esque founder of the Gossip Toilet who hounded Tahani during her life on Earth.
Simone’s presence created a unique problem, as Eleanor and Chidi had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love in several hundred different timelines. So in the final moments of the finale, Chidi offered himself up as sacrifice. He’d have Janet wipe his memory, including every detail of his relationship with Eleanor, to avoid derailing the experiment.
The Season 4 premiere, which airs Thursday, will reveal the final two test subjects, and the final run of episodes will, presumably, reveal whether or not Team Cockroach wins their way into the Good Place. But according to Schur, that’s not really the point of the show.
“I thought that at the beginning that the show could, if given the chance, describe what it meant to be a good person,” Schur said ahead of the season premiere. “I think that objective kind of shifted a little bit, because what we found as we discussed it and wrote it and executed it, is that some very, very smart people over the last 3,000 years have had a lot of very different opinions about that question.”
“What’s important is that you try,” he continued. “That became, that was sort of my internal shift over the course of making the show, was the newfound belief that the important thing wasn’t actually – and it’s counter-intuitive to say this — being good. The important thing was that you’re trying.”
“The Good Place” Season 4 premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 8/7c.