The Good Place
Season 4 is the last for "The Good Place," and that's probably for the best. (Illustration by Nick Spearman, Savannah College of Art and Design)

Season 4 of the acclaimed sitcom “The Good Place,” which will start airing on Sept. 26, has been confirmed by NBC as the series’s final entry. The sitcom, which focused on four lost souls struggling to be good people in the afterlife and explored issues of human morality, represents both a departure from the traditional sitcom format and a successful gamble for NBC.

Given the high ratings of “The Good Place,” which were partly due to its presence on Netflix, as well as its numerous award nominations, the decision by series creator Michael Schur to cancel the hit show has left fans scratching their heads. However, “The Good Place” succeeded because NBC placed its unwavering faith in Schur, and now the network must continue to support the acclaimed show as its director makes the boldest choice of all: ending.

“The Good Place” is a unique television comedy, despite displaying many of the classic sitcom tropes, such as a 22-minute run time and tightly written family-friendly jokes between characters as they learn life lessons. By network standards, however, “The Good Place” is a departure from the assumed network formula, taking risks by having a serialized plot, fraught with twists and high concepts, all while presenting a philosophical stance on moral ethics and the obligations human beings have to each other.

The sitcom is historically a genre in which every episode is self-contained, so any daytime television viewer can turn on the show and feel caught up. Just as older shows, such as “Leave it to Beaver,” and even contemporary sitcoms, such as “The Office,” have felt the need to limit storylines to individual episodes, Schur told The Hollywood Reporter that NBC initially mandated that “The Good Place” “couldn’t have anything serialized.”

In the interview, Schur explains that, because of streaming services, viewers now expect programs to end each episode with a cliffhanger, whether that’s a new phase in the character’s journey or an unexpected plot twist; as a result, storylines now must span a number of episodes.

 

In a genre meant to provide a couple laughs as white-noise on primetime television, “The Good Place” provides the audience with cliffhangers that suck viewers into the continuing story. For example, the pilot episode cuts off with the indecisive yet honest ethics professor, Chidi, struggling over whether to help Eleanor become a better person so she can stay in The Good Place, or snitch on his new friend to Michael, the architect of the neighborhood, who is heard knocking in the midst of the anguish on screen. Viewers are now desperate to click to the next episode, wondering whether Chidi has chosen to help Eleanor.

“The Good Place” also deviates from the sitcom formula with shocking plot-twists that throw a wrench in the show’s established status-quo. In the Season 1 finale, Michael reveals to Eleanor that he has been lying to the main characters the whole time. The neighborhood Michael designed has never been in The Good Place, but rather a part of a torturous hell-like counterpart called The Bad Place.

Micheal carefully planned every plot twist and mishap, such as Eleanor’s case of mistaken identity, to create a hellish neighborhood where the four main characters (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason) all torture each other. Michael confirms that Eleanor’s guess changes the impact of the entire previous season.

It also sets up a follow-up season that will have an entirely new dimension, where everything seemingly divine is actually fake. Most comedies would not bother tricking the audience in such an elaborate way for so long. “The Good Place” is an outlier, and it executes the twist with brilliance.

Having a serialized journey sets “The Good Place” apart from other network comedies, yet the content of the plot truly makes Schur’s creation unique. The show forces the audience to watch ethics lessons, given by a professor known for being dense and inaccessible during his time of earth, as the series answers the question of whether or not people can really change.

How can a show about human ethics be funny? The laughs are about morality. Whereas other sitcoms such as “30 Rock” lean on almost solely comedy, “The Good Place” tells a narrative with serious themes combined with a whimsical sitcom tone. Comedy comes from watching Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason and eventually Michael desperately struggle to become better people.

Chidi’s ethics lessons, while entertaining, are not what compels the main characters to become better people, with studies showing that studying ethics may be linked to causing people to act unethically. Michael creates his neighborhood with the hypothesis that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason will torture each other, which is reflective of a wider belief: relationships with other human beings bring out the worst qualities in a person.

The effects of Chidi’s lessons and the loving relationship they help establish between the main characters counters the initial, innate human selfishness. Chidi explains in one of his lectures: “We chose to be good because of our bonds to other people. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

In a society favoring individualism and selfish behavior, “The Good Place” offers a radically different hypothesis than what the demons in The Bad Place or the dominant philosophers of the 21st century offer.

Rather than damning the people closest to them with a tortured existence, human beings are each other’s salvation. The relationships Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason have with each other are what make them better people.

“The Good Place” has become the best sitcom on TV through its bold choices, such as having a serial nature, telling a meaningful story that teaches the audience about ethics and presenting a unique definitive philosophical stance. Now Schur is taking the greatest risk of all by ending the series since additional entries would certainly draw in larger ratings.

Yet “The Good Place” needs to end after Season 4, or else it stands a good chance at becoming another television program that went on for too long , such as “Weeds,” “How I Met Your Mother” or Schur’s previous writing gig, “The Office.” Schur is making the hardest choice as a writer, but it’s also smart to end while on top.

What makes “The Good Place” amazing and differentiates it from the rest is also why the series has to end. Serialized storylines across multiple episodes and seasons means the narrative has to come to its logical conclusion at some point. Additionally, a program that asks questions of morality and ethics has to end once the hypotheticals have been answered.

“The Good Place” is, according to Ted Danson, who plays Michael, a serious story. A sitcom style, however, used to tell a serious story, cannot sustain extraneous, filler seasons.

Schur will use this final season to resolve the story definitively, showing that people can change for the better, with the help of each other. Then “The Good Place” shall pass onto the next life, occupying a seat in the “good place” of television shows.

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