Review: The tear-jerking ‘Good Place’ series finale stays far away from the Bad Place

Spoiler alert! The following contains details from the series finale of “The Good Place.” 

And it turns out everything actually was OK. 

NBC’s existential afterlife sitcom “The Good Place” came to a fitting end Thursday, with an extra-long finale that left the show’s signature plot twists and food puns behind in favor of a sentimental journey of goodbyes.

There was no Bad Place in “Whenever You’re Ready,” no last ditch effort from the demons to torture the humans with “butt spiders” or worse. There were only quiet, intimate endings for each of the series’ major characters: Moments when, after however many “Jeremy Bearimys” of time, each was ready for the afterlife to be over. Although “Good Place” took place almost entirely in a version of heaven or hell, it ended by letting its characters finally die. 

Shows like this all owe a great debt to HBO’s seminal “Six Feet Under” finale, in which the funeral home drama flashed forward to the deaths of all its characters. “Good Place” makes the best homage yet. 

Kristen Bell as Eleanor, William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Ted Danson as Michael and D'Arcy Carden as Janet in the series finale of "The Good Place."

Jason (Manny Jacinto), Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Eleanor (Kristen Bell) all find the peace they need to walk out of the Good Place to the uncertainty beyond. Tahani (Jameela Jamil), ever ambitious, becomes an architect of the afterlife itself. Michael (Ted Danson) finds out what it’s really like to be human. And Janet (D’Arcy Carden) remains “not a girl,” shepherding humans in the Good Place she was meant to be a part of all along. 

The structure of the finale, which takes place over an indeterminate amount of time, allows nearly every side character from the series to appear in some way, book-ending any remaining plot points. The episode also has fun with cameos. Nick Offerman, an alum of “Good Place” creator Mike Schur’s “Parks and Recreation,” shows up as, seemingly, dead Nick Offerman. Or maybe he’s just a random flannel-clad and bearded woodworker teaching Tahani to make the perfect chair. Danson’s real-life wife, Mary Steenburgen, stops by as his  new guitar teacher. 

Like the “Parks” finale, “Whenever You’re Ready” is sometimes just a hair too saccharine. All the series’ loose ends are so perfectly tied up we grow tired of them the way the show’s dead humans got tired of the actual Good Place. But following characters to their happily-ever-afters worked more seamlessly here than it did on “Parks,” perhaps because this series was always about trying to find an all-too-perfect end for humanity.

“Good Place” reckoned with, as Chidi so often said, “what we owe to each other”: not only committing acts of selflessness but learning to be better through the example of those closest to you. In many ways the series endeavored to be a force of good in the world, and not just a sitcom in which funny-but-terrifying Pictionary unicorns come to life. Wrapping up a story that attempted to answer life’s biggest questions was always going to be difficult. 

The series ended on the same note it began, although we might not have noticed. The jewel-toned frozen yogurt stands, time knives and ethical dilemmas distracted us from the fact that “Good Place” was always a show intimately in conversation with death.

Because every episode before last week’s offered a version of death that felt so much like life, the shift to finality and the unknown feels a bit jarring and overwhelmingly sad. “I won’t exactly know what is going to happen when I die. There’s nothing more human than that,” Michael says before he abandons his existence as a demon to try his hand at the dry heat of Earth. He’s not wrong.

In the end, “Good Place” didn’t have any more answers than we humans can provide (although a coda on Eleanor walking through the doorway suggests one). It was just like us: imperfect, messy, ambitious, loving, open-hearted, funny and well-intentioned. Or at least, it was just like the best version of ourselves we can be. 

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