Welcome. Everything is fine. I wish I could say that with any sort of confidence, but those four words inevitably mean our favorite characters are embarking on another insane and unworldly adventure. At the same time, it also means we only have twelve episodes left of creator Michael Schur’s dystopian afterlife comedy, “The Good Place,” that has defied sitcom traditions by reinventing itself over the course of its three-year run. Although I was late to discover this innovative and outlandish comedy — I only discovered the show as I was in dire need of something to download for my plane ride last winter break — I am truly blessed to step on The Trans Eternal Railway for one final experiment.
The premiere episode of the fourth and final season opens up similarly to each of its predecessors with all of the characters facing an uncertain future and delaying their entry to The Bad Place. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell, “Veronica Mars”), the former dirtbag from Arizona, begins her improbable quest advocating for more reasonable standards for acceptance into The Good Place with the argument that it is possible for humans to change after their lives on Earth end, just as she has done. This time around, however, Eleanor will have to do it without the help of her soulmate, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper, “Jack Ryan”).
When Judge Jen (Maya Rudolph, “Big Mouth”) agrees to allow the original architect Michael (Ted Danson, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) to conduct this experiment, the catch is that the new test humans will be chosen by The Bad Place. One of the test humans, the neuroscientist Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, “Into the Dark”), is a former love interest of Chidi. With the future of the human after-life on the line, Chidi gets his memory wiped out of fear that he will ruin the experiment through his interactions with Simone. Much of this episode is about the emotional toll felt by Eleanor, who is acting as the architect and thus is not able to achieve eternal happiness in a place where everyone else gets just that. After Simone struggles to adjust to the afterlife, as she believes she is in a coma and disrupts the neighborhood, Michael suggests they “activate” Chidi. Eleanor is quick to deny this plan out of fear that Chidi and Simone may light a spark but eventually agrees. Afterall, the fate of the human afterlife hangs in the balance of Eleanor.
For the previous two seasons, fans were treated to hour-long double-episode premieres which helped to establish the season’s new plot. Whether due to programming conflicts or some other circumstance that I am unaware of, we are only treated to one 30-minute program block. The end of the episode leaves us with a cliffhanger, which is directly connected to my point that this episode was missing something … another part! The episode next week is titled “Part 2,” which means there is more set-up to be done before Eleanor and her gang establish what the tone of this final season will be. This is the problem with serialized comedies on network television: With only 22 minutes of programming time to work with, what is the balance between telling us enough information to stay excited and curious and get us to watch again next week, while also satisfying our needs for plot development?
Although the premiere is successful and I am thrilled to watch this show again on a week-to-week basis, the delay in airing “Part 2” makes the experience less fulfilling compared to previous season premieres. This is probably due to the complex nature of the show. The only times we hear Tahani (Jameela Jamil, “How to Build a Girl”) speak are when she is name-dropping a celebrity she knew on Earth, and Jason (Manny Jacinto, “Bad Times at El Royale”) seems to only be focused on his kinda-relationship with Janet (D’Arcy Carden, “Barry”). For those who are on the edge of committing to watch the season, this episode neither raises nor answers enough questions. All this being said, I am sure next week will feature these missing elements.