Michael Schur, the executive producer of beloved shows like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has made an indelible mark on American comedy. On Jan. 30, after four years of comical meditations on human nature and moral philosophizing, Schur’s most recent NBC comedy series, “The Good Place,” has ended.
“The Good Place” was a 22-minute, single-camera comedy. The show followed the personal growth of a self-centered Arizonan woman, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell); indecisive moral ethics professor Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper); a name dropping English socialite, Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and a dimwitted break-dancing Floridian, Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). After these four strangers die on Earth, they go to the Good Place, an afterlife they soon come to find isn’t exactly paradise. With the guidance of Michael (Ted Danson), a silver fox and Good Place architect, and Janet (D’Arcy Carden), the physical, feminized embodiment of all the universe’s wisdom, the sextet interrogates what it means to live a good life.
“The Good Place” was a success on multiple fronts. The show thoughtfully approached and depicted the daunting inevitability of death and the mysteries of the hereafter (funnily enough what some might call heaven is a never-ending cobblestone street lined with frozen yogurt shops). The existential musings of “The Good Place” are especially impressive considering that the show gestures toward numerous faith-based conceptions of an afterlife without buttressing one or dismissing any of the others. Additionally, the show delivers complicated tenets of moral ethics to an American audience in a way that’s simple but never simplistic. Although the show certainly articulates what is bad — Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), an unparalleled eyebrow raiser and Bad Place torturer, flattens human penises — “The Good Place” gives its viewers room to witness and decide for themselves what is good.
The show championed the capacity that deeply imperfect beings have to recognize their faults and reach for better versions of themselves. Every character, including non-human Janet and Gen, the Judge of the universe (Maya Rudolph), evolves at some point over the show’s four seasons. There is an undeniable loveliness and generosity woven into the show’s narrative. But Schur’s story did not fall prey to what Charles Bukowski, one of poetry’s infamous drunk uncles, referred to as “cock-eyed optimism.” Rather, it found this splendorous balance of critiquing selfishness and a multitude of violent behaviors in an accessible, non-preachy way. Additionally, it put underrepresented figures at its center and not to be self-congratulatory or topical. While Schur shows have been criticized for operating in a post-racial dreamscape, he should be commended for creating African and Asian characters who are annonying, selfish, sexy, stupid, brilliant and gloriously human. He seems to deeply understand that in the most fundamental way, racial, gender and sexual minorities deserve to be on TV because they deserve to be on Earth.
At a moment in history when humanity itself appears to be verging on oblivion, “The Good Place” has done a permanent and blessed thing. It is a show that has contemplated alongside its audience the politics of hope, the reality of meandering devastation and the way our lives can be peppered with joy nonetheless. I know that millions of viewers across the globe will experience a twinge in our hearts the next few Thursday evenings. But I trust that all will be well if we remember to “take it sleazy.”