The Good Place
Welcome to the Good Place, where your every whim is indulged! Want one huge Junior Mint? Janet can get that for you. Remember those cool sunglasses you once bought from a targeted Instagram ad? Look on the top of your head. There they are! Come to the get-to-know-you party, which has been designed to remind you of happily familiar experiences from your own life … like the Jacksonville Super-Suites hotel ballroom where you attended both your prom and traffic court. Have fun going go-kart racing with monkeys, but be warned: It gets tedious quicker than you’d think.
Also, welcome to The Good Place, a sitcom that presents a brilliant comic idea — a version of heaven that’s so awesome that it’s actually a little boring — and then burns through it in about 22 minutes.
The penultimate episode of The Good Place — titled “Patty,” short for Hypatia of Alexandria, a swell gal — is an example of this show’s writers operating at their most confident. They drop their heroes into a whimsically fantastical situation and start cranking out gags and plot at a furious pace, certain they won’t run out. This episode is witty and clever, and has something to say about what we all take for granted, every day.
I like “Patty” a lot, but it bummed me out a little, for two reasons. For one, it’s a reminder that this imaginative, soulful and hilarious show is ending next week. But also, given how much the writers, cast, and visual designers were able to do with the actual Good Place in just one episode, it makes me wonder why we spent half of last week’s chapter on Eleanor and Chidi’s routine relationship anxieties, or why so much of this season was squandered on storylines about John, Simone, and Brent that never really went anywhere (“A Chip Driver Mystery” aside).
I suppose I should be more philosophical about this. After all, if every episode of The Good Place was as wild as “Patty,” maybe that would get tiresome too?
The problems with the Good Place become clear to our gang not long after they arrive. Chidi’s initially giddy about the prospect of meeting some of his favorite philosophers, but finds out that a lot of them didn’t make the cut, either because they supported slavery or they were “a loud chewer.” But Hypatia of Alexandria — played by Lisa Kudrow, as magnificently funny as always — is there, which has Chidi gushing like a fanboy, because as a kid he had her poster on his wall. (Actually it was Trinity from The Matrix, which is how he imagined she looked.)
But Hypatia — call her Patty — isn’t quite what Chidi expected. She’s very nice, but keeps getting distracted by stardust milkshakes; and when he starts throwing philosophical concepts at her, she asks, “Are you a think-book man? A think-read-book man?” Later, Patty looks down at the number five on the Jaguars jersey she wore to the newcomers’ welcome party and murmurs, “There’s math on my shirt … Is it an ‘S’ or a math?”
What’s happened to Patty and to everyone else in the Good Place is that an eternity of delight has left them passive, incurious, and more than a little exhausted. Some of them came from a time when people died young, because they got a cut on their hand or drank lukewarm water. (“I would’ve killed for a vaccine,” one man says. “It’s crazy that you guys just don’t like them now.”) But the novelty of living in a place where they can experience constant orgasms — with no mess to clean up, since the Good Place wicks all body fluids away instantly — has worn off.
Michael finds this out in a roundabout way. He’s initially worried he’s going to be unwelcome because he’s a demon. (“Promise me if I’m vaporized you guys just keep having fun,” he says, sounding like everybody’s mom at an amusement park.) Instead, the Good Place committee has him sign a contract to become an architect for them … and then they all quit and leave him in charge. (“The committee is me,” he mutters to his friends, stunned. “I am committee. It me.”)
It seems the old committee understood the Good Place was irreparably broken, and weren’t having much success with ideas like “music you can eat” or a special Ring Pop that lets people who suck it “fully understand the meaning of Twin Peaks.” And so, in a panic, they dumped their troubles onto Michael, who now has a record of making the impossible possible — with the help of the best Janet and their human chums, that is. Sure enough, by the end of “Patty,” these folks who’ve longed to belong in the Good Place for four seasons now have come up with a solution.
The plan? Give the denizens of paradise the option to just … leave. Where will they go? That’s unclear. Most likely to an oblivion where they’ll just cease to exist. But perhaps by knowing their time in the Good Place can be finite, the residents can appreciate it more. It’ll be more like the last day of a two-week vacation, when people lament everything they never got around to doing and try to pack in as much as they can, and not the middle of the vacation, when the routine of cocktails at noon and reading on the beach starts become a chore.
So that’s where we leave this wonderful episode of The Good Place, with an understanding that maybe we can only enjoy things properly if we know they’re going to end. And next week …? Well, it’s time to say good-bye.
The End Times
• The best bit of scribbling on the Good Place committee’s ideas board: “Giant mini-donuts (not just regular donuts — Dave will explain).” I get the feeling that this is inspired in part by The Good Place writers’ own brainstorming sessions. Heck, maybe this whole episode is meta: an admission the only way to make “the Good Place” (either one) work is to put in an exit door.
• In a classic example of Michael getting excited about doing a human thing, he dithers over how he should sign his contract with the Good Place. He weighs “doctor blob” versus “athlete who doesn’t care about the kid,” before deciding to sign like a teenybopper who has a crush on Zac Efron, so that he can dot the “i” in Michael with a heart.
• Jason thinks monkeys are the ideal go-kart opponents because, “They’re funny enough to give the finger but not smart enough to win.”
• If Patty gets to be “Hypatia of Alexandria,” Eleanor wants to be “Eleanor of the Cheesecake Factory Bar.” (Jason should, of course, be “Jason of Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump.”)
• The one knock against this episode is that it sort of shortchanges Tahani, who really only gets one zippy — and bizarre — namedrop, when she says that the soothing chimes in the Good Place make her think of her godfather, the most famous clock in the world. (“Is Big Ben somehow your godfather?” Eleanor asks.) The main issue is that Tahani lacks the mission and motivation that’s driving her cohorts … although Eleanor does smartly give her friend something to do when she suggests Tahani learn all she can about the people in heaven so they can get together and make fun of them, like gal-pals do. (Tahani: “I’ve been training for this day my whole life!”)
• Note: The series finale next week will not be provided to critics in advance, so don’t expect a recap immediately after it finishes. It will post later.