So far, 2019 has been a year of conclusions in pop culture from Avengers: Endgame hitting cinemas with a record-shattering release to the also record-shattering and highly-criticized finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, as well as other programs like The Big Bang Theory on CBS, the BBC’s upcoming final season of Poldark (over which I am completely devastated but understanding of and really hoping the rumors are true about planning to get the cast back together in a few years to do the later books in Winston Graham’s series), The CW’s Supernatural, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and History Channel’s Vikings.
This past week, another show has been added to the list of shows viewers will be saying farewell to this year: The Good Place.
The show, which airs on NBC, follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell) after she wakes up in the afterlife, referred to as “The Good Place,” only to learn there was a clerical mix-up and she was supposed to end up in “The Bad Place” when she died.
I won’t say too much beyond that as I’m admittedly a season behind and know that if I give too much information it could be a spoiler for anyone who has not yet finished the first season.
On June 7, it was announced that the upcoming fourth season of The Good Place will be its last.
The comedy’s creator, Michael Schur, explained the decision in the following statement:
“After ‘The Good Place’ was picked up for season two, the writing staff and I began to map out, as best we could, the trajectory of the show. Given the ideas we wanted to explore, and the pace at which we wanted to present those ideas, I began to feel like four seasons — just over 50 episodes — was the right lifespan. At times over the past few years we’ve been tempted to go beyond four seasons, but mostly because making this show is a rare, creatively fulfilling joy, and at the end of the day, we don’t want to tread water just because the water is so warm and pleasant. As such, the upcoming fourth season will be our last.”
While I was disappointed to see this in my Twitter feed, it got me thinking. The cancellation of The Good Place came as a surprise, but it doesn’t seem to be one caused by NBC pulling the plug on it so suddenly it left the crew scrambling to tie up any loose ends—if they had even been so fortunate to be given notice before going off the air. The decision is one that appears to have been made by the writers, which is an important distinction and brings me to a topic I have been wanting to do an article about on my blog for a bit now.
As writers, we become attached to the stories we are telling. We love our characters like family. We want to live in the worlds we build on the page. But whether it’s a standalone or a series, the day does come where we have to part ways and move on to the next thing.
This is not just true for writers of novels, but television. However, writing the parting words doesn’t always happen as they intended.
It’s not uncommon for a network to decide a show isn’t doing well enough and take it off the air, sometimes without much notice and leaving the team behind the camera and the viewers in front of the screen with a lot of questions.
But it’s also common for a show that is doing really well to stay on the air for a long time, like Supernatural entering its fifteenth season or Grey’s Anatomy also in its fifteenth season and counting. Sometimes, the show is able to remain engaging and continue to captivate its audience year after year as Game of Thrones was able.
But, in other cases, this longevity can lead to the show fizzling out rather than going out on a high note.
I touched on this in my critique of the final installment of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game series, but AMC’s The Walking Dead is a prime example of this.
I have been a diehard Walking Dead fan for years, but as of late I’ve not been as invested. And what it comes down to is the fact that the show doesn’t have the same spark as it once did. Between major deviations from the graphic novels on which it is based, main cast members like Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan departing the show, and introducing so many new characters it’s hard to keep track of who is who which in turn makes it difficult to feel, well, much of anything when they meet their demise, The Walking Dead has become to emulate its name more than it intended.
As I mentioned in the aforementioned post about the Telltale game, one of the show’s biggest problems is the fact that it didn’t end when it should have. The Negan storyline was poorly handled, as was the sudden time jump six years into the future. The show should have concluded on a relatively high note, with Negan and the Saviors being dealt with before cutting to an epilogue set six years after the everything.
Despite this, The Walking Dead presses on. Though it seems the creative team and network are trying to revamp the show and breathe new life into it, it’s a futile effort in my mind.
The Walking Dead is not the only show that has met this fate.
When the cancellation of The Good Place was announced, the first show that came to mind for me was a different NBC comedy: Scrubs.
Scrubs took place at Sacred Heart Hospital, where many of the characters were introduced as medical interns.
The eighth season of the show was intended to be its last, with main character JD departing Sacred Heart to pursue a new job. The final moments of the episode show JD leaving, walking down the hall to say his farewells to fan-favorite characters, major and minor, as well as a montage serving as an epilogue. Everything seemed all neat and tidy.
But then Scrubs was taken up by ABC, revived for one more season in the hopes of continuing it as something that could basically be called Scrubs: The Next Generation.
Unlike the successful transition of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which was recently canceled by Fox only to be revived by NBC, Scrubs did not fair as well.
During the short-lived stint on ABC, Sacred Heart became a teaching hospital, and a new gang of interns was introduced. Several formerly-main cast members returned for minor appearances and cameos, but the focus was on the newer, younger characters. It didn’t have the same charm as it once did and ultimately flatlined.
Glee is another perfect example of this. The show followed a high school glee club navigating adolescence and all of the difficulties of life in and outside of high school including teen pregnancy, coming out to one’s family and friends, bullying, and other themes that are not always at the forefront of pop culture. One of the reasons the show became such a phenomenon was because the characters were people we could not only relate to but root for. But about halfway through the show’s run, viewers had to say goodbye to many favorites. As seniors Rachel, Kurt, Finn, Quinn, Santana, and others graduated from the school and went on.
While faculty members such as Mr. Schuester and underclassmen stayed on, the departure of the graduating class left some shoes to fill, so they introduced the next generation of New Directions. However, as was the case with Scrubs, it was a lot to take in at once. The newer characters seemed to be attempts at replacing those who had left by more or less cloning them; Kitty, for example, was the new Quinn. The new kids on the block didn’t have the same spark and felt less developed and rounded as individuals, but instead were the archetypal teen drama characters. It wasn’t the same show anymore.
As with more recent episodes of The Walking Dead, the addition of so many new characters along with the exits of so many favorites and the new format to accommodate all of these changes were several factors that contributed to the downfall of what had been one of my favorites up until that point.
That’s why saying goodbye to The Good Place like this is one of the best things that can happen to the show. As it is, the show is one so many people enjoy. It’s still staying true to itself, and the writers are able to end it as they see fit, telling the story as they intend and bringing it to a suitable conclusion. It won’t go outside of its course, assuring it won’t fall apart as the writers attempt to add new plotlines that don’t fit as well.
While this might be a disappointment to viewers, this is the better path for them, too. We’re not going to see the program ripped from the airwaves without a proper end that leaves us with an overwhelming number of questions and disappointment, nor will we see it dwindle into something that cannot sustain itself, fumbling along as the writers try to figure out what’s next after reaching the end of what they had planned and hoping it will be able to keep pace with what it once was.
The Good Place is being given what can sometimes be the rare gift of a proper goodbye. This will be the thing that makes the final episode one to remember for all the right reasons, which all a show’s creators, cast, and audience can hope for a story they love so dearly.