The time has come. The Good Place has begun its light and enlightening journey to a series finale with the Season 4 premiere, which aired on Thursday night. Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto are the core team in the Season 4 opener, “A Girl From Arizona, Part 1,” which sees Eleanor (Bell) taking the lead on a cosmic experiment that could determine the fate of every human being on the planet.
Towards the end of Season 3, Eleanor, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jamil), Jason (Jacinto) — the main quartet whose immortals souls have been put through the wringer in the afterlife since Season 1 — as well as reformed demon Michael (Danson) and afterlife concierge/omnipresent know-it-all Janet (Carden) learned that no humans had gotten enough points to gain entry into The Good Place in 500 years. Realizing the system was screwing people over by setting impossibly high standards (life is tough and nobody can be perfect their entire lives, ya know?), the gang have demanded with the power on high, the Judge (Maya Rudolph, in another incredibly delish supporting turn), for a chance to prove humans can be redeemed and that the standards for getting into The Good Place should be lowered, just a bit.
Season 3 ended with the suggestion of an experiment that would basically reboot the Season 1 premise but with positive results. The gist: Put four souls back into Michael’s glossy faux Good Place and see if spending time with other Janet-created Good Place folks would impress upon the test subjects to change. There were two big caveats: the first was that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, who have been put through the cosmic redemption process for the last two seasons, were not allowed to take part. The second was that Michael’s terrible boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), would choose the four souls and they’ll be a ton of tough nuts to crack. It was only in the final moments of Season 3 fans were punched in the gut when Chidi asked for his mind to be erased of any and all knowledge of what had happened over the course of Season 3 because he knew he’d ruin the experiment. After seeing him fall in love with Eleanor for the umpteenth time during the season, Chidi’s request was particularly brutal. Add to this the reveal that the souls chosen for the experiment, including Chidi’s ex Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), were picked by Shawn to get Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi to crack and ruin the experiment on their own and The Good Place Season 3 ended with some very high stakes.
The Good Place has smartly returned back to the beginning, setting the events of Season 4 where we began in the fake Good Place. After two seasons spent hopping around the actual Good Place, the Medium Place, Earth, Janet’s void, and all locations in between, there’s something comforting about going back to the beginning and simplifying as the show begins its final chapter. Now, Eleanor is tasked with running the experiment as four Shawn-picked souls enter on to the scene while Tahani and Jason support her and the experiment. Teamwork is the name of the game, providing an opportunity for these characters to put what they’ve learned over the years to good use.
Fans of The Good Place know that this show has put Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason through reboots aplenty in order to both torture them and try to change them. So, rebooting once again doesn’t seem like a bad decision. Keeping the action contained to the fake Good Place means there’s some modicum of continuity through Season 4 and viewers will need that as we watch chaos can unravel in a controlled environment. Creating a new and final chapter based on yet another reboot scenario could possibly lead to a stagnant or repetitive place — will we see old tricks performed once more? — but it could be easily to overlook knowing this is the last time it will happen.
Another smart thing Season 4 seems committed to is giving Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason more responsibility and agency by allowing them to control the course of the experiment to varying degrees. These three (plus Chidi, although he’s not seen for a majority of the season premiere) have spent so much time learning and experiencing how to be better humans. It’s a competent and believable character development to let them now be in the driver’s seat and put the philosophical knowledge they’ve acquired to good use. That said, these characters and the actors playing them have the tough task of growing even more from here, which seems like a tall order considering the stakes of this final season premise and the genuine curiosity of where things could go from here for everyone involved.
Another sign of a promising season is the comedy, which has often thrived on being punny, observational, and slightly surreal. Among the best of the funny bits in the premiere episode involve the new souls chosen by Shawn who each get some time in the spotlight during the episode. One soul, Brent Norwalk (Ben Koldyke), is a man brimming with white privilege who bemoans the PC times we live in, much to Eleanor’s chagrin. Every crack Koldyke fires off as Brent is both irksome and amusing, partially thanks to the delivery and partially thanks to the fact that Brent’s one-liners hit so close to home it hurts, as only The Good Place‘s wry observational comedy can do.
Another wonderful and funny performance is turned in by Howell-Baptiste’s Simone. In Season 3, Simone was introduced as a neuroscientist and love interest for Chidi. In Season 4, Simone cheerfully flips the script on Eleanor, who is running the experiment and believes she’s figured Simone out. Believing the experiment in the fake Good Place to simply be a dream as she lays dying IRL, Simone lets loose, walking around with nary a care in the world. This leads to some particularly wild behavior and marks Howell-Baptiste as a potential final season MVP as she gets to really go for it whenever she’s onscreen.
If there are any faults to be noted, it’s that the perfunctory table-setting for the season risks getting bogged down by all of the weighty ideas the show has grappled with for years now, like good triumphing over evil and the human spirit ultimately being worthy enough to redeem. The line was straddled hard in the premiere. Sometimes the sweat put into artfully planting thematic seeds while also remaining light was visible of the show’s proverbial brow. Additionally, ongoing bits like making fun of Jason’s intelligence or Tahani’s repeated celebrity name-dropping are now a bit bland at this point. As a result, our key players seem a bit muted, having been toned down to the point where the new characters on the scene were a shot of life. Fingers crossed our gang gets their groove back as the season goes on so they’re not the straight men in the room.
Overall, Season 4 of The Good Place is off to a good start indeed. The jokes are strong, the optimism in firmly in place, all of our favorites are back and ready to save the world. By now, we know Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Michael, and Janet. We’re rooting for them, we want them to succeed. The weight of the world may be on their shoulders right now, but they have each other to lean on as they muddle their way through it to a (hopefully) happy ending. If The Good Place has ever gotten one thing right about humanity, it’s that — and I, for one, am comforted to know that’s where we’re starting as we embark on the final season’s epic story.
The Good Place airs every Thursday on NBC at 9/8c.