‘The Good Place’ and In Praise of Endings
It was announced last week that NBC’s The Good Place would be ending after its upcoming fourth season. The critically acclaimed comedy by Michael Schur was celebrated for its originality, its genre-bending ambition, and its uniformly excellent cast, but it was always a show with a short shelf life. How do you keep a comedy that high concept going in the long-run, and do you even want to do that when the risk of diluting what made the show so special in the first place is so unavoidable? Fans were undoubtedly disappointed when the announcement was made, but there was also a sense of relief that permeated their messages. Nobody wanted to see The Good Place get dragged out beyond its life span and morph into something so antithetical to what the show stands for. It’s an ending, but on Schur and company’s terms, and we don’t get a lot of that in television these days.
You may have heard, but there’s too much TV right now. There are more shows than ever on the air, spread across a greater number of networks and platforms, and keeping up with it all has become an insurmountable task. I do this for a living and I am still regularly surprised to discover the existence of certain shows and channels. Seriously, does anyone here watch Facebook series? Did you know there’s a supernatural drama on Hulu that’s based on a story written on Wattpad? Audiences’ attentions are more divided than ever, which has totally shifted the axis of entertainment and what can now be considered popular in a major way. You don’t need tens of millions of viewers a week to be a hit. Hell, for some shows, getting a million pairs of eyeballs per episode is surpassing expectations. All of that means that networks can get a little cagey about cancelling shows if they’re seen as successful enough to warrant continuation.
Not that cancellation has stopped them lately. Once upon a time, if your favourite show was canned, you had to write letters to the network to let your protests be known. Now, anyone can start a Change.org petition or get a hashtag trending, and the chances are that someone will listen to your pleas. Shows get cut down in their critical prime all the time, but now, the chances of revival are greater than ever. Arrested Development helped to kick off this trend in a major way, but the results have been mixed over the past several years. The aforementioned comedy was never able to replicate the magic of those network seasons, and its most recent offering was a tragic shadow of its former self. The Deadwood movie provided a satisfying conclusion for fans, while Lucifer seems more at home on Netflix than it ever did on network television. Even when the results aren’t great, it’s hard to deny the visceral thrill of seeing something you love come back to life. Nothing ends anymore. Well, nothing seems to end on its own terms now. sure, you could get revived, but will that chemistry remain or will you have the proper provisions to finish the story as you so desired? Remember that fourth season of Arrested Development and how painfully obvious it was that the showrunners couldn’t get all the actors together at the same time?
The other option is, of course, cancellation that never gets their desired conclusion. Netflix has been on a cancelling spree lately, leaving more than a few cliff-hangers for fans to get aggravated over, from One Day at a Time to Santa Clarita Diet. Both of these shows had so much left to do and certainly possessed the drive and skills to do so for a couple more seasons, at the very least. The makers of both shows have not been silent on their dissatisfaction with Netflix’s decision either, particularly the showrunners of One Day at a Time, given the contract they are in which makes it near impossible to shop the series to another network.
When One Day at a Time got cancelled, I was lamenting the situation on Twitter when I saw a tweet that made me cringe: Someone said something to the effect of, ‘Well, now that it’s been cancelled, I guess I can watch the show now.’ This wasn’t a new thing either. Every time a show with a decent sized fan-base gets the chop, I inevitably see at least one person say that they’ll now give the show a shot. Why? Because it’s over and they know how many episodes they have to commit to. Catching up on a show when it’s in its third season feels like a lot of work, especially in the Too Much TV age, but when there’s only 39 episodes to check out and the promise of no more, it seems a lot less daunting. It’s not a catch-up, it’s just another binge-watch.
And that’s the age of television we live in. We want every episode now and we don’t want to wait for it. When there is so much TV to consume, can you blame us all for wanting bite-sized chunks rather than an ongoing marathon with no end in sight? The upside to this is that, in this climate, showrunners can have the freedom to commit to shorter shows and have a full narrative planned out that’s not at risk of being cut short.
The Good Place is a show I have been forever worried about falling apart in its home stretch. Once we saw that first season twist, my hunger for the follow-up was tempered by the weary possibility that everything would quickly fall apart. How do you keep that momentum going and how do you keep surprising your audiences without those shocks becoming trite? We’ve all seen a show that clearly had no idea what it was doing so threw every idea into the pot to see what would work. What has made The Good Place such a delight to watch is that level of control it exhibits with every episode. This is clearly the work of people who actually know what they’re doing and have clear goals in sight. Watching it is almost a freeing experience in that regard, and it feels even more so knowing that they will conclude it on their terms. Whether or not they stick the landing is a whole other issue, but there’s undeniable pleasure to be found in completing a story, putting it down, then getting on with your life, with the good memories intact.
If only every show got that opportunity. Sorry, still mad about One Day at a Time.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.
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