This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 4 Episode 1
Going into its fourth and final season The Good Place season 4 seems poised to become one of the best network TV sitcoms ever, certainly not faint praise given the network TV titans that have preceded it.
How could The Good Place not eventually be considered among the best of the best though? This is a series from one of TV’s sharpest comedic minds that examines the nature or morality, boasts an enormously talented cast, and features some of the most impressive and exhaustive food puns in human history (shout out “Lasagne Come Out Tomorrow”). Each season of The Good Place has featured countless of hilarious one-liners and concepts all melded around a compelling, twisty plot that grows increasingly morally and logical complex.
Having said that, you wouldn’t always immediately recognize The Good Place’s all-time status from its season premieres alone. Beginnings haven’t always been this show’s strongest feature. As we’ve seen for two years running now, The Good Place likes to save its biggest surprises for its finales. Our perception of what the show can be is routinely detonated in the latter half of each season, making the first chapter of each subsequent season merely a platform to get acclimated to this new reality once again.
This is all to say, The Good Place season 4 premiere “A Girl From Arizona Part One” seems likely to be among the worst episodes of this final season. It’s also, of course, utterly fantastic.
“A Girl From Arizona Part One” sadly jettisons the “Everything is…” naming mechanism from the past three premieres but at least it does so for a good cause. This premiere, if nothing else, seeks to get us back in touch with one particular girl from Arizona, Eleanor Shellstrop.
In fact, this half-hour opens on a close-up of Eleanor’s face as Kristen Bell’s acts out eons of love and pain while Chidi celebrates his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and reading lights.
“I can summon philosophy books like Thor’s hammer! This is literally my dream,” he exclaims, before adding “Thank you so much. I’m sorry, this has been so overwhelming that I forgot your name…”
The Good Place wastes no time in establishing the emotional stakes of the episode and the season. While the particulars of Michael and company’s experiment (give or take some demon cheating here or there) were hashed out last year, this is the first time we get to see the particulars of that experiment in action. And more specifically, this is the first time we get to see how our humans’…well human-ness will make that experiment incredibly difficult.
When running an experiment, it’s best to make ensure that all variables are accounted for and under control. In this experiment, however, it’s already clear that one variable is going to be exceedingly hard to reign in: love.
The final pre-Epilogue chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (No, YOU shut up, I will NEVER read another book) is titled “The Flaw in the Plan.” Naturally, that refers to the logical flaw in Lord Voldemort’s carefully thought up plan for world domination (the Elder Wand does what now?). But it also refers to something that Dumbledore tells Harry two books earlier in The Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore says he had this fine plan set up to train Harry and use him as a tool to defeat the Dark Lord and save the Wizarding World. Unfortunately, that plan ran into a little flaw. Yes, love again. Stupid love. Ol’ Albus came to love Harry and couldn’t bring himself to be honest with the boy about all the sacrifices he will someday have to make.
Like its Rowling-ian forefather, The Good Place knows that love is the ultimate flaw in almost every human plan. See what chaos and destruction it hath wrought in “A Girl from Arizona Part One” alone. When Simone begins to act out because she (very reasonably) believes that this Good Place neighborhood is nothing more than the firing synapses of her dying brain, Tahani has an excellent idea to help her out. Introduce her to Chidi! He always knows how to help. Eleanor isn’t able to do so because introducing Chidi to Simone puts him one step further away from her. It isn’t until Michael points out that Chidi sacrificed his memory for moments just like this that she’s able to do so.
Meanwhile, Jason can’t help sabotage the experiment due to love as well. Derek helped Janet create all the NPCs for this new Good Place neighborhood (he made most of the butts, naturally) so Derek wants to stick around and hang out with his girlfriend/mommy Janet. This is something that Jason cannot abide, so he sneaks off to The Medium Place and has Mindy St. Clair show him where Derek’s off-switch is. Jason kills Derek, leading to an absolutely amazing Jason Mantzoukas pratfall, and the sky lights up with a disembodied Derek head crying a murder most foul.
The ability to love and be loved is supposed to be one of humanity’s few redeeming qualities yet here, just moments into this experiment, it is proving to also be humanity’s great downfall. How can these new human experiments get better if not for love? But how can the experiment run smoothly under the influence of love? It’s a catch-22 that The Good Place season 4 will certainly continue to address.
Speaking of those human experiments, hooboy do they suck! We were introduced to Tahani’s bane John in the season 3 finale, but the newbies this time around are far worse. Country club firm handshake enthusiast Brent Norwalk is so unctuous that The Bad Place ultimately winning doesn’t seem so bad after all.
“You can’t even make a joke these days. And I joke about everyone. I’m an equal opportunity offender,” he says to a gobsmacked Michael and Eleanor. I’ll take the eyeball fleas if it means Brent does as well.
There’s also Linda Johansson, who at first seems like an interesting interpretation of being boring as the ultimate sin. Linda turns out to be a Bad Place demonic plant to interrupt the experiment, which is unfortunate because she kind of works as the ultimate benign-seeming torturer. Once the Bad Place conspiracy is exposed, the Judge proclaims that Chidi can be the fourth member of the experiment.
“He’s perfect because he’s already had his memory erased. But you can’t erase that booty, can you, blondie?” she says to Eleanor.
That seems like it should be the ultimate victory for Team Cockroach and Michael and Tahani take it as such. Chidi helped them once after all, why can’t he help this new crop of humanity? But whether they realize it or not, the Bad Place may have just exposed the ultimate flaw in humanity’s plan.
“A Girl From Arizona Part One” certainly feels like half a premiere. Sending Demon Linda back to the Bad Place isn’t a satisfyingly enough conclusion for the opener of what should end up a classic final season of a classic television show. Still, the jokes are here and the heart is here, just like always.
And failing that, we also get a glowing elephant that reveals Stone Henge was a sex thing.