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In season 4, The Good Place returns to its strengths

Warning: this assessment reveals significant plot points from the previous three seasons of The good place.

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NBC's cosmic comedy The good place began in 2016 as a quirky fantasy sitcom with Kristen Bell in the lead role as Eleanor Shellstrop, a self-proclaimed "Arizona garbage bag" who ends up in the titular heavenly realm due to an administrative error. Her attempts to prevent them from being discovered and started up at Bad Place did not seem sustainable as a long-term story – but that is because they were never meant to be. Instead, Good place maker Michael Schur and his team defied sitcom traditions by constantly reinventing the show for three seasons and guiding the characters through a version of Dante & # 39; s The Divine Comedy who ventured into absurd versions of heaven, hell and places in between.

That ambition allowed it The good place deliver some incredible plot twists and biting comedy, but it has not always been successful. Season 3 suffered from whiplash because it changed the frame and deployed too much. The season began with the question of whether people could improve themselves after near-death experiences. Then the protagonists had the role of bodhisattva's and left their own deliverance to help others. Then they ended up fighting to correct a broken system that has doomed every person to eternal torture. Without a focused story, humor dived into a series of jokes, propped up by guest stars who exceeded their welcome.

The end of season 3 set a course correction for the series and its cosmology, bringing the characters back to the Good Place neighborhood where the show began. Schur instructed them to try to redeem the souls of four dead people, and through them, all humanity. The return to the familiar turf works beautifully while the show enters its fourth and final season and sets up many funny and sweet callbacks. It also shows how much the characters have grown and how far they have to go to reach their goals.

Season 4 begins immediately after the final of season 3. Eleanor has taken on the role of the divine architect of the neighborhood, although the cosmic suburb is actually held together by the almost omniscient artificial being Janet (D & # 39; Arcy Carden) . They are accompanied by the Reformed demon Michael (Ted Danson), the eternal name-leaving socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and the stupid but engaging troublemaker Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) on a mission to prove that four people can change for the better , even if they were bad people during their lifetime.

That is not an easy task, given that the damned souls that the crew wants to redeem include John Wheaton (Brandon Scott Jones), a gossip columnist chosen by the Bad Place to harass Tahani. Even more challenging is Brent Norwalk (Ben Koldyke), a living embodiment of white male privileges that drops random shots on Captain Marvel in anger about political correctness. He also wants to know why he does not spend eternity with a list of friends that is clearly modeled after the group of loudly partying high school friends who surrounded Suett Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The team is also one member lower after indecisive professor of philosophy Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) agreed to have his memories erased to help his love interest in Season 3, neurologist Simone Garnett (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).


Colleen Hayes / NBC

By placing the characters back in their old neighborhood, they can view previous plots and behaviors from a new perspective. Eleanor almost feels like Bethany Sloane Dogma, a normal person saddled with saving the world while still struggling with her own insecurities. Michael, who in the first and second season played the role of architect as a way to emotionally torture people, has taken a step back to make Eleanor shine, but he still gives some wonderful inspiring speeches that remind viewers of his old bad manners. His salvation in previous seasons may seem rushed, but this season he quickly reminds viewers that he knows the other characters so well because he studied the best ways to hurt them.

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Tahani is clearly still struggling with letting go of the insecurities that damned her. Although her best moments are always accompanied by the sharing of ridiculous anecdotes loaded with celebrities, she has truly moving moments associated with John by showing how a desire for status can hurt people on either side of the velvet rope. The writers also work hard to find more with Jason, the least improved player of the cast. He provides a lot of laughter in his trashier interactions with Eleanor, but from episode 4 of the new season he is clearly on a path that will push his character to keep up with the growth of his countrymen. (NBC made the first four episodes of the 14-episode season available to critics before the premiere.)

By wiping Chidi's memory, the show brings back the neurotic, frightened version of the character that Eleanor eventually fell in love with, and it causes a major conflict because she is forced to put her feelings aside for him and put him and Simone together to drive for the good of the group's moral experiment. The good place has always spent a lot of time on philosophy, but the open talks have taken a back seat this season, apart from the fact that Chidi has let Simone accept that she is in the hereafter and not just undergoing a complicated hallucination as she dies. That scene is a sweet moment when the strong chemistry that the actors in Season 3 had rekindled, even if it puts an end to Simone & # 39; s hilarious attempts to prove that she is dreaming, including showing a chic party with foaming hands.


Photo: Colleen Hayes / NBC

Season 4 has fewer scenes in real classrooms, but the philosophical foundation of the show is still important. The focus has shifted to utilitarianism, with both Eleanor and Chidi sacrificing their personal happiness for the greater good. Agents of the Bad Place, led by Michael & # 39; s vengeful but insane former boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), try to hinder the protagonists' experiment at every turn, but the show points to a possible compromise that is in everyone's interest is.

In season 1, the main characters become better people because they are tortured and have to work together to help each other. When Chidi is stripped of responsibility and fear in the new version of the neighborhood, he rests on his laurels. He only starts helping others when he is pushed into a situation that makes him deeply uncomfortable. In this way, The good place suggests that people behave better when they feel uncomfortable, and that the best result for humanity can at least involve a little pain. (Just not the Bad Place ideal for an eternity of repeated dick-flattening and blow-up.)

In season 4 the dialogue feels a bit sharper than in season 3. And episode 4, "Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy," comes closest to the highlight of the show: episode 2 of season 2 "The Trolley Problem "The new episode has the usual splashes of absurd humor, especially a Pictionary drawing that comes to life as a nightmare creature. But it will be a bottle episode that explores the fragile group dynamics of the show, the nuances of cosmology and the strengths and weaknesses of individual characters, all by confronting the crew with the possibility that they have a Bad Place spy.

The writers clearly thought about all the easy ways to get out of the problem and built up a conflict that explores the ethics of lying and the potential for redemption, while leaving ample room for hilarious gags like Jason who is much too happy Michael & # 39 ; s horrible demonic form. Her The good place at best, using a moral dilemma to force his dysfunctional group of characters to work together, and cutting what could be a saccharine moral with barbed jokes and surprising twists. If the rest of the season can deliver more episodes of that caliber, then the show will be able to save itself from purgatory of season 3 and return to the divine heights it can reach.

Season 4 of The good place premieres on Thursday 26 September at NBC at 9 pm ET.