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Only the Good Die Young

Michael Schur’s announcement on Friday that ‘The Good Place’ will end after its fourth season was surprising and sad, but for a show that’s always played by its own rules, it’s for the best

NBC/Ringer illustration

Every episode of The Good Place begins with a cold open, and after that cold open, a title card. “The Good Place” appears in white text on a green background, reminiscent of a chalkboard, and “created by Michael Schur” fades in below it. There’s then one more panel to indicate the chapter number of the episode. Not an episode title; just the number of the “chapter” that episode represents.

It’s a brief and gentle reminder: The Good Place isn’t like any other sitcom. Normal half-hour network comedies don’t have any need for numbered chapters—despite a few plot threads that may be carried from one installment to the next, episodes of typical sitcoms can be watched in practically any order. Some of these shows are even aired out of order when they reach syndication. But The Good Place, with its wild premise and frequent plot twists, demands a sequential viewing experience.

Another way The Good Place isn’t like so many other popular, adored sitcoms: It won’t run for hundreds of episodes. On Friday, creator Michael Schur announced that the upcoming fourth season of the NBC comedy will be its last.

If the fourth season of the show has the same 13-episode length as the previous three, then The Good Place will reach its conclusion after just 52 episodes. Fifty-two chapters. It stings to learn that our time with Eleanor, Michael, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, and Janet will be cut so short, but it’s also the best possible outcome for The Good Place.

The decision to end the show was Schur’s, who called the four-season run “the right lifespan” for the story he and his team are trying to tell. There was never going to be a reality in which The Good Place stuck it out for a decade-long run, as Schur told The Hollywood Reporter in December. “Obviously because of that DNA, where status quos get blown up so frequently, this is not a show that is destined to be on for nine years,” he said. “It’s not a 200-episode, Friends kind of a deal. It’s not a hangout show.”

Most sitcoms don’t truly need to stick the landing, because viewers can return to them and hang out with their favorite characters without giving too much thought to the broader narrative of the series. No one really resents Seinfeld for ending on a low note, and you can always end your rewatch of The Office with Michael’s departure, to name two examples. But The Good Place is different, and ending the show on Schur’s own terms should prevent the series from going off the rails the way so many other programs in the genre do.

Just practically, the show wasn’t built to sustain a long run. What would Schur and Co. do to keep the show going? Reset everyone’s memories again? Send them back to Earth again? Take them back to the Bad Place? Find new drama in the Good Place? There are only so many twists and turns a story can take before it ties itself up in a knot.

This decision to end the story at its natural conclusion also means there won’t be a premature cancellation that ends the show on a cliff-hanger, or a slog through dozens of filler episodes just to stay on the air (something that happened at times in Season 3). Instead, Season 4 will be more subdued, focusing on the character arcs that were sometimes sidelined as Season 3 burned through plot:

It’s worth noting, of course, that a tight ending doesn’t mean a satisfying conclusion. The last time a show’s creators chose to end their series on their own terms, they didn’t exactly make anyone happy. But I don’t exactly expect Schur and Co. to have Eleanor hop on a dragon and burn down the Good Place (if anyone does that, it’ll be Shawn).

As Schur said, this isn’t a “hangout” show. That not only means the writers of the show can’t just add more episodes on a whim—it means it’s more difficult for viewers to jump back in. The Good Place is the perfect vehicle for binge-watching, and a poor one for syndication (it will fall well short of the 100-episode syndication threshold at any rate). Again, that heightens the importance of the ending. But if these final chapters are anywhere near as satisfying as the ones we have so far, The Good Place will be just as easy to revisit as any “hangout” show.

However The Good Place concludes will recontextualize the story we were told in the first three seasons. In between moral philosophy lessons, trips to get froyo, and Chidi’s stomach aches, this show has been trying to tell us something—about humanity, about morality, about life. What that something ultimately ends up being will reveal what The Good Place is truly about. I love The Good Place, but I’m excited as hell for it to end.