The Good Place and the Afterlife of Television

This article contains spoilers. 

If your taste in television is anything like my own, you probably watched The Good Place finale last Thursday. Hopefully, you did not cry nearly as much as I did, but it was very difficult to say goodbye to Eleanor and the other cockroaches. 

As I watched the final episode, I sobbed into the most tissues as Jason, Chidi, then Eleanor walked through the “door.” The show illustrated that after each person went through this door, their bodies evaporated, and their essence became a spark of positivity that would inspire those still living on Earth.

I am completely in awe of the show’s writers for their brilliant storytelling— especially this beautiful touch— but for awhile, I could not grasp this concept. Where did their consciousness go? How could it disappear? 

Is this really where their stories end?

I ask that final question so often when a television series concludes. Just how I repeated those words as I mourned Eleanor, Chidi, and Jason. For us humans, our own mortality is a scary concept. Some argue it is because of the unknown variables associated with it. We don’t know how it feels to die, where we go afterward— or even if there is an after at all.

Perhaps some of our aversions to the conclusion of television shows stem from that fear of the unknown. When a show ends, what happens to the characters after is left to our own imagination. But one can never truly know the fate of a character unless you are their creator. After hours, weeks, months, sometimes years of investment in their story, it is easy to grow attached. The loss of a person, even if fictional, from one’s life can be deeply unsettling, and the mystery of “what’s next” for the characters of concluded television shows only makes this feeling worse. But as A.A. Milne wrote, “How lucky am I, to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Photo Credit: NBC​

Like all good things, The Good Place had to end, which felt eerily reminiscent of the end of human life. As we are reminded so gently and beautifully in the penultimate episode, we enjoy life because we know there is an end. Just as we enjoyed The Good Place, because unlike many shows on television nowadays, (I’m looking at you, Supernatural!) there was an end. The Good Place didn’t go on for decades, even if the characters lived many Jeremy Bearimies. Instead, the writers let the story conclude naturally.

That is why I will always advocate for television shows with shorter story arcs. In a world filled with so many incredible writers, the show does not need to be dragged on for fifteen seasons to keep audiences entertained. In fact, that often incites the very opposite.

Criminal Minds, which is on its fifteenth season, first debuted with over 19 million viewers. Up until the sixth season, it acquired over 12 million viewers each episode. The first episode of the current and final season garnered only four million viewers.

Hollywood, let new writers and new shows shine instead of dragging storylines on. Not only do so many, unnecessary seasons intimate new viewers from watching, but it also alienates the old. Follow in The Good Place’s lead, even if the unknown is frightening. The end is what makes the present so wonderful.


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