Great Stories: The Dark Crystal

I love fantasy for a lot of reasons, but one of the simplest is how it provides the chance to enter weird worlds, worlds that stretch — possibly even break — the bounds of imagination. And such is the world of The Dark Crystal.

Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t see this film until I was an adult. It’s possible I might have liked it as a child, but it’s also possible I would have been completely freaked out. Of all Jim Henson’s creations, this is probably the strangest, and some scenes with the creepy villains could be pretty frightening for young people. As a grown-up, I love it. There are no visible actors; no real-world locations. The characters and setting are portrayed entirely through puppetry, elaborate set design and a number of other imaginative artistries. Instead of humans, we are introduced to gelflings, mystics, podlings, and Skeksis. Everything from the background plant and animal life to the film’s haunting score has a decidedly other-worldly quality like no other film I’ve seen.

The story itself is rather typical, in terms of fantasy quests to overthrow tyrannical rule, fulfill prophecies and prevent the world’s end. The wicked Skeksis have destroyed all but a few gelflings, and those survivors must seek a mysterious crystal shard and break the Skeksis’ rule before the three suns converge in the great conjunction.  They journey through swamps and along rivers; they consult with wise sages; they flee the Skeksis’ evil agents. But all of this takes place against a marvelously peculiar backdrop with such detail that you’ll want to pause and examine each individual shot.

Though the resolution of the conflict is perhaps unconventional, it’s foreshadowed strongly enough that you can see it coming. But predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is something compelling about watching Jen and Kira, the last of their kind, find each other and begin to understand what we already know about their role in saving the world. And much of the dialogue conveys a certain wry awareness of fantasy tropes. “The prophecy didn’t say anything about this!” “Prophets don’t know everything!” Or this delightful exchange: “Wings? I don’t have wings.” “Of course not. You’re a boy.” Not to mention just about everything spoken by the enigmatic Augrah. “End, begin, all the same. Big change. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.”

Above all, The Dark Crystal is memorable. So many fantasy films have such similar visuals, they tend to just blend together so you can hardly remember which is which. That is not a problem with this movie. It’s no psuedo-medieval Europe or Tolkien-wannabe; it is entirely different and striking in every detail. If you really want to be transported to an entirely different realm — “another world, another time” as the narrator describes — you can’t go wrong with The Dark Crystal.


Great Stories: Stranger than Fiction

As a writer, I’m naturally interested in stories about the writing process. Not every one of those stories is to my liking, of course, particularly when they make it look like becoming a published writer is a whimsical, simple matter. But there are some stories that really capture the agony and absurdity of the eternal striving for writing excellence. If you can throw in a little surreal fantasy, all the better!

Stranger than Fiction is an odd little movie (directed by Marc Forster, written by Zach Helm), with a very understated role for the usually over-the-top Will Ferrell. He plays Harold Crick, who is introduced by the narrator as a mild-mannered, routine-driven IRS auditor…who can suddenly hear the narrator speaking. The narration is unaffected by this phenomenon, continuing to describe Harold’s goings-on undisturbed, but Harold is understandably perturbed, particularly when the narrator announces his impending death. Unlike a character in a screwy comedy, he addresses the mystery methodically, as perhaps any of us would. When doctors and therapists have no explanations for him, he finally approaches a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), figuring that if anyone understands narrators, it would be someone who studies books for a living.

Their conversations are quietly hilarious, as the professor systematically determines what sort of category character Harold would be, and hence who would be writing him. Meanwhile, the audience is allowed to find out before he does with an introduction to the reclusive Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who has a bad case of writer’s block. All of her books kill off the main character. Now she’s trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick.

There are other plot strands, including Harold’s unexpected romance with a tax-dodging baker (leading to one of my favorite puns, “I brought you flours.”), but it’s all leading up to the question — is Harold really about to die? Is there any way to avoid it? Does Karen have any idea what’s going on?

Eventually, just as Karen gets her brilliant idea for the death scene, Harold and the professor realize who his narrator is, and he manages to contact her. There is a marvelous scene with Karen typing her manuscript on a typewriter, and as soon as she types, “The phone rang” her phone rings. She’s already sensing something odd is happening when she finally answers — and finds herself speaking to a character of her own invention.

There is no explanation for this, whether Harold existed before Karen wrote him, how much of his life is under his control, or whether this has happened with any of her other characters. Too much of that would muddy the story. The important question is: if you have created a beautiful story, with a perfect, heartbreaking death for your main character, is it worth it to sacrifice him? Even if he’s a real person? Surely not. But Harold’s potential death is heroic and meaningful. Even Harold, when he asks to read Karen’s draft, can understand its poignancy. But how could you kill a real person just for a good story?

Without spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that it’s satisfying, and beautiful, and thought-provoking. It’s a truly bizarre story that can only serve as a metaphor, since we can reasonably assume that no writers have the power to actually create real people. But sometimes they feel so real. What if you could meet them face-to-face? Would they hate you for tormenting them so much? It really can be a terrible wrench to put them through all the suffering necessary for a good story. Sometimes being a writer can feel downright cruel. And sometimes it feels like ruthlessness is the only way to break through writer’s block. These are lots of hard questions without any simple answers, but this movie is a kindred spirit for any writer devoted to seeking those answers.

Great Stories: Elantris

If there’s one thing that makes Brandon Sanderson stand out among fantasy writers, it is his tremendously vast and intricate world-building. Not only has he fabricated the extraordinary history, culture and magic system of the Mistborn world, he’s doing it again with the vast scope of the Stormlight Archives series….and again with yet another alternate world…and again and again, until you have to wonder if the man ever sleeps. He expanded the world introduced in the Mistborn trilogy with several novels set centuries later, and has written three of ten planned novels for the Stormlight Archives. Then there are his many short stories, anthologies, and his several young adult series(es?), nearly all of them contained within the massive multiverse he calls the Cosmere.

But though I enjoy a ridiculously long series the same as any epic fantasy fan, there is something to be said for a novel that tells a complete, self-contained story all on its own. A ten-book series can be pretty intimidating (I still haven’t managed to pick up the last few Wheel of Time books, written by Sanderson himself after Robert Jordan’s passing, because I’ve forgotten too many details and I don’t want to have to re-read ten or more books!). So that’s why I was particularly pleased with Elantris, Sanderson’s first published novel. The problem is introduced at the start of the book, and it concludes with the satisfying resolution of that problem. If you don’t have the time or brain-space for something more epic, this book is far more manageable.

Elantris begins with the description of a mysterious magical city and its charmed inhabitants, their wondrous powers and apparent immortality. Then it delivers the blow — something changed, and now the city is cursed, its denizens considered the damned. One of the main characters is a prince who wakes up to find himself carrying the curse and forced to flee to Elantris in exile. His princess fiancée arrives for their wedding only to be told that he has died. She is left to pick up the pieces of the political mess that’s left behind. And then there’s the third main character, a religious zealot who skirts the line between hero and villain. It has elements of mystery, political intrigue and pathos, with thick plotting that rarely lags.

I did have some annoyance at some of Sanderson’s stylistic quirks (he’s improved in later books) but the story was so fascinating that I could easily overlook them. For all its considerable length, I read it quickly because I was so eager to find out what happened next. And then I was happy to pick up more of Sanderson’s books, though I’ve still only gotten through a fraction of his enormous output. I don’t yet know the ultimate fate of many of the worlds he’s created, but while he’s leaving me hanging with other lengthy series(eseses?) I can enjoy the once-and-done story of Elantris.

Great Stories: Children of Eden

I have mixed feelings about musicals. On the one hand, they can be a powerful and innovative means of telling a story. On the other hand, they can be little more than a collection of songs cobbled together with the thinnest of storylines. Or an adaptation of a story that was far better off before it was put to music. All of this is purely subjective, of course, and I don’t begrudge others the right to enjoy a musical that I can’t stomach. Meanwhile, there are some musicals that I absolutely adore.

Stephen Schwartz is quite a prolific songwriter with a career spanning decades, from Godspell and Pippin in the 70s to a number of Disney soundtracks in the 90s, to the hit musical Wicked in 2003. But it’s a lesser-known musical that I’ve found to be my favorite of his, one that never made it to Broadway. Children of Eden is a tale of generational strife, loss and forgiveness that I loved as a college student and have found to be all the more resonant as I’ve become a parent and watched my children grow into their own brilliant, frustrating and unique selves.

The musical, with a book by John Caird, is a loose retelling of the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s flood, but if you’re looking for Biblical accuracy, you’ll be highly disappointed. Quite a few liberties are taken with the details, most notably in the character of Father. Though he plays the role of God, he is naïve, inexperienced, and makes more than a few mistakes. In my view, he’s not intended as an exploration of deity, but rather a metaphor of parenthood. His character development is a study in how we learn and grow through the act of loving one’s children, providing for them but ultimately letting them go off on their own.

At the start of the play Father is so pleased with the children he has created and their devotion to him. He sings, “I will be their teacher and I will be their guide/And everything they’ll ever need I’ll be there to provide/And in return they’ll love me, stay forever at my side/That’s what it means to be a father.” Oh, dear. Not quite, Father. Not quite.

Obviously they don’t stay, and Father is deeply hurt, creating a breach that ripples through the generations. By the time of Noah, he is so displeased with his creation he’s ready to destroy it all. And then Noah must make a choice about how to treat his own disobedient son. As he sings “The Hardest Part of Love,” Father listens from a distance and finally understands that a good father lets his children go their own way, for better or worse. “You cannot close the acorn once the oak begins to grow/And you cannot close your heart to what it fears and needs to know/That the hardest part of love….is the letting go.”

I should also mention that the songs themselves are excellent both as vehicles for moving the story along as well as strong numbers on their own, from the lovely lyrical ballads to the catchy fun ones like “Generations” and “Ain’t it Good.” You can watch an entire performance of the show here, but if you don’t have time for that, it’s worthwhile listening to the soundtrack on its own.

When I was younger, my favorite song from this musical was probably “A World Without You.” Adam, torn between staying in the Garden and eating the apple, chooses the apple so he can stay with his beloved Eve. So romantic, right? And I still like it, but now that I’m a mother, I find more meaning in the songs about parenthood — “Children of Eden” as well as “The Hardest Part of Love.” Beautiful and heartbreakingly true. Nothing at all like the original Bible stories, but that’s not the point. It’s about the metaphor.

Great Stories: Chariots of Fire

This is the film that won the Academy Award for best picture in 1981, and its opening sequence with the memorable theme music is so famous it might be the most parodied moment in movie history. Yet for all its place in pop culture, many people aren’t even familiar with the original piece that’s being parodied. What is this film? Who are those people running on the beach? And who’s setting chariots on fire?

The title is actually a Biblical reference from William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem,” which appears in the film in the form of a hymn. Biblical references are an integral part of Chariots of Fire (as one example, this beautiful rendering of the “run and not be weary” passage from Isaiah), which has the external trappings of a sports film but is actually a tale of religious conviction, conscience and the joy of selfless motivation. It’s fictionalized account of Eric Liddell, a Christian missionary and participant in the 1924 Olympics, as well as other members of the English Olympic team. Several liberties are taken to add drama and tension, but the essence of Eric’s story remains: he refuses to race on Sunday because of his personal conviction to keep the Sabbath.

As a sometimes contrasting character, we follow Harold Abrahams, a student at Cambridge who chafes at the anti-Semitism directed against him. He is a gifted runner, determined to prove his worth against the unjust discrimination he has suffered.  Both men train hard, earn a place on the Olympic team and prepare to compete. And then Eric discovers the race he intended to run is scheduled for a Sunday. This is one of those alterations for added drama: in reality, Eric knew the race schedule from the beginning and immediately changed to a different race. But for the purposes of the story, we get to see his inner struggle as he has to decide what to do. They’ve already set up his devotion to the Sabbath in earlier scenes. We know how important it is to him. But we also know that this is the only chance he’ll get to compete in a race like this. Isn’t it all right to make an exception, just this once?

But Eric isn’t running for his own glory. He never was. Another change the screenwriters made was to create conflict in the form of his sister. In real life, she supported his running career from the start, but in the film she fears that it will distract him from his true purpose of missionary work. They have a heartfelt discussion, which culminates in my favorite line. “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

I should probably note at this point that I can never get through this movie without sobbing, and I’ve been crying off and on ever since I started writing this entry. There is something in this film that speaks to my soul, something very hard to put into words. This line — I’m seriously crying my eyes out right now.

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to live my life with a higher purpose, something more than merely pursuing self-serving goals. But there’s always that fear that completely immersing myself in selflessness would mean a denial of my individuality, and of the particular things I enjoy doing. And what I take from this line is the message that our individuality, the things that brings us joy — those are gifts that we are meant to use. If I’m good at something, I don’t have to suppress it to be selfless. In fact, I should pursue that talent all the more diligently, as long as I’m doing it for the right reason. Because that talent will be a way that I, uniquely, can do good in a way that no one else could.

Harold wins his race, proving all his detractors wrong. But he finds himself feeling strangely hollow afterward. His motivations certainly weren’t corrupt; it’s reasonable to want to prove oneself. But it was still very inwardly focused, and now he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Seeking personal glory is not ultimately satisfying.

Eric’s refusal to race on Sunday draws the attention of the world. He becomes a figure of inspiration. It’s not for himself, it’s for the glory of God. His sister realizes the good he is doing as a runner and supports him whole-heartedly. Ultimately Eric is able to switch races with another member of the team and win his Olympic gold, but he’s already won the more important victory. I’m not the type to get excited by sports of any kind, but there is something truly transcendent about watching him cross that finish line.

Eric Liddell returned to missionary work and died in a prison camp during World Ward II. He gave up an earlier chance at freedom by giving his place to a pregnant woman. Most of us won’t have to make such dramatic choices as that, but there are hundreds of moments every day when we can decide what to do with the opportunities and gifts we’ve been given. I want to cross the finish line knowing that I made the right choice. I want to feel God’s pleasure when I run.

Great Stories: Frasier

Originally I had planned on exploring stories from different mediums from week to week rather than discussing TV shows two entries in a row, but since John Mahoney just passed away, it’s a good reason to write about the show that made up so much of his career.

Now, in my last post I praised The Good Place for taking serialized television to new, exciting extremes. Frasier, in contrast, is largely episodic, and it contains many other features of traditional sitcoms — a studio audience, generally predictable plot structures, and characters and situations that remain mostly static from one episode to the next (though there was naturally some change and development over the course of eleven seasons). Having said all that, the show manages to provide plenty of excellent and entertaining television within those confines. There’s nothing inherently inferior about episodic TV; it’s just a different kind of storytelling.

Let’s look at what makes the show stand out from the average sitcom of its era. There are a few subtle ways the showrunners tweaked the conventions. For example, they replaced the usual “song with opening credits” with a brief instrumental title sequence — common nowadays, but very rare in 90s TV. Instead, the theme song “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs” plays over the closing credits along with a wordless final scene, usually the visual punchline of something established earlier. And rather than establishing shots, each scene begins with a title card of a cryptic word or phrase that makes sense once you’ve watched the subsequent scene. It rewards the viewers for paying attention, which is always a nice feeling as an audience member.

Going beyond the more superficial innovations, Frasier is noteworthy primarily for its memorable characters and their dynamic interplay. It’s easy to forget that it began as a spin-off of Cheers, the 80s sitcom set in a bar in Boston — a well-made show in its own right (which coincidentally launched the career of Ted Danson, who happens to play Michael on The Good Place), but with a very different set of characters and situations. They took Frasier Crane, Kelsey Grammer’s snooty psychiatrist who was the oddball among the blue-collar types populating the bar in Cheers, and re-centered him as the main character of his own show. Then they created a brother for him, Niles, who was somehow even more Frasier-ish than Frasier himself. A show with two elitist snobs as the main characters? Would that even be watchable?

But it works, and here’s why. First off, the show pokes gentle fun at the Crane boys’ snobbery, portraying them as humorously flawed but still sympathetic.  There is also a delightful exploration of their endless sibling rivalry (highlights include the episodes “Author, Author” and “IQ”). Secondly, the rest of the main characters provide a counterpoint to the elitist side of things. Their father, Martin, is a former policeman, forced to retire after being injured while stopping a robbery. His live-in physical therapist, Daphne Moon, is a sweet but spacey working-class girl from England, and Frasier’s radio show is produced by Roz Doyle, a no-nonsense type who’s always ready to respond to Frasier’s pomposity with an eye-roll and a sarcastic quip.

There are TV shows that explore the dynamics of class and wealth, but few of them explore it within the same family. The ongoing clash between Martin and his sons is a fascinating dynamic. He married a psychiatrist, and both his sons followed in her footsteps, with little understanding or patience for the background and culture Martin has come from. There is both humor and pathos in their struggles to get along with one another.  One of the changes that does take place over the course of the show is a gentle softening of the tension in their relationships. In first season, they’re barely speaking to each other. Frasier reluctantly asks his father to move in with him because Martin’s injury has made it unsafe for him to live alone, but he’s deeply resentful of the intrusion on his space, perfectly symbolized by Martin’s ratty old chair sitting amid Frasier’s fancy furniture. But by the end of the show, when Martin is moving on to his own place, Frasier finds that his home feels all too empty.

The other noteworthy arc that spans multiple seasons is the story of Niles’s infatuation with Daphne. There was no long-term plan for this from the beginning; it was simply a gag that Niles (played to perfection by David Hyde Pierce) develops an instantaneous crush on his father’s physical therapist while she remains blissfully unaware of it. But as the show goes on, and Niles finally gets out of a miserable marriage with the controlling, eccentric (and never seen on-screen) Maris, the story unfolds in such a way that it’s quite believable for Niles and Daphne to become a happy couple. What I appreciate most about their romance is how the writers explore the aftermath realistically. It’s not all smooth sailing just because they’ve gotten together. One of my favorite episodes is “Daphne Returns,” which cleverly inserts present-day Frasier and Niles into scenes from old episodes as Frasier tries to show his brother how his unrealistic idealization of Daphne has made her skittish about whether she can ever measure up to his fantasies. With one line he sums it up so well: “You were never in love with her; you were in love at her.” That’s good writing.

It’s not a perfect show, of course. There are far too many fat jokes, particularly when Daphne gains a tremendous amount of weight in a plot-line created to cover up the actress’s pregnancy. The gay-themed gags sometimes come across as rather tasteless, all the more if you know that there were two closeted gay men among the cast. There is also an irritating double standard wherein the men, especially Niles, tease Roz for being promiscuous when they’re hardly the sort to turn down any interested woman themselves.

But all of these are common features of TV from that era, for better or worse. What most TV didn’t have was frequent references to obscure classical music and literature, loads of psychiatry-based puns, and brilliant scenes like this, or this or this. And the perfect catchphrase for being offended, uttered with Kelsey Grammer’s inimitable pomposity:  “I am WOUNDED.” It’s funny; it’s wry and intelligent; it’s heart-warming without being treacly, and it’s eleven seasons worth of great stories.

Great Stories: The Good Place

Storytelling in television presents some different challenges than in standalone books or movies. Most TV show creators would be happy if their show got picked up for multiple seasons, but they rarely have a storyline planned out that far, at least not in detail. So when a series does get renewed, it can be a mixed blessing in terms of the show’s quality. We get more episodes, but if the writers are starting to run out of fresh ideas, those episodes will decrease in quality, becoming repetitive, predictable and contrived. How can that be avoided?

One partial solution is to eschew the serialized storytelling entirely and focus on self-contained, single-episode stories. This was the case for most TV shows before the Internet/binge-watching era, with each episode presenting a standalone story that had little connection to other episodes aside from shared characters and setting. At the end of the 22 or 44 minute story, the conflicts were resolved and everything was much as it was at the start. And you weren’t required to watch the entire season to understand what was going on. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of storytelling. Most of the celebrated classic TV shows were almost purely episodic, like I Love Lucy, the original Star Trek, or MASH. A well-constructed episode can play out like a mini-movie, complete with exciting twists and a satisfying resolution.

But episodic television is becoming less and less common nowadays. With the ability to watch an entire season all at once, we’ve come to expect that there will be an overarching storyline to follow, even if each episode might have its own mini-story. We expect serialized storytelling. And sometimes, if the showrunners didn’t anticipate their show running as long as it does, they end up having to make up a lot of the story as they go. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee bad stories, but it’s not the most reliable formula for great, or consistent, storytelling.

The point of all of this lead-up is to say that The Good Place is a superb example of serialized TV that gets it right from the very beginning. Granted, the show isn’t over yet, but the first two seasons have given us every assurance that the writers know exactly where the story is headed, and they have a plan to get there.

This is exciting for any show, but particularly for a comedy. Long, complicated arcs are usually reserved for dramas. Sitcoms got their name for a reason — a situation is established, and comedy ensues within its constraints. Once the initial premise is established, you expect it will stay largely the same, with some small changes as characters embark on romances or perhaps grow just a little bit. The predictability is comforting. Keeping the audience constantly guessing — that’s the stuff of drama, right?

Not for The Good Place. It is definitely a comedy, no doubt about it, but it is also a surreal exploration of morality and philosophy, as well as a sly meta-commentary on the nature of storytelling itself. It toys constantly with the audience’s expectations and pushes the boundaries on every convention we’ve come to expect.

The initial premise is already a step beyond the average workplace or family comedy. Our main protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, learns she has died and entered the afterlife, which is essentially comprised of “The Good Place” and “The Bad Place.” She is relieved when the affable, supernatural being Micheal informs her that she has made it to the former. But just a few scenes later she’s confiding in her “soulmate” that she doesn’t actually belong here, that she didn’t lead the altruistic life Michael believes she did, and there’s been a terrible mistake.

Okay, pretty weird, but we can work with this. We’ll follow Eleanor as she tries to hide her secret from Michael and this community of do-gooders, and hilarity will ensue, right? Sure…except that each new episode brings a fresh twist to complicate the premise. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, something else changes. Until the end of season 1, which brings a revelation that fundamentally alters the trajectory of the show.

And season 2 follows that new trajectory for all of two episodes before bringing in a completely new complication! Obviously I’m keeping it vague so as not to spoil it. Now, as previously discussed, I’m leery of stories that keeping throwing in new twists. They can feel gimmicky, as if the writers worry no one will keep watching without constantly hooking viewers in with some fresh mystery. But then the answer to the mystery is inevitably a letdown. Not so with The Good Place. The revelations bear up under re-watches, so you realize the writers knew what was coming even though we didn’t. The showrunner, Michael Schur, has had the long view from the beginning.

Meanwhile, twists or not, each episode is so much fun. We learn more about the other central characters — the “soulmate,” Chidi, an ethics professor who reluctantly agrees to help Eleanor try to become a better person so she won’t get discovered. (With his stomach-aches over moral quandaries, he’s definitely the character I relate to the most). And Tahani, the philanthropic socialite who seemed to know every famous person on Earth while she was alive (and makes sure you know it, namedropping left and right). Her soulmate, the silent monk Jianyu who might have ulterior motives for staying silent. Janet, the helpful AI construct who cheerfully reminds characters that she is “not a robot” and “not a girl.” And Michael himself, who quickly moves beyond the perpetually-beaming caricature he appears to be at first. It hardly seems a coincidence that he shares a name with the showrunner. Like the creator of a TV show, he too is running scenarios designed to create a certain effect…with varying degrees of success. All the actors are giving top-notch performances, and it’s a treat to watch them play off each other. It’s refreshing as well to see a multicultural cast with nary a caricatured racial-stereotype (in spite of what you might initially think about Jianyu).

It’s also, thanks to Chidi’s ethics lessons, a sort of crash course in moral philosophy. How many other comedies contain regular references to Plato, Kierkegaard, and Kant? How often do you get a glorious assortment of goofy puns and visual gags alongside an in-depth exploration of moral improvement and what it means to be human? It’s a tricky balance to maintain, but somehow they pull it off.

I’m well aware that after all this praise, I could be in for a big disappointment if the subsequent seasons don’t pay off their promises the way the first two have. But I’m fairly confident they will, for a few reasons. First of all, the showrunner has proven himself highly capable of creating clever and well-constructed TV shows before with The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Second, he has made it clear that he started this show with a deliberate plan for where it was ultimately headed. He’s made the rather unusual request of shorter seasons, only twelve or thirteen episodes, to keep the story from getting bloated with unnecessary padding. He doesn’t seem inclined to make more episodes just to keep the story stretching on and on — when it reaches its natural conclusion, it will end. I will actually be quite happy if the series finishes after four seasons, as long as that’s where it was intended to finish. I’ve seen too many TV shows get weaker and weaker as they go on past when they should have ended. This is perhaps a rare opinion, but I’d rather a show stop while it’s still popular — because it’s still high-quality.

Like Chidi, I’ve just used a lot of words to say what is essentially a very simple concept, so I’ll sum it up more succinctly. The Good Place is great TV. Watch it!