Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Once Upon a Time in… Tarantinoland

There are several narratives that "Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood" can be neatly slotted into. It's another of Quentin Tarantino's revisionist historical fantasies. It's another exercise in paying homage to Tarantino's favorite media, specifically the film and television of the late 1960s. It can be treated as a retrospective of all the films that Tarantino has made so far, referencing and sometimes outright borrowing elements that we've become familiar with over the years. For instance, there's a character named Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, whose bare feet are seen prominently in several shots.

I think the best description, however, is that the movie is primarily a trip to Hollywood in 1969 the way it exists in the fantasies of Quentin Tarantino. It's a Hollywood full of talented people who love movies and media as much as Tarantino does, where Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) happily visits a theater to see "The Wrecking Crew," a movie she appeared in, and fictional actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman/personal assistant Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) giddily watch Rick's guest appearance on the latest episode of "FBI" together. It's a universe where Booth is so tough that he beats up Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and fearlessly tangles with the Manson family. It's a universe where a career downturn for Rick means going off to Italy to make spaghetti westerns with Sergio Corbucci. Cameos abound, often familiar names like Damian Lewis and Timothy Olyphant, playing other familiar names like Steve McQueen and James Stacy.

All of this is a lot of fun, especially if you're a movie nerd or a history nerd, and I fit that description. The exhaustive detail of the production design, which often seems smothered in movie posters, advertisements, and period product placement, is a marvel. The carefully curated soundtrack, the fringe-heavy fashions, and the resurrected LA landmarks don't hurt either. You can tell that Tarantino had so much fun creating the snippets we see of Rick Dalton's career, from the black and white TV western where he rose to fame, to his fantasy of playing the Steve McQueen role in "The Great Escape." If you're not already fond of the subject matter, however, I'm not sure how well "Once Upon a Time… " is going to come across.

There's not much of a plot here to speak of, and it all pretty much hinges on the viewer knowing about the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends. Rick lives next door to Tate, creating the expectation that he and Cliff are eventually going to become involved in the terrible event. We see various Manson Family members hanging around town, notably Pussycat, but nobody ever explains who they are. For the most part, Rick and Cliff are just keeping busy working on Cliff's latest TV show, the pilot of a western called "Lancer." When events do ramp up toward a bloody finale, the results aren't very satisfying, even if you are familiar with the events of the Tate LaBianca murders. The final ten minutes of the film are ugly and violent and a jarring departure from everything that's gone on before. But on the other hand, it's very Quentin Tarantino.

And this makes it very difficult to parse the film. DiCaprio and Pitt are fun to watch as Rick and Cliff, both looking older than I remember, both spoofing their screen images and flirting with the kind of uber-masculine roles that we don't see them play very often anymore. Margot Robbie gets about one good scene as Sharon Tate, but actually isn't in the movie all that much. Everyone's insecure, and everyone's facing irrelevance, adding a little melancholy to the works. Maybe the director is starting to feel his age. It's nice to see some of Tarantino's regulars like Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, and Zoe Bell pop up, but nobody stays long enough to make much of an impression. The movie works best as a hangout film and a nostalgia trip, and stumbles whenever it approaches any other genre.

Frankly, this is the most indulgent of a long string of indulgent Quentin Tarantino movies. I still watch them, but they've been getting harder and harder for me to enjoy with each successive project. There are still fun little individual character moments, like Cliff interacting with his dog, or Rick chatting with a snippy child actress, but it takes a lot of patience to get there. And I wonder if I'm going to run out of patience before Tarantino runs out of films - apparently he's only planning to make one more.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"The Goldfinch" is an Interesting Flop

No film of the last year has been so obviously a prestige project as "The Goldfinch." The cast, lead by Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman, is star studded. The crew, including director John Crowley and cinematographer Roger Deakins, is highly regarded and unquestionably talented. The source material won a Pulitzer in 2014. However, as with too many projects that look so good on paper, this one just didn't work. A 784 page novel being adapted to roughly 150 minutes of film is a tall order in any circumstances, and perhaps no one should be surprised at the results. However, the finished film isn't a complete failure or unwatchable in the least, and can't help picking over.

Much of the trouble with "The Goldfinch" is that it comes in several very distinct parts, some significantly better than others. The first follows our main character, Theo Decker, as a thirteen year-old played by Oakes Fegley. He survives a terrorist bombing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, but his mother is killed. Since Theo's deadbeat father is out of the picture, he ends up in the care of the upper crust Barbour family, as he's friends with their son Andy (Ryan Foust), and soon becomes close to Andy's mother Samantha (Nicole Kidman). As an adult, Theo is played by Ansel Elgort, a troubled antiques dealer who is friends with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), a furniture restorer, and harbors an unrequited love for a woman named Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings). Other important characters include Samantha's daughter Kitsey (Willa Fitzgerald), Theo's father Larry (Luke Wilson), his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson), and a Ukrainian named Boris (Finn Wolfhard as a child, Aneurin Barnard as an adult), who Theo befriends.

The sections where Theo is a child are so much better than the ones where he is an adult, that I half-wonder why they bothered to include the latter sections at all. It's clear that the filmmakers weren't nearly as interested in them either, as the present day material doesn't receive nearly the amount of attention, the plotting is ridiculous and unsatisfying, and none of the characters are particularly compelling, grown-up Theo included. Obsessions and conceits that work when the main characters are children look peculiar or just plain silly when they're grown-ups. Important connective tissue is missing, and the film is full of oddly shaped gaps. Part of this is due to the film being structured like a mystery, as Theo lost some memories in the bombing, but these elements are set up so poorly that most of the reveals fall flat.

There's also this off-putting strain of elitism throughout, where the rich and cultured Barnards are put in stark opposition to Theo's grifter father who lives in Las Vegas, portrayed as a literal cultural desert. I understand that the main themes of the film heavily involve art, antiques, and their preservation, but the themes are not handled well, and the discussion of art far too often remains totally surface level, resulting in some rushed scenes and unfortunate messaging that I don't think were intentional. There's also a crime story element that comes in way too late, throwing the film even further off balance, and substance abuse issues that are barely even acknowledged. The narrative suffers from trying to do far, far too much, and I suspect from following the gargantuan novel too closely.

Still, I liked some sections of the film and several of the performances. Oakes Fegley is a wonderful grounding presence who succeeds in making pretentious little Theo believable where other child actors would have stumbled. Finn Wolfhard is weirdly appealing as young Boris, outrageous accent and all. It's hard not to love Jeffrey Wright as one of the few sympathetic adults, who is also the one character able to reel off exposition about art with some degree of passion. Deakins' work is as beautiful as always, and the whole Las Vegas sequence is very memorable. There's about thirty minutes of a very good film here that I'm glad I saw.

What I'm most upset about is that "The Goldfinch" was a high profile, risky project made with a mid-range budget, and its failure is going to negatively impact filmmakers the next time something like this comes along. Then again, I suspect "The Goldfinch" would have been much better as a television miniseries, where it would have had the running time to more fully explore its sprawling story and assortment of promising characters.


Friday, February 21, 2020

The Decade

I've been enjoying the many, many "Best of" lists of movies and television and other media that have been circulating, talking up the greats of the past decade. I've resisted, however, from writing my own. A yearly list I understand, especially as the entertainment industry has certain ebbs and flows and production cycles that follow an established calendar. A decade, however, is a much trickier thing to quantify - this past decade in particular.

The 2000s had a very obvious starting point: the 9/11 attacks. The 2010s are less defined, though it's certainly been a tumultuous and transformative era for everyone. You could pick so many inflection points like the 2008 financial crisis, the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, the rise of the alt-right with Gamergate in 2014, or just skip straight to the political upheavals of 2016. Though it feels like Donald Trump has been in office forever, most of the decade was actually spent with the Obama administration.

In the entertainment world, however, I think the big ones are clear: Disney buying Lucasfilm and the success of the first "Avengers" movie in 2012, and the first Netflix original programming and "Game of Thrones" premiering in 2013. This was also roughly around the time that cord-cutting really started taking off, digital media sales and streaming subscriptions were booming, and it was clear that the DVD market was truly dead. International markets became more important, particularly China, which fully emerged as a massive new audience. This all lead to the era of Peak TV, a franchise-dominated box office, and growing globalization.

I've been going back through the early posts I made on this blog, which I coincidentally started in 2010, and the differences in how I consume media are pretty stark. Nearly everything is online now. I barely watch live television or even cable television anymore. Due to certain lifestyle changes, trips to the theater and physical rental stores are rare. Physical media is simply not a big part of my life anymore. I'm consuming more media than ever, but my relationship with media has changed. I hardly rewatch anything anymore. I rarely sit down not knowing exactly what I'm going to be watching in advance, because I have a "To Watch" list a mile long.

And the media itself? Well, it worries me that our celebrated directors seem to go years between projects, and the only ones willing to spend are either the Chinese or the streaming services. I love that television had made such creative leaps, and people are funding really ambitious things like "The Crown," but I'm worried that it's coming at the expense of feature films. It can't be healthy that the entire mid-budget category has almost totally disappeared, or that Disney has turned into a nostalgia repackaging machine that just ate Twentieth Century Fox. And sure, it's nice that all these different streaming services are courting us, but the low prices can't last for long and it's worrying how access to anything online can disappear overnight. Ultimately the streaming revolution doesn't mean "better," but "different."

After 9/11 happened there was a shift toward more conservative and reactionary media. I'm glad that the pendulum is now swinging in the opposite direction, especially after the Weinstein scandal and #Metoo created opportunities for more female creative talent behind the cameras. We've also seen more racial diversity and gains in LGBT representation, especially trans representation. It took far too long for us to get a "Wonder Woman" movie, but it finally arrived in 2017, and it'll have plenty of company in the years to come. So many of the new generation of auteurs are black or Asian or Latino, and there are more women than ever. I can't wait to see how they'll change the film landscape in the 2020s.

Looking ahead, I expect that we'll look back on 2016-2020 as a real turning point, but we're far too close to see the shape of it now, and the reverberations are still being felt. They'll be dramatizing the antics of the Trump administration for decades. With the way things are going, and some of the romanticism of digital media is wearing off, my one big prediction is that physical media might mount a comeback. Television distribution, however, feels like it's permanently changed. I don't know how long the streaming era will last, but remember that the DVD age lasted about 20 years.

I may write those decade "Best of" lists eventually, but not for a long while, until I've got a better sense of the decade itself. I've got to digest 2019 first, and those lists will be out as usual, in July for films and September for television.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

"Bernadette" and "Brittany"

Let's spotlight some overlooked summer indies today.

I never know what I'm going to get from Richard Linklater, but the idea of him teaming up with Cate Blanchette sounded interesting. And the title character of"Where'd You Go Bernadette"?" - Bernadette Fox - is a very interesting woman to get to know. She's a celebrated architect who transplanted herself to Seattle after a major trauma, stopped working, and has been an antisocial grump ever since. She suffers an existential crisis when her precocious daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), who is about to head off to prep school, wants her and Bernadette's workaholic husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) to take a family trip to Antarctica first.

But while I enjoyed Blanchette as the troubled, prickly Bernadette, and I think her character is pretty sound in construction, everything around her is pretty half-baked, and sometimes just downright preposterous. There is Bernadette's gossipy next door neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who Bernadette antagonizes to troubling extremes. There is Bernadette's habit of dictating long E-mails to an unseen virtual personal assistant, Manjula. Bee is one of those terrible cinema children who are not only wiser than their years, but wiser than their parents and everyone else in the movie. Also, Judy Greer pops up as a psychiatrist, and Laurence Fishburne pops up as an old friend of Bernadette's, just to give other characters an excuse to explain backstories and set up other parts of the plot. And then an FBI agent (James Urbaniak) shows up.

There are some fun twists and turns, and a good chunk of the film actually takes place in and around Antarctica. The scenery is gorgeous, but Linklater has difficulty keeping his tone consistent. Whenever the film switches from Bernadette to Bee's perspective, it gets much more saccharine and wide-eyed, and all the adults seem to lose a few IQ points. I suspect if the film had just stuck with one or the other, it would have worked better. As it is, this is a weird little film about a dysfunctional family that doesn't feel remotely plausible, and isn't quite colorful enough to make any sort of allegory work either. And that's a shame because Bernadette is a fascinating character who I was happy to get to know over the course of the film's running time.

From Bernadette we go to Brittany, of "Brittany Runs a Marathon." It's a feel-good comedy with some lightly raunchy humor, charting the efforts of overweight New Yorker Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell) to better herself. Brittany starts out as an immature partier whose life is a mess. After being ordered by her doctor to lose fifty pounds for her health, Brittany takes up running and eventually befriends fellow runners Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock). A new job puts the scuzzy but lovable Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) into her orbit too.

This is easily the best self-improvement movie that I've seen in a long time, even though it's clearly the work of a first time director on a limited budget. The filmmaking isn't much to write home about. The script, however, is fantastic. Brittany is overweight, but that isn't her biggest problem by a longshot, and getting healthy and fit only serves to highlight other areas of her life that need work. I was happily surprised that the film even went as far as to show how Brittany's workout habits could lead to self-harm, and her weight obsession becomes unhealthy. The handling of all the running and training and lifestyle impact pings as unusually genuine too, including moments of backsliding, people's different attitudes toward Brittany's new activities, and the economic realities of actually running a marathon.

Jillian Bell does wonderful work here, bringing us along on each step of Brittany's journey as she both physically and emotionally transforms. From the start, Brittany is charming but behaves terribly. She makes fun of people alongside mean girl gal-pal Gretchen (Alice Lee). She's initially wary and dismissive of Catherine due to her own insecurities. She can't stand real intimacy and counters criticisms with jokes or hostility. Any whiff of pity or condescension sets her off. And it's these obvious personality flaws that make Brittany much more compelling than similar characters like Amy Schumer in "Trainwreck." I like how the movie gradually addresses these issues more and more as the film goes on, as Brittany gets thinner and less able to hide behind her physical flaws. And thanks to Bell, the worse she acts, the more you root for her to improve.

"Brittany Runs a Marathon" is one of the nicer surprises I've had at the movies this year, and a good reminder that smaller films have lots to offer these days.


Monday, February 17, 2020

"The Last Black Man in San Francisco" and "The Peanut Butter Falcon"

I feel guilty about not liking "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" as much as I feel like I should. I'm a long time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, even though I only managed to stick it out as a proper city dweller for less than a year. I've been hearing friends and acquaintances grumbling about the gentrification of their neighborhoods for years now, and sadly watching their exodus to more welcoming pastures. And I know people in the same boat as Jimmie Falls, playing a character of the same name, who just can't seem to let go of the beautiful Victorian house in the Fillmore where he grew up, despite having no hope of living there again.

The movie is an elegiac farewell to a passing era of San Francisco, a certain culture and community that is quickly disappearing as the hipsters and tech workers displace them. In the opening scenes we watch Jimmie and his friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) skateboard through the city, encountering colorful characters and taking in the idiosyncracies of their coastal neighborhood. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Michael Nyman-inspired instrumentals and reimagined hippie standards, including a spectacular version of "San Francisco" with vocals by Michael Marshall. There's a fiercely personal POV to the film and a complexity to the portrayal of the city that is neatly embodied by a line of dialogue Jimmie speaks toward the end of the film: "You don't get to hate it unless you love it."

And I suppose that's where I fail to connect to "The Last Black Man in San Francisco." I can appreciate the hell out of the artistry and authenticity of the story, and the ambitiousness of the filmmaking. I love the idea of Jimmie, grappling with his identity and trying to recapture a bygone happiness and sense of legacy that perhaps never existed in the first place. We learn more and more about him as we watch him try to reconnect to his estranged and scattered family members, and reevaluate his priorities. However, in the moment I didn't find much of it compelling. Individual instances of beauty and profundity are wonderful to see, but it feels like they happen in spite of the middling performances and on-the-nose scripting. I suspect there is also a cultural gap here. I don't really love San Francisco or consider it part of my identity the way the characters in the film do, so some of its overtures just left me cold. A few details also felt awkward, like naming a scumbag real estate agent after Governor Newsom. "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" is a beautiful feature, and I understand why it has such ardent supporters, but this one's just not for me.

Another film meant for a certain audience that I feel much more warmly towards, is "The Peanut Butter Falcon." It's the feel-good story of a young man with Down's Syndrome, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who busts out of the North Carolina nursing home where he's been dumped, and latches on to a local fisherman, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who is in trouble with the authorities. The pair sail off on a stolen boat, in search of a wrestling school run by the pro wrestler Zak is obsessed with. Dakota Johnson plays Zak's carer, Eleanor, who gives chase. She's one of several familiar names lending their talents to a very small film, including Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and Thomas Hayden Church in smaller roles. A few famous wrestling stars also put in good-natured cameos.

I love the grungy naturalism of the film, where Zak spends most of his screen time in and around nature, often drenched and often mostly naked. He's got a genial personality, but Zak isn't a caricature of a differently abled person. There's a stubbornness and an irascibility to him, and he doesn't let himself be pushed into doing what he doesn't want to. Sure, he needs a lot of help, but it's his determination that wins over the doubtful Tyler, and leads to a real measure of growth and glory for both of them. Speaking of which, this may be my favorite Shia LaBeouf performance. It's been such a joy watching LaBeouf develop over the past few years into a really strong, interesting screen presence. Here, he's playing a pretty standard hard-case who softens up when somebody who needs him comes along. However, the way he interacts with and learns to take care of Zak is so gratifying to watch. It's cinematic male bonding at its finest.

Now, it's pretty obvious that the film was made to showcase Zack Gottsagen as an actor with Down's Syndrome, and there are certain limitations that the filmmakers deftly work around, as well as a pretty indulgent story and sensibility. However, in this case I don't think the sentiment is overdone, and the fantasy manages to be broadly appealing. I have no particular interest in wrestlers or boat trips down the Eastern seaboard, but the movie got me to connect with Zak and Tyler, and that made all the difference.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

"Klaus," "Noelle," and the Streaming Wars

Something's been bothering me about Disney+, and it took two Christmas movies for me to figure it out. Now, keep in mind that Disney+ is just getting started, and much of its content is still being rolled out. I've already heard some grumbles about content that's being advertised as available, but currently not actually available on the service due to legal or technical issues. They deserve some patience to get the kinks worked out. Personally, I'm already pretty happy with Disney+. Despite all the technical bugs, their existing library of content is vast and wonderfully nostalgic - as a Disney Afternoon kid, I'm in heaven - but it feels like there's something that's missing.

I watched one of the Disney+ exclusives over the weekend, a Christmas movie titled "Noelle," starring Anna Kendrick as Santa Claus's daughter. It was originally supposed to be a theatrical release, but last year was rejiggered to be one of the first wave of Disney+ releases, along with the live action "Lady and the Tramp." Frankly, it's not great, bordering on TV movie quality, but it's a pleasant enough watch for family Christmas viewing. Netflix's 2019 holiday offerings include no less than five cuddly, Christmas-themed romantic comedies in the same vein as the popular Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, so clearly there's an audience for this type of content.

But then, there is also "Klaus," Netflix's first foray into animation production. It's a Santa Claus origin story, featuring an unscrupulous young mailman who gets the whole tradition of letters to Santa started. Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, a former Disney animator who went on to create the "Despicable Me" franchise, "Klaus" is unusual for a couple of reasons. The main one is that it utilizes an eye-catching animation style that combines 2D drawings with certain digital enhancements, similar to the short "Paperman." Second, it's unusually dark and cynical for a Christmas movie, with a selfish mailman protagonist, Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, and a lonely Santa Claus with a bleak past, voiced by J.K. Simmons. Everything turns out well and the ending is a heartwarming one, but the one descriptor that kept coming up in my head was "risky." Everything about "Klaus" feels like a risk.

And that's the difference. I don't want to say that "Klaus" is a movie that Disney should have made, but it's definitely not the kind of content that I can expect to be appearing on Disney+ any time soon. Nearly everything on Disney+, including their highly touted original shows like "The Mandalorian" and all the announced Marvel series, are derivative spinoffs of existing franchises. The few pieces of content that are completely original, like "Noelle," and the upcoming "Togo" and "Magic Camp," are projects that were developed to be theatrical releases, but were found lacking for one reason or another, and are essentially being dumped on the service. The list of upcoming films in development for Disney+ is almost entirely reboots and sequels.

So, Disney+ is more or less a nostalgia-centric platform, full of all the old Disney stuff that I'm glad to see out of the vault at last, and a handful of new content that is keen on profiting directly off of viewers' affection for the classics. And sure, they'll get plenty of subscribers based on that, but there are going to be limits. I don't see Disney+ ever having a real, game-changing hit on its hands on the level of a "Stranger Things" or a "Game of Thrones," or even a "Handmaid's Tale." It's never going to surprise us or give up something really novel, at least not while it still has this mindset of its streaming content being second stringers to its theatrical and television content.

Netflix, for all its problems, is committed to putting the streaming experience first, even though it's ticked off pretty much every theatrical exhibitor in the process. Many of its crazy risks haven't paid off, but others have. As a result, I can't go two weeks without something popping up on Netflix that I want to watch. Sure, there's plenty of dreck, but the romantic comedy revolution has been propelled by its efforts. And they gave Eddie Murphy his big comeback. And the latest season of "The Crown" is as good as ever.

Again, I caution that this is early days for Disney+. However, I think it's saying something that I'd happily trade every Disney+ original for "Klaus," which was a total delight and really felt like it came out of nowhere. I was only after I did some digging that I realized that I had seen Sergio Pablos's original teaser for "Klaus" way back in 2015. At the time I thought it would never actually be made, as so many other promising teasers of its kind never went anywhere. And I'm grateful to Netflix for making the movie happen.

Nostalgia's all well and good, but never count out innovation or the power of a good surprise.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

"The Good Place," Year Four

Spoilers ahead.

After a bumpy third year of "The Good Place," and a season finale that seemed to send all the characters back to square one, I was worried about Season Four. The premise changed again, but more or less settled on the idea of our heroes trying to fix the afterlife, and more specifically on trying to use a Good Place neighborhood setup to reform a group of recently deceased humans, including gay gossip columnist John (Brandon Scott Jones), and the arrogant, overprivileged Brent (Ben Koldyke). And the season's first chunk of episodes were pretty strong as a result. The show brought back the weekly cliffhangers, shook up the character dynamics, and felt more of a piece with the early seasons. I liked the new characters, and wish we'd gotten more of them.

The second half of the season, however, left me far more mixed. I like that "The Good Place" has emerged as a series with these big, lofty ambitions, and that takes its themes of philosophy appreciation and moral questioning so seriously. However, within the confines of a sitcom structure, there was no way Mike Schur was going to wrap up everything and not have it feel too easy and too pat. One of my biggest issues with "The Good Place" since the second season is its habit of eliding over the rough bits - giving Michael a sped-up redemption, using a heightened, cartoony version of Earth instead of something more grounded, drastically simplifying major quandries, and never seeming to follow through on harsh consequences. The character development for all the leads also got pretty static after Chidi and Eleanor got together, and many of the complications and hurdles felt increasingly contrived.

I'm still trying to parse this, but after the finale I was left very unsatisfied. The series has never promised real profundity, and never passed up an opportunity for an easy laugh, but I was expecting more. Maybe it was because they were too explicit and literal and didn't leave enough cosmic mystery - even though the whole point of the ending was reintroducing a sense of cosmic mystery to "The Good Place." Maybe it was because the show's publicity campaigns seriously overpromised, and only delivered Lisa Kudrow and Timothy Olyphant as the season's big celebrity guest stars. Maybe it's because "The Good Place" conception of the universe just doesn't ring true to me in the end. Maybe it's because the finale was paced so slowly, and kept stuffing in more goodbyes, that that the whole thing kind of dragged.

Still, I liked that the ending was thoughtful and had a good sense of finality to it. The characters have been through enough that I've gotten attached to them and become invested in their fates. The answers to some of the big questions struck me as awfully convenient and not particularly well thought out. On the other hand, at least they were thorough and did a good job of cleaning up some of the numerous loose threads that the series has accumulated over multiple seasons. Also, the actors remain wonderfully committed. MVP award goes to William Jackson Harper, as Chidi is the only lead to really get anything interesting to do in the final set of episodes. He and Eleanor are one of the better screen couples of the past decade (Sorry Jason and Janet).

Looking back over the whole series, I'm still astonished that "The Good Place" aired on network television in the form that it did. There's so much I appreciate about it - the actors, the philosophy, the nutty humor, and the commitment to playing out its high-minded premise all the way through to the end. It's such a thoughtful, optimistic fantasy show in a television landscape that is too often cynical and defeatist. It's such an approachable piece of media too, making big ideas and concepts more digestible and relatable for its audience. I love that it's essentially a gateway for moral philosophy - and Jaguars fandom, of course.

On a personal note, it's also the end of an era for me. "The Good Place" was the very last currently running show on network television that I was watching weekly - and even then it was rarely live.