“The Good Place” ended its four season run with a fittingly bittersweet finale that touched on everything that made the show great. The series was ultimately about how people can help each other to be better and kinder and overcome their flaws, and perhaps no character better exemplified that ethos than Eleanor Shellstrop, played with a quick wit and subtle empathy by Kristen Bell.
Eleanor gave Bell the opportunity to show off her impressive comedic skills (could anyone else nail the line “What the fork?” like she does?) as well as underrated dramatic chops. Through her performance, we saw how her character used snark and sarcasm to cover her true feelings and inner pain, which become obvious whenever emotion comes bubbling up uncontrollably. Could this be the year that her work on the show is finally recognized by Emmy voters?
It’d be the first such recognition for the veteran actress, best known for her lead role in the cult series “Veronica Mars” — which returned to Hulu in 2019 — and her voice work in Disney’s “Frozen” (she did earn a Daytime Emmy bid for her short form series “Momsplaining with Kristen Bell”). She received her first ever Golden Globe bid for “The Good Place” last year, which may signal that awards voters are starting to take notice.
They’ve certainly paid a lot of attention to the afterlife comedy itself. Ted Danson has received two Emmy bids in a row for his role as the demonic architect who helps Eleanor and her friends, as did Maya Rudolph for her guest performance as the inter-dimensional judge of the afterlife. Its third season picked up nominations in Best Comedy Series and Best Comedy Writing, a first for the critically lauded program that could repeat this year.
Bell is also fortunate to be competing in a relative open category, as previous Emmy champions Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) are not in the running since their respective shows wrapped up last year, as is Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”), whose series won’t be returning in time. That leaves room for three new contenders to duke it out with previous winners and 2019 nominees Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”) and Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”).
“The Good Place” has had an extremely interesting and unique arc over its four seasons, as creator Michael Schur has been unafraid to let his writers totally blow up the show’s status quo in order to fully explore the wacky world they’ve invented. They’re helped by a talented ensemble cast, including Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil and William Jackson Harper as Eleanor’s fellow Good Place inhabitants and D’Arcy Carden as the robotic afterlife guide Janet.
But the heart of the show is still Eleanor. Her arc mirrors that of the characters, and in a way it mirrors the trajectory of the show’s universe. When we first meet her, she’s selfish, rude, mean and totally unconcerned with the plight of others; it’s little wonder she immediately knew she didn’t belong in the Good Place. As the show progressed it explored why she is the way she is, and we see that a lot of her negative behavior is really just a defense mechanism to protect herself. At the end Eleanor has become kind, she thinks about other people and most importantly she puts the needs of others above her own. However, she’s still Eleanor Shellstrop, and she can’t resist a plate of shrimp, margaritas or a snappy one-liner.
The whole thing doesn’t work without Bell’s performance. How could we buy its basic premise, that “bad” people can grow and change to become “good” people, without seeing it firsthand in her? It all culminates in the series finale, “Whenever You’re Ready,” a funny and bittersweet sendoff that movingly encapsulates her character’s journey and relationship with the love of her (after)life, Chidi (Harper).
So now that “The Good Place” has gone to wherever TV shows go when they end, it’s now or never if Bell is going to be recognized for her standout work. C’mon, Emmy voters: what’s the forking holdup?
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