Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Have you ever wondered where you go after you die? Is there really a heaven or a hell? What’s it like in those places and what kind of people are there? What if there’s a royal screw up and someone not meant for eternal peace and happiness ends up in The Good Place?
From executive producer Michael Schur comes a smart, unique new comedy about what makes a good person. The show follows Kristen Bell‘s Eleanor Shellstrop, an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife, and thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place, which is definitely where she belongs. While hiding in plain sight from Ted Danson‘s Michael, the wise architect of the Good Place (who doesnâ€™t know heâ€™s made a mistake), sheâ€™s determined to shed her old way of living and discover the awesome (or at least the pretty good) person within.
Helping Eleanor navigate her new surroundings is William Jackson Harper‘s Chidi, her kind, open-hearted â€œsoul mateâ€ who sees the good in people but finds himself facing quite a dilemma; her seemingly perfect new neighbors, Jameela Jamil‘s Tahani and Manny Jacinto‘s Jianyu; and D’Arcy Carden‘s Janet, the go-to source for any and all information in the Good Place.
Earlier this summer the cast and EPs attended the Summer 2016 TCAs and talked about Michael Schur’s desire to play God, fake cursing, why a supreme being would choose to look like Ted Danson and more.
When you were a kid, did you have an idea of what heaven and hell were? What was that for you? Kids have funny versions of that.
William Jackson Harper: â€œWell, when I was a kid, they made us write these essays about what heaven would be like. I went to this Christian school in Texas and the thing that I wrote was no bees. No bees, no mud.Â No infirmities.â€
Dâ€™Arcy Carden: â€œYou wrote that? You’re cute.â€
William: â€œI wrote â€˜infirmitiesâ€™ at 5. And streets of gold.Â And then alsoÂ and a lot of apples.â€
Kristen Bell: â€œAwww.â€
Dâ€™Arcy: â€œWeirdly, that is mine too.â€
How much of the impetus for the show was effectively your desire to set an empirical scoring system for getting into heaven in which you’re effectively God?
Michael: â€œI mean, 100%.
The way that I started to conceive of the system was that it was a system of pure justice. The way that I thought about that was the way that, when you’re driving around L.A. and someone cuts you off or does something annoying, the thought I would have all the time is, â€˜That’s negative 8 points, man. That’s negative 8 points, what you just did.â€™Â
My secret hope was that there is an omniscient system that we’re all being judged by, that it’s impartial and definitive and absolute and you don’t have to worry about judging bias.Â It’s just like, â€˜This is the system. These are the points, plus and minus.â€™Â
The most fun part of the pilot, of putting it together was writing 10,000 jokes for the various crimes when Ted is doing the movie where he’s explaining it, the plus and minus crimes and their point values.”
This has the best fake cursing since Battlestar Galactica.Â Can you, give us a preview of other words that will be showing up on the show?
Michael:Â “First of all, that’s very high praise because that was the bestÂ in my mind, the best fake cursing on TV was â€˜fracking.â€™”
Kristen:Â “Then along came â€˜forking.â€™â€
Have you done “asshole” yet?
Michael: “Well, that’s at the end of the pilot, is â€˜ashhole.â€™ I think in the fourth episode Kristen calls someone â€˜shirt for brains.â€™ That was a new one.
The thing about it is it’s very fun to do and we had to put the clamps on, because if you give a writers’ room a game like that, they tend to lose their minds and do it, like, a million times. So we’re trying to sprinkle it out across the whole season.”
Are we ever going to find out what happens to the clown-loving woman who got totally screwed in this scenario?
Michael: â€œWell, you’re assuming there is one, which is a big leap. I would only say that the only thing you’re supposed to know and that we would want you to know at this point is that she’s not the right person, not necessarily whether there even is a wrong person or, if there is a wrong person, where that person is or what happened to that person. So the only thing that matters now is that it’s not her.â€
Are we ever going to see the bad place?
Michael: â€œI won’t say. I won’t say. Again, the only thing that matters, really, is that the show being set in the good place certainly implies that it has a counterpart place, but I won’t say whether we ever see it or not.â€
So William’s character is teaching Kristen’s how to be good.Â Is she also going to be teaching him a little bit how to be bad?
Kristen: â€œOff camera, definitely.
Well, certainly the characteristics that Eleanor displays when she gets to the good place are not malicious. They’re not evil. She’s been living by this guideline that isn’t it every man for himself and shouldn’t I be putting myself first?Â
So her road to learn how to be a good person is really learning about incorporating other people into her world view. There are, of course, moments where it’s fun when Eleanor tries to derail the conversation, because in truth, when she asks him for help, she’s got a lot of hard work to do that she doesn’t want to do.Â
But unless she discovers how to be a good person, she’s not going to be able to earn her place there. So, hmm, I’m trying to figure out how to answer that.”
Drew Goodard: â€œKristen makes being bad seem very charming, and so it’s impossible to be around her and not get a little worse as a person.â€
William: â€œYeah. It’s like villainy by osmosis.â€
Kristen: â€œBut you can’t reallyÂ you can’t derail that charm there [pointing to William]. Believe me, I’ve tried.â€
Some of the most interesting parts of the pilot were when Kristen’s character says, “Are they really so much better than me? They’re so condescending and they’re so annoying.” On the writing and the acting side, how you find the humor in condescension and how you play that, because I thought that was really fun.
Michael: â€œWell, I think it’s a central tenet of Kristen’s character that she has a bad reaction to people whom she perceives are better than her, which is why it’s a stroke of especially bad luck that her next-door neighbor is Tahani.Â
And so what was fun about the next-door neighbor thing was her next-door neighbors are like a beautiful, perfect, Buddhist monk who doesn’t talk and is the purest soul in the world and then an effortlessly graceful and glamorous, like, modern-day sort of Grace Kelly figure who entertains and has a flawless Oxford accent. So that there’sÂ there is certainly a little condescension.Â
In fact, Will has a line in the third episode where he says, â€˜Look, yeah, Tahani can be a little British and condescending at times, but she’s a good person.â€™Â You learn more about Tahani in the third episode, about why she’s in the good place and it’s a really good reason.Â Like, there’s a very, very good reason.Â
The lesson for Eleanor becomes about these little minor foibles and flaws that might have annoyed her on Earth in people, you have to see the bigger picture.Â And when you really get the full profile of the person, something like being a little bit condescending is far outweighed by these incredibly wonderful good deeds that Tahani did on Earth.Â
And then, the joy of that is that once you’ve established that, then you get to have Tahani continue to be condescending to her for the next 10 episodes.”
Jameela Jamil: â€œSorry about that.â€
Michael:Â “Which is really fun.â€
You touch on this in the pilot aboutÂ it’s pretty stringent to get into the good place.Â The bar is very high.Â But there are lots of basically good people who are not horrible people.Â So are they in the bad place?Â Is there a medium place for the medium people?
Kristen: â€œThere should be. That’s where Eleanor thinks she belongs.â€
Michael: â€œThat’s her contention, is that the system sucks and that there should be a medium place. Like Cincinnati.Â That’s what she says.Â She says, â€˜Everyone who wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible should get to live forever in Cincinnati.â€™
We do go more into that as the season goes on, but it’s a real exclusive club. If you the crunch the numbers, it’s about one out of every 450 people or so gets in. And as far as everybody else, don’t worry about it.
What are the rules of kind of coming up with the details of this place for you?
Michael: â€œSo as Ted explains to Kristen as they’re walking through the neighborhood, every neighborhood is different.
It’s not that every neighborhood is this neighborhood or looks exactly like this. Some of them are cities with freezing cold weather because that’s what that group of people likes.Â Some of them are rural farmland where it is nothing but thunder storms or whatever.Â
It’s like every neighborhood is specific to the 322 people who live in that neighborhood. So with that in mind, we were able to just do whatever we wanted to, because the assertion is this group of people who are here, it is paradise for them specifically.Â
So there is a restaurant called PB&J: That’s It, which is my personal idea of a perfect restaurant. What was the one that you loved so much?â€
Drew: â€œLuncheons and Dragons.â€
Michael: â€œLuncheons and Dragons.Â It’s unclear whether you eat with the dragons, right?Â Or whether the dragon serves you the food.â€
Drew: â€œOr both.â€
Michael: â€œPossible future episode.â€
Kristen: â€œBut there’s also ones that are very, very broad and I would find it difficult to argue. Like, the clothing store is called Everything Fits. There’s a store called Warm Blankets. I mean, who can make the argument that a warm blanket isn’t awesome?Â All the Books.â€
Michael: â€œAll the Books is my dream. My dream is you go to a bookstore called All the Books and then a restaurant called PB&J: That’s It. I would do that every day for eternity.â€
This unsettling notion of being somewhere where everybody else seems nicer than you are,have you ever had that feeling? Been someplace where it’s just hard to keep up with how nice the people are?
Kristen: â€œWow. I mean this is going to sound really cheesy, but I have a really good group of friends in L.A. andÂ I stand in constant amazement at their desire to be fun-loving and cultured and help other people. So, yes, I often feel inadequate in my friendships.â€
The characters Ted Danson plays now areÂ these warm paternalistic figures.Â And here, obviously you have other things going on, but you are again kind of the good guy.Â Can you talk a little bit about that journey?
Ted Danson: “It’s part of the aging process.Â Gravity hits and you realize you better start being nice.”
Michael: â€œWhen I pitched this show to Ted, he said, â€˜Can I ask you some questions?â€™ and I said, â€˜Sure.â€™ And he said, â€˜So I’m basically in charge of this whole chunk of what amounts to heaven and I have these powers ostensibly to create this world?â€™ And I said, â€˜Yeah.â€™ And he said, â€˜Then why would I choose to be in this body?â€™And I said, â€˜Well, I think it would be extremely comforting for people if you woke up as Eleanor does and someone says, ‘Here’s the deal. You’re dead and you’re in the next phase of your existence in the universe.’Â
That would freak you out, but if Ted Danson said that to you I think you’d be like, ‘All right.â€™ Like, â€˜Just keep talking, man, and whatever you got, I’m on board.â€™
So thatÂ I think that for whateverÂ in whatever way that his current sort of stature and also physical appearance plays anywhere else, for us it was 110% perfect.â€
Edited for space and content.
The Good Place premieres Monday, Sept. 19th at 10/9c on NBC.
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