You may have noticed that The Good Place did a very naughty thing in its season finale: It revealed that everything you knew about the show was motherforking bullshirt by jacking the premise of the show 180 degrees due south.
The not-so-uplifting but oh-so-entertaining final episode of the NBC comedy’s first season changed the way that we will interface with the show moving forward: As it turns out, nasty (reformed?) soul Eleanor (Kristen Bell) wasn’t erroneously admitted into the afterlife neighborhood where she bonded with soulmate and dithering academic Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and the avuncular architect of the neighborhood, Michael (Ted Danson). No, neither she nor Jacksonville DJ Jason (Manny Jacinto) — who was seemingly mismatched with name-dropping charitable socialite Tahani (Jameela Jamil) — was a “glitch” in the Good Place. And no, two members of our quartet weren’t facing exile to the Bad Place and an eternity of hell after supreme judge Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) ruled that they had conspired to hide these glitches. Why? Because they were already there.
With a chilling laugh, Michael validated Eleanor’s suspicion and then revealed his wicked plan for these four individuals to torment each other for 1,000 years in the Bad Place. And while he persuaded Shawn to give him another shot at perfecting the ruse and wiping the foursome’s memories, Eleanor had just a few seconds to scribble a few words on a piece of paper and stick it in the mouth of knowledge nexus Janet (D’Arcy Carden) that would remind her of what in Hades had transpired. The paper read: “Eleanor, find Chidi.”
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While you have found yourself without any guidance or answers since the finale aired in January, we are hoping to change that right now by seeking great wisdom and knowledge from the creator of this vast universe, Michael Schur. Below, he reveals when he came up with the twist heard round the TV world, likens that M. Night Shyamalan-level twist to the big reveal in Westworld (with one key difference), offers several big hints about season 2 (which is expected to air later this year), and divulges whether or not you will witness the raw firepower of Todd the Lava Monster again. (Short answer? Hell, yes.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you come up with the idea for this twist?
MICHAEL SCHUR: I had the original concept that I locked into, which was: “Woman mistakenly put in heaven when she belongs in hell.” I was like, “Okay, that’s interesting.” I poked around and tried a couple different versions of it in an early exploratory way, and felt like there was something here. But then I very quickly realized that premise pilots get old real quick. Whatever the big, giant, honking, flashing siren of a premise is, you can’t sustain that premise for too long, because it gets repetitive and boring. Very quickly, I was like, “I can’t write this unless there’s something more to it.” Then I came up with the twist, and once I had the twist, everything else fell into place pretty quickly. It was part of the original idea. By the time I had outlined it — way before I pitched it to Kristen, Ted, or NBC — I had the whole first season mapped out.
Were you worried that the twist was too dark? How did the network react when you pitched it to them?
I wasn’t worried that it was too dark. If Michael had waved his arms, the walls disappeared and it was like demons, fire, lava, and misery, and that was the ending, I think that would’ve been too dark. But it has this weird catch in the premise, which is that they appear to be in the Good Place; they’re in a heavenly environment. Obviously psychologically it’s very dark and freaky, but the other thing is the show was explicitly about people that were trying to improve themselves and learn what it meant to be a good person. Even though you end up pushing the reset button, you still have that as the central theme of the show. I feel like any show about people trying to get better is always going to be more optimistic than pessimistic — that’s my theory, at least. We’ll see if I’m right.
By comparison, viewers watching Westworld knew it was a show in which there were mysteries to be solved, but viewers watching The Good Place didn’t even know there was a mystery to figure out. As you were watching people figure out Westworld‘s mysteries, was part of you happy that everyone was so focused on that show?
I was a little bit happy. There’s some funny, completely accidental similarities. Obviously, their show is about robots that are slowly developing a consciousness. We had Janet, which obviously wasn’t the main part of the show, but it’s in the show. We also have people who were ostensibly human who are trying to improve or get better. We finished shooting our show before Westworld aired — at least we were certainly done writing. So I was like, “There’s nothing I can do.” Either these shows are going to dovetail in a really weird way, or they’re not, or people are going to guess, or they won’t. I’m very grateful for that, because I didn’t have to make any decisions about the way we execute our show, because I wasn’t watching a different show that had sort of slightly overlapping Venn diagram section. That was one thing.
The other thing was that you’re exactly right when you say that Westworld was explicitly inviting people to try to untangle the mystery. They had the maze and all of these big, mysterious J.J. Abrams Mystery Box kind of things that were explicit. They were engaging in the conversation with the audience. We had certain surprises and twists, but our show was a comedy show. I was pretty sure that what actually happened was going to happen, which is to say that people weren’t going to be looking for it. They certainly weren’t looking for it in the way that they were looking for it in Westworld. So I felt like we were going to get away with it, because I don’t think we were necessarily inviting the scrutiny.
Obviously, some of the things we did did invite scrutiny and a sense of there being a puzzle, but I also knew that we had all these safeguards in place. For example, we were going to have Eleanor stand up and confess halfway through the year. To me, that was a really big red herring, because once she confessed, the central theme of the show got taken off the table. It was like, “I’m not supposed to be here,” and then I knew after that, we were going to have people from the “Bad Place” show up, and they were going to torture Michael, and Michael was going to hate them, and they were going to be in a fight. I felt like even if you were looking for it, you’d be thrown off the scent because of the way that the plot unfolded. I would say I was cautiously optimistic that we were going to be okay. I was, for the most part, proven right. I’m sure that people somewhere guessed. Somebody somewhere guessed the ending, because somebody somewhere guesses every possible ending of every TV show and episode of TV. But in a large-scale way, I think we got away with it.
NEXT PAGE: Schur on why Janet didn’t figure out why this wasn’t the Good Place, and whether the Medium Place was real