The Good Place ended its first season by administering a shock so big, dark, and unsettling, fans could only sputter, “What. The. Hell. Just. Happened?”
Hell happened, that’s what. And it was a slice of comedy heaven. NBC’s jaunty afterlife series from Parks and Recreation overlord Michael Schur deftly bamboozled its audience and changed the game, revealing that our departed souls — selfish Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who believed she’d slipped into heaven by case of mistaken identity; Jacksonville EDM DJ Jason (Manny Jacinto), ditto; neurotically paralyzed ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper); and pompous socialite Tahani (Jameela Jamil) — were not in paradise but due south of there, under the domain of the once-bumbling, now-cackling architect Michael (Ted Danson). “I was very nervous about it, because in a weird way, the entire season’s success or failure was going to be based on whether we kept that a secret,” says Schur. “It’s sort of like a long-form version of The Usual Suspects.”
To paraphrase that twist-topped movie, the greatest trick this devil’s minion ever pulled was convincing Eleanor & Co. that he was an angel — and he’ll have to do it all over again in season 2. After Eleanor learned that Michael’s plan was to have the four torture one another in eternal damnation, he wiped their minds clean to reset the thousand-year game, but not before she snuck a note reading “Eleanor, Find Chidi” into the mouth of humanlike database Janet (D’Arcy Carden). Danson’s scheming architect has made a few tweaks to his pseudo-utopia, upping the creepy-clown quotient in Eleanor’s house and replacing the neighborhood frozen-yogurt shops with Hawaiian pizza joints. (“It’s a true and unyielding belief of mine that Hawaiian pizza is the worst pizza,” says Schur, “and there are many, many, many jokes about it.”) The biggest change? He’s splitting up the quartet and assigning them new, seemingly appealing soul mates who are designed for maximum torment. (Eleanor’s is a lifting-obsessed mailman bro.) “The writing staff did a very good job in figuring out exactly the kind of people to make them absolutely miserable,” says Schur.
But the season premiere also revolves around old soul mates, as Eleanor follows her own clue and searches for a Chidi, whatever that is. “When Eleanor is in full — for lack of a better example — Veronica Mars mode, she’s really got her foot on the gas to figure out what the hell is going on, because something stinks,” says Bell, adding, “It’s a little bit of cat and mouse because there’s a reset, and Michael is not sure how suspicious Eleanor is at any given moment, because he already knows that she’s figured it out once.”
With the threat of a painful molecule-dispersing “retirement” hanging over him, Michael finds his confidence soon eroding, thanks to complications caused by the note that he doesn’t know about. “It’s fun to see him go up against Eleanor, who is basically smarter than he is,” says Danson, “and watch the wheels come off.” He’s also trying to placate a team of co-workers-turned-thespians who were dragged into his grand charade. “Before this, none of them were actors — they were people who poked people with hot sticks and dropped spiders into people’s mouths,” reminds Schur. “So he has the energy of an indie-film director who’s trying to make his masterpiece on an extreme budget, and there’s a lot of people on the crew who are less enthusiastic about the project than he is.”
The rest of season 2’s plot is being kept under wraps, save for some cryptic clues. (Bell: “Transportation is the new main character.” Carden: “One pierced ear.” Danson: “When I’m not near the one I love, I love the one I’m near.”) And while no reveal could top the finale’s rug-pulling reversal, twists do abound—even if you think you know more than the stranded souls. “Don’t get cocky,” says Schur. “You won’t be ahead of the characters for too long.” Sums up Bell: “Anything is possible — but winter is coming.” Indeed, The Good Place will stop subverting expectations right around when hell freezes over.
The hour-long premiere airs Sept. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT before moving to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. starting on Sept. 28. For a peek at the premiere, click here. To read a Q&A with Danson about season 2, head over here.