Has the wait for The Good Place to return to your TV been, well, hellish? Have you had, say, a devil of a time trying to be patient? Good news! Your pain and suffering will soon be over — though it now appears that Eleanor’s and her friends’ will continue from here to eternity.
Eight months after uncorking one wild season finale twist — what we thought was heaven was actually hell! — NBC’s twisty afterlife comedy resumes its delightful (and now frightful) morality tale on Sept. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Recently deceased Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) thought they’d been mistakenly admitted to the Good Place, where they were each assigned soulmates, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) for Eleanor, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) for Jason. In the end, though, all four of them discovered the horrific truth: that they were in The Bad Place. And bumbling architect Michael (Ted Danson), who designed their cheery-but-buggy heavenly neighborhood, had actually been slowly torturing them — or having them torture each other. When Eleanor figured out the ploy, Michael erased the quartet’s minds to start another 1,000 years of misery, but before he did, Eleanor managed to slip a piece of paper into the mouth of the Siri-like Janet (D’Arcy Carden) that reminded herself to “find Chidi.” And so the game re-begins.
How hard was it to keep secret what was arguably the most ambitious plot twist of last season? What literal fresh hell awaits Eleanor & Co.? With “retirement” hanging over his head, how desperate will Michael be to make this ploy work? Is Todd the lava monster coming back? These are all equally important questions that shall now be presented to the evil genius himself, Good Place creator Michael Schur.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like holding on to this secret all through season 1? Were you nervous the entire season that it would leak out?
MICHAEL SCHUR: 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. I felt pretty strongly that the season really wouldn’t be considered a success unless we got all the way to the end and no one knew that it happened. It’s sort of like a long-form version of The Usual Suspects. If you knew the secret of The Usual Suspects before you went in to the movie, the movie was far less enjoyable. And we were doing a similar thing, except we had a 13-week endeavor that we were embarking on. So, I tried not to be super paranoid about it, and I really tried not to go overboard. If it had leaked out, I didn’t want to feel creatively like the year was a failure. I wanted to feel like it a failure of whatever you want to call it — marketing or something.
But at the same time, I knew I was going to be super bummed, and so the fact that we did get to the end without it leaking out was a huge, huge success. Ted and Kristen knew from the time I pitched it to them. And then we made the decision not to tell the other actors for the simple reason that I didn’t want them to be distracted —
Or change their performance…
Yeah. Their performances were going to be exactly what they should be without knowing it, so it didn’t seem like there was any actual benefit to telling them outside of, like, friendship. I sort of rolled the dice on the idea that they wouldn’t hate me if I didn’t tell them until later. I seem to have won that dice roll. Most of the crew did not know as well. It’s funny because along the way there were certain people in the world that I had pitched the idea to, to get advice from or to run it by them and to just get their reaction, like Damon Lindelof.
At one point during the shooting of the pilot, Joss Whedon — who is friends with [executive producer/director] Drew Goddard — was hanging out, and I was like, “Hey, man, can I run an idea by you and see what you think of it?” So we took a little walk and I basically pitched him the season and the giant twist, and he was very into it and that made me feel like, “Okay, good. If it feels like it’s up Joss’ alley…” And if he thought it sucked, then I would question it. But then much later, right before I told the cast about it, I had this weird feeling where I was like, “Joss Whedon has known about this for four months and he was on the set for one day hanging out and he’s never been back…” In a show about ethics and morality, I did stop and check in with myself every once in a while, like, “What is the ethics of this?” and I decided it wasn’t really an ethical issue. It was a creative issue and that made me feel better about the decision.
Like Eleanor and her friends, viewers found out about Michael’s plan in the finale. Now they are in a position to feel like, “Okay, we know more than these characters.” How much of a comedy challenge is that for the writers, knowing that the audience is just waiting for the characters to figure it out again?
This is a big thing that the writers and I and Drew Goddard all talked about. It was very exciting and fun to have that sense of dramatic irony that the audience knows a lot of stuff that the characters don’t. The problem is that if you drag it out for too long, it becomes very boring. Because you’re just like, “Yeah, I know, man — get to the point where they find out.” We wanted to get all the comedy and fun and joy out of the new scenario that we possibly could, and then we wanted to have the show move into a new direction. It’s obviously a big part of the design of the show that it moves very quickly, and you don’t have too long to feel like you’re on safe ground before the show is moving on to some other new thing. That’s why we have Eleanor confess in episode 7 last year, and then we sprung the big surprise at the end. We don’t want to sit in any one version of the show for too long. I think it’s fair to say that in an amount of time that will not be too drawn out and frustratingly long, this show will shift and change again in an exciting new way. Don’t get cocky. You won’t be ahead of the characters for too long… It’s not going to be a situation where it takes the whole year for Michael to figure out what the hell’s going on. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s going to happen pretty quickly.
[In addition], we get to shift point of view and we’re now going to be in Michael’s point of view for big chunks of the beginning of the year, which we’ve never been in. It’s always been Eleanor’s or Chidi’s or whoever’s. Right now, Michael knows less than Eleanor, because Eleanor knows that she wrote herself a note and Michael doesn’t know that, so we actually don’t know more than the characters in this case.
NEXT PAGE: Schur on season 2 torture ranging from new soultmates to Hawaiian pizza