Say what you will about Eleanor Shellstrop — that she was selfish as hell, that she hawked fake medicine to the elderly, that she didn’t give a flying fork about the environment, that she stole shrimp — but once she was dead, she at least tried to become a better person. Eventually. Oh, and she definitely figured out that benevolent, bumbling neighborhood architect Michael (Ted Danson) was actually doing his best/worst to make Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Jason (Manny Jacinto), and her miserable as hell — because that’s exactly where they were.
Yes, in the season 1 finale of NBC afterlife comedy The Good Place, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) figured out that she hadn’t been sent to heaven by accident — she’d been sent to Hades on purpose. That drop-jaw revelation — which capped off a stand-out episode for Bell — sets the intriguing stage for season 2, which kicks off with a one-hour premiere Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Michael may have wiped the quartet’s minds of their startling discovery, but before everything went white, Eleanor slyly stuck a note (“Find Chidi”) in the mouth of human Alexa named Janet (D’Arcy Carden), which gives her a head start in figuring out this dark truth all over again. Let’s see what happens when Bell opens her own mouth and starts spilling hints about the new season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You and Ted were the only actors who knew about the big twist from the beginning. Were you wracked with guilt keeping that secret from your costars? For a show steeped in ethics, Mike Schur [the show’s creator] said that he had to tell himself that this wasn’t an ethical issue but a creative issue.
KRISTEN BELL: Really, I did not struggle with it. I felt very included by Mike and the writers that they trusted us with that secret, and I understood their argument that it doesn’t really benefit anybody to know that particular secret. If it was anything that we even needed to foreshadow, even from an audience perspective, I can understand how they would need to know, but it actually might have messed with people’s characters. So, I think that he did the right thing.
When Mike finally told the rest of the cast before the finale was shot, you filmed their reactions—
I thought it was going to be my first submission to America’s Funniest Home Videos, the best television show ever to grace the planet. I really thought it was going to win me a hundred thousand dollars, their big jackpot prize. It was as good as you think it is because they were really stunned. Like, they were having trouble. It was very paralyzing — they were all like ‘Huh?’ because it was an alternate reality to what they had been living in. They had been living in something that was completely untrue, just like their characters… I wanted to see everyone’s unique ability to digest this betrayal.
The twist was such a perfect dagger for a seemingly pleasant network comedy. What was your reaction when you first heard it?
I actually heard it before I signed on to the show. Mike invited me into his office when he had this kernel of an idea in his brain. He said, “Can we meet? I can’t get you out of my head for this project.” And I was bowled over with just feeling flattered, and I thought, “Is he pranking me?” So I sat down with him, and he proceeded to tell me the most interesting two-hour pitch I’d ever heard in my life. He is, not shockingly, an incredible storyteller, but he’s an orator. He remembers crazy nuanced details, and he told me a story that flowed so well, that made me so invested, and then he flipped it on its head in the end, and he said, “Now, I haven’t written anything, but I thought of you. Would you want to be involved?” I immediately said yes, so I knew what was coming. Although one thing we hadn’t really discussed was tone or style. I just knew I liked the story, and I’ve heard from a lot of people who are smarter than me that if you have the right story, everything else kind of falls into place. And particularly if you have a person as smart as Mike at the helm, everything will fall into place. And it did.
What can you say about Eleanor’s journey to solve the mystery of this note in the season premiere?
Well, Eleanor’s only clue is “Find Chidi.” She doesn’t know who or what a Chidi is, but the audience gets to see how incredibly savvy and streetsmart Eleanor really is. This year, 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. And this season we were not obliged to build up to a reveal of any sort. This season is very fast — lightning fast — and it’s kind of a whirlwind. You see a ton of things that you’re itching to see, and our characters’ dynamics grow much deeper than they did even last season.
And what is that dynamic like? She already figured out his game once, at the end of last season. Are they trying to sniff out each other and one-up each other this season?
In the first few minutes, it’s similar to the beginning of [last] season because, remember, Michael has reset them. 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. She’ll probably do it again. So, Michael is much more on guard.
NEXT PAGE: Bell hints that ‘transportation is the new main character’