Bell recorded their reactions because she 'wanted to see everyone's unique ability to digest this betrayal'
It dropped stomachs and busted brains. It took everything you knew, crumpled it up into a little ball, and kicked it right at the sun. It was, in a word, bad. In the best possible way.
The season 1 finale of NBC afterlife comedy The Good Place ended with the mother(forker) of all twists: Eleanor (Kristen Bell) figured out that the reason that she and her cohorts — Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Jason (Manny Jacinto), and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) — had been so miserable in the Good Place was because… they were actually in the Bad Place, thanks to a plan masterminded by not-so-angelic-after-all architect Michael (Ted Danson).
Good Place creator Michael Schur wanted to keep the tightest of lids on this secret on which the entire season was built, so he clued in only Danson and Bell, leaving the rest of the cast as oblivious as their characters. “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,” says Schur. “I sort of rolled the dice on the idea that they wouldn’t hate me if I didn’t tell them until later… 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.”
When he finally did gather the full cast — which also includes pleasant know-it-all human Alexa named Janet (D’Arcy Carden) — to clue them in before filming the finale, Bell decided to record the moment for posterity. And, well, maybe for other reasons. “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,” she says. “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. 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.” As she sums up: “I wanted to see everyone’s unique ability to digest this betrayal.”
Adds Danson: “It was just so satisfying — you could see them process everything and go, ‘Wait, is that possible?’ and see them play back in their heads everything we had shot and go, ‘Oh my goodness. It is possible.’ I think it really disturbed them for a minute. It wasn’t howling with laughter, I think they felt somewhat similar to the characters, slightly betrayed. [Laughs] They would look at me slightly differently from then on.”
In truth, the cast was forgiving after the deception. “It was good not to know until the very end,” Harper told EW earlier this summer. “It’s just part of the character to not know. In a way, it’s like Ted, Kristen, and Mike made me a Method actor against my will, which is great! Who knows what I would have done?”
Bell has been holding onto the video of the reveal for nearly a year, but has graciously agreed to debut it right here on EW.com before you dive into season 2, which kicks off Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET with an hourlong premiere. So, here is Schur unveiling the events leading up to the stunning twist to a rather rapt Jamil, Carden, Jacinto, and Harper. When the creator drops the bomb (“They’re never going to call a train to send us to the Bad Place. They can’t. Because we’re already here. This is the Bad Place”), the real fun begins, as Jamil and Carden go full-on hands-on-face shock, with Carden muttering, “What???” while Harper lets loose with an “Ohhh!!!” and Jacinto, well, he really seems to have his mind melted. Check it out.