'Transportation is the new main character,' the actress also hints of her NBC afterlife comedy

By Dan Snierson
September 20, 2017 at 05:41 PM EDT
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The Good Place

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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.

Colleen Hayes/NBC

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’

The challenge is for Michael to build a better mousetrap. He’s worked out the kinks now, and he’s decided to separate them from the start and pair each of them up with a new soulmate that will truly torture them. What would you say about the soulmate pairings? We saw a little bit of yours with Chris Baker, the mailman who needs to go work out.
Michael had gone back to the drawing board, with the soulmates, with the intent to keep the four of us apart and to give us a soulmate that would absolutely torture us, under the guise of someone who excites us. So, it’s something we really want, but he’s f—ing with us… [Chris] is everything Eleanor ever wanted, but it’s not going to work out. Let’s put it that way.

How quickly do things start unraveling for Michael?
Very, very quickly. You really see how savvy Eleanor is and what a suspicious person she is, by nature, and how that can work in her favor when she actually is being bamboozled. And she becomes a very, very difficult customer for Michael.

Does the plan go so poorly that there might be multiple reboots, where he has to keep wiping the minds of the quartet, or are we continuing down a single path of this reboot?
Well, I mean it happened in Men in Black.

From the moment Michael gives that devilish, creepy laugh in the finale, the shackles come off of Ted. Is it a whole new ballgame for him in season 2?
Oh, it’s what America wants, I’ll tell you that much. Ted unleashed — when given the ability to have a huge room to play in — is comedically perfect. He is such an incredible comedian, and you forget how capable he is of anything. I suppose the only person who hasn’t forgotten, though, is Mike Schur, because he wrote him just a stunning arc this season that Ted dances through brilliantly. Ted is really the fun nugget of this season.

There are now more clowns to torment Eleanor, there are Hawaiian pizza shops instead of frozen yogurt shops. What is your favorite new torture detail in Michael’s reset?
The chowder fountain.

Was it as gross as we think?
No — it was even grosser. It was a sort of liquid Tupperware, I suppose, that was white, creamy, and everything you don’t want to think about. And there were plastic chives sprinkled throughout, for detail’s sake, and also square sponges that looked like giant croutons.

What else feels different this season, visually or tonally? Ted says there is more visual magic.
Yes. They attempted to use the world to the best of their ability last year, but there were certain limitations because we had to get a lot of story lines across. This year, I feel like the world does take a little bit more of a front seat, and you see a lot more of the effects that’s just incredibly interesting and unlike any other show that’s out there.

We’re hearing that transportation is a big factor this season, and Ted mentioned that there is “more train stuff. Anything you can hint at?
Transportation is the new main character. Piece it together however you want to, but we are trying to escape.

You can’t really do that same type of reveal as the finale twist again, but Mike said that he thinks the show has some moves in store that are as equally as fun and surprising as season 1.
Mike is a writer that is not accepting of complacency. He is always thinking of new things, always trying to outdo himself. He has foreshadowed a lot of different things happening, a lot of different excursions that will be explored.

So, what you’re saying is if the show got us once, it will surprise us again, and maybe many times?
Correct. Don’t underestimate Mike Schur.

What is one cryptic clue you can drop about season 2?
Bee stings and sexy specs. One is the beginning of the season, and one is the end, but it sandwiches Eleanor pretty well.

And what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this season?
It’s got a very winter-is-coming type feeling. Anything is possible — but winter is also coming.

After the hour-long premiere on Sept. 20, The Good Place moves 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.

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The Good Place

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