Warning: This story contains plot points from Thursday’s season 3 premiere of The Good Place, “Everything is Bonzer!”.
On Thursday night, The Good Place returned to the air — and to earth: The hourlong season 3 premiere of NBC’s winning and cunning afterlife comedy afforded viewers a full view into the lives of those four doomed souls who received an unlikely second chance, which was desperately pitched by reforming Bad Place architect Michael (Ted Danson) and reluctantly approved by Eternity Judge Jen (Maya Rudolph).
In life before death and damnation, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) eschewed her privileged station and hightailed it to a meditation retreat, only to become a famous lifestyle guru for writing a book about forsaking the spotlight, only to throw that all away when she became disillusioned again. Jacksonville dude Jason (Manny Jacinto) searched inward for a greater purpose for his life, and then committed to stepping up his efforts with his dance crew. We also saw more of Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who was last seen taking the ultimate leap of faith by flying thousands of miles around the globe to seek out the guidance of professor Chidi (William Harper Jackson), and now she persuaded him to take her under his scholarly wing. Chidi, meanwhile, had not been making the most of his do-over; he sought out a neuroscientist at his university, Simone, (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), to figure out if his brain was broken, after his friend explained to him that his reaction to averting death by falling air conditioner was a sharp left of normal. Simone agreed to help him, and their budding relationship blossomed into a larger study that aimed to show how people’s brains were altered by a near-death experience.
Through it all, Michael — in anxious-parent mode and flanked by a questioning Janet (D’Arcy Carden) — meddled messily and managed to maneuver Chidi into helping Eleanor, and Tahani and Jason into jetting off to Sydney to participate in the study. Yes, finally, the gang was all back together, much to Michael and Janet’s relief, and all seemed dandy… until the end of the episode, when the ticker tape revealed what Michael called “something very dark and evil.” Back on earth, we heard a knock on the door, and Chidi introduced everyone to the new member to their study group, someone almost run over by a train. There, wearing a phony smile and a backpack was… Trevor. Multiple forks!
The boorish torturer and dastardly demon from the Bad Place (played by Adam Scott) apparently had been dispatched by Bad Place boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who was angered to learn that the quartet had been granted another shot at eternal paradise without his knowledge. (Judge Jen may likely have a similar reaction if/when she learns of Michael’s illicit interventions following his initial saves.) “One of the first things we came up with in the writers’ room is that the work of Michael would be this meticulous, high-stakes, multiple-disguises, jet-setting venture — this plan to get everyone to Australia and finally reunite them,” Good Place creator Mike Schur tells EW. “Brick by brick, laying this careful groundwork, and then simultaneously the Bad Place would figure out that’s what he was doing and just send a saboteur to blow it up all — that seemed like a really juicy way to launch into the season.”
And make no mistake: Trevor is hell-bent on hell-raising in the next episode. “He’s on a singular mission to blow everything up,” says Schur. “His goal is to just get them to quit. Michael believes that they’re only safe if they’re together, and so all Trevor really needs to do is get one of them to leave, or to head home, to ruin it. He spends much of the next episode working on that plan.”
Along the way, he’ll be in full disgusting D-bag mode. “He calls Michael a ‘dingus,’” says Schur. “He’s used that word before, and Michael has used that word before, and it really started making us laugh. ‘Dingus’ appears to be the official insult of the Bad Place. It’s so childish and silly. He has a couple lines that I won’t spoil. Adam Scott is very facile with language, and we wrote him some real rollercoaster insults that he lays out. We also love that he always just hung out in bathrooms. And when they ask him why, he shrugs his shoulders and goes, ‘I like the smells.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s my thing.’”
Titled “The Brainy Bunch,” next week’s episode will send everyone on a group hang at the Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet. “It’s a reverse Outback Steakhouse, which is an American-themed restaurant in Australia,” explains Schur. “As lazy and offensive as the Outback Steakhouse must be to Australians — in terms of appropriating their culture and what their country stands for — we wanted it to be that, but for America. Everyone speaks in a cowboy accent, and every table is shaped like a different U.S. state, and there’s a Mount Rushmore, with four of the heads have been replaced, and it’s Hulk Hogan, Paris Hilton, David Hasselhoff, and Judge Judy.” (Schur’s favorite gag? “There is a Manifest Destiny package where, if you pay $30, you can just kick out anyone from their table and have them forcibly removed.”)
It is at this horrific Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet where Trevor nefariously attempts to execute his divide-and-conquer plan, and Zack Pizazz, er, Michael and Janet attempt to thwart him without the benefit of their powers, which are neutralized on earth, as the grumpy Doorman (Mike O’Malley) explained. “That was part of the fun of it,” says Schur. “Janet can’t summon anything, even though she tries over and over again. She doesn’t know what’s happening in the world. She retains her knowledge that she had until she stepped foot on earth, so she still remembers all of the things that happened on earth, which we’ll have some fun with in later episodes, but she doesn’t know anything new that’s happening. And Michael is freaked out too, because he feels like he used to be a very good liar and dissembler, and now he’s neither. He feels like a fish out of water. It was enjoyable to see those two have to use their wits to try to outflank Trevor. Michael has some of the worst alter-ego names ever devised by anyone, and his many disguises. They’re just full-on scrambling for most of the episode because they don’t have their usual abilities to stay ahead of where the humans are.”
As for Michael’s alter-egos — namely, that Australian librarian — where did the idea for that less-than-impressive Aussie accent (and his unwarranted pride in it) originate? (The show will mine more fun from the accent.) Was it always intended to be both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time, or was that joke reverse-engineered after the Emmy-nominated Danson attempted it in earnest and came up just shy? “When we went to [Ted] and said, ‘How do you feel about potentially doing an Australian accent?,’ he was like, ‘Oh boy, this has never been my strong suit, but I’ll try,’” recalls Schur. “And then we were like, ‘Oh, the way out of it is Michael should just be really proud of how good it is! And then Janet can just indicate to the audience that we all know that it wasn’t amazing.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’d be great! I’ll try my best, but when I fall short of doing a perfect Australian accent, we have a safety net.’ It was a joint venture for the two of us.”
Speaking of accents, the premiere also provided an explanation for a small-ish issue that some fans have been scratching their heads over: Why did Chidi speak American-accented English in the season 2 finale while at the University of Sydney — or in those previous flashbacks, for that matter — when, in the show’s very first episode, he explained to Eleanor that he was from Senegal and actually speaking French, but the Good Place automatically was translating it into something she was familiar with? Here is Schur’s answer in full:
“It was something that was gnawing at us,” he says. “When we did the pilot, I had that explanation in there that the Good Place was a magical translator, that no matter what language you spoke it just automatically translated it into the language of the person you were speaking to spoke, so they could understand you. And I thought it was a cool aspect of how the Good Place would actually work. And then, when we did flashbacks that season, I was like, ‘He should be either speaking in a continental African language, or he should be speaking French.’ But then there was [the issue of], ‘People are familiar with Chidi speaking English, and it might seem weird.’ And then I thought about The Hunt for Red October, when Sean Connery is speaking Russian at the beginning and the camera slowly pushes into his mouth, then it pulls out, and he’s just speaking English with a strong Connery Scottish accent. And it was like, ‘This is just a device.’
“You can imagine that maybe they’re speaking French if you want to, or whatever,” he continues. “And at the time, I never thought at all about the idea that we would do an entire chunk of a season or an entire season on earth. So when we decided to do that, it was like, ‘Okay, well, now we need to really explain this.’ Because if we’re just going to see him back on earth, having not died, now we need a reason. Will really wanted to do accented English or French, but at the end of the day, I was just so worried about chemistry and rhythm and all that sort of ineffable stuff, and you sometimes can screw it up if you’re not careful. In our minds, Chidi’s parents are also academics, or they work for NGOs or something, so it stood to reason that he would be the kid of person who, as a high-achieving, incredibly smart intellectual-type person, would have attended some international school. It was an easy explanation to say, ‘Okay. this kid was raised in Senegal, but his parents were academics or they worked for some organization that meant that he could go to an American school, and he speaks English and French and German and Latin and Greek and any language.’ So, that ended up being the best possible explanation. I was very anxious to work it into the very beginning of the premiere, because I just wanted to put it to rest in terms of, if anybody out there is wondering what the explanation is.”
And if anybody out there is wondering how Trevor will totally ruin the day — and this second chance for Eleanor & Co. — you’ve got to wait another week to find out. “The Brainy Bunch” airs next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
To read a whole gaggle of teases from Schur and the Good Place cast about what else awaits in season 3, head over here.