‘The Good Place’ Creator Mike Schur Previews the Show’s Return

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·Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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Kristen Bell as Eleanor (Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Kristen Bell as Eleanor (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

The Good Place returns Jan. 5, as the battle for Eleanor (Kristen Bell) continues. Will she stay in The Good Place under the watchful eye of Ted Danson’s Michael, or will she be sent to The Bad Place in the care of Adam Scott’s Trevor? While we wait to meet Shawn, the judge who will ultimately decide her fate, we chatted with creator Mike Schur to see what he can tease about Season 1’s final four episodes.

Yahoo TV: Let’s start with Trevor. Did you write that role with Adam Scott in mind?
Mike Schur: I can’t actually say that we wrote it for him, because it was part of the original pitch of the show — that Eleanor, halfway through the year, will confess, which will be surprising to Michael and hopefully to the audience. Then the idea was that Michael does a debrief of “Who are you?” and “How did you get here?” that determines that she was sort of a bad person on earth and calls The Bad Place, and The Bad Place crew shows up. I knew that was going to happen from before we started writing the second episode. But as we described the character internally, and we sort of thought about it, it was more and more obvious that Adam should do it. I gave him a sort of early warning. It was like, “We are going to come to you in, like, a month, and we are going to make you this offer to come play this part, and the only thing I will tell you is that it’s the opposite of Ben Wyatt,” which is his character from Parks and Rec. “Everything you have ever done when working on something with me, you will be doing the exact opposite.” That I think was interesting to him, I hope. It was like, “This is the guy you are playing — it’s just the worst dude in the world.” So, yeah, it became pretty clear to us fairly early on that he should be the one to do it, and then we got lucky and he was available and said yes.

Are we going to see a lot of him in these next episodes?
Well, we were able to snag him in the middle of shooting Big Little Lies for a couple of days, and so we didn’t have a lot of access to him, but without giving any real spoilers, I will say that I admire him so much, and love him so much as an actor and as a person, that if there was ever a time where we could squeeze him in, we tried to squeeze him in.

Related: The Good Place and 15 Other Hidden Gems to Binge On Now

The role Adam was playing on the show was kept a secret when his casting was announced. I’m assuming you won’t tell us who’s playing Shawn?
We have kept it secret just because it’s fun to keep things secret. I have said this before, but if you’re a fan of other shows I have worked on, the actor will ring a bell. We just, first of all, love that his name is Shawn because it’s like the most boring name you can give the eternal all-wise, all-knowing judge of all matters in the afterlife. Everyone is very scared of Shawn. Shawn is a big part of the last four episodes. They don’t have a lot of time before Shawn shows up.

The Jan. 5 episode is titled “Chidi’s Choice,” which of course raises the question: Is Chidi (William Jackson Harper) choosing between the two Eleanors, or what is the choice he’s deciding?
Well, he has, you know, gone through some very sort of formative and interesting relationship issues with his fake soulmate, fake Eleanor, and then also his real soulmate, real Eleanor [played by Tiya Sircar], is there. He also has an interesting connection with Tahani [played by Jameela Jamil] at various times. He’s seemingly tried to work at various times to protect Tahani’s feelings, and they have made some connections about famous French painters that they both like and stuff like that. That episode is very much about him having to confront what for him is a pretty tough spot to be in as a person who doesn’t love making choices, which is, “Where do I put my attention?” That choice is exacerbated by a couple things that happen in that episode, which I won’t spoil.

The last episode ended with Jianyu/Jason (Manny Jacinto) realizing Tahani had discovered his man cave. What’s next for them?
The [Jan. 5] episode is largely about the aftermath of that. It picks up basically right where it left off, maybe three minutes later, with Tahani trying to figure out who the hell this person actually is and what he’s all about. The questions for Tahani are numerous, obviously — like do I tell Michael about this? Does Michael know? What do I do? As she untangles it, she is a little bit miffed at Eleanor, for example, because she realizes that Eleanor probably knew about Jason before she did and didn’t tell her. It’s this big swirl of interpersonal issues and problems that arise from her having figured this out. Jason’s story goes in a very interesting direction, which I also won’t tease.

Ted Danson as Michael, Jameela Jamil as Tehani (Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Ted Danson as Michael, Jameela Jamil as Tahani (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

We know there are people shipping Chidi and Eleanor, but I’ve also found myself shipping Tahani and Michael. Is this the first time you’ve heard someone say that?
It is. [Laughs]

I realize it’s not something you’re writing to, but I just love that she’s the person he goes to for things.
Yes, there is a sweetness to it. I’ve always thought of it as more of a father-daughter kind of thing, but I guess you don’t have to look at it the same way. It was a nice thing that we sort of stumbled on, which is that when Michael needs help, he has this woman who is very self-assured and very capable. When Michael is confronted by the evil dark energy of The Bad Place, he goes to Tahani for backup.

I also liked in that recent episode when Tahani name-dropped someone again and Michael’s version of a lie detector lit up green and confirmed she was telling the truth. Did you think it was important to let people know that her tall tales are, in fact, true?
That was the absolute intention there. She has laid down some pretty insane stories about her life, about going to Johnny Depp’s private bird sanctuary and whatever. We realized we had this omniscient true-or-false machine, and we were like, “This is great, because we can finally say, ‘No, she’s not kidding. This really was her life on earth. She really did all these things and knew all these people.'” So we wrote that joke about Anderson Cooper asking her to co-host his show, and then it lights up green. It’s like, “OK, that’s really who she is,” which is a relief because the more jokes you do, the more it just seems like she is an insane person who’s making up crazy stories. We actually figured out a way to make it clear that she was telling the truth all those times.

Manny Jacinto as Jianyu, D'Arcy Carden as Janet (Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC)
Manny Jacinto as Jianyu, D’Arcy Carden as Janet (Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC)

Jianyu/Jason and Janet — that’s another pairing I’ve found myself shipping, after he admitted she’s the only person who’s nice to him. Should we hold out hope for them?
When Janet got rebooted, we fell into this kind of funny thing. I can’t remember who pitched it, but the idea was, like, when Janet, when an omniscient, all-knowing universal source of knowledge, when her memory is wiped clean and she’s slowly rebooting all of the information of the universe, at some point very early in that process she and Jason will be at the exact same level and so let’s just have them hang out when they are at that exact same level and maybe they’ll become friends. It was like a weird version of Flowers for Algernon. That’s how we thought of it, where it’s just like she is at his level for about a third of a second and then is much smarter than him, like, one hour later.

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As we approach the end of the first season, what are you most proud of?
I will speak on behalf of the whole writing staff: I think the thing that we are probably most proud of, as a group, is that the idea behind this show was pretty ambitious in the sense of we are going to try to do a half-hour network comedy, which is a pretty tall task these days, but we are also going to have it be about the afterlife, which is kind of a big swing, and there is going to be a lot of stuff about philosophy and ethics. The trick with that was a couple of things: One, we didn’t really know much about [philosophy and ethics] before we started writing the show, so we had to learn stuff pretty quickly, but also we all felt if it’s boring, no one is going to care, and if it feels like we are lecturing people on what it means to be a good person, people don’t like being lectured to. So the mandate was always it has to be just an entertaining, fun show and this other stuff we can swirl into the mix, but it can’t overwhelm the show and it can’t cease to be just an entertaining half-hour. I hope it reads this way, that the show has been entertaining while also trying to be about something. That’s at least our goal, and that is what we are always trying to figure out how to do.

Bell, William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye, Jamil (Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC)
Bell, William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye, Jamil (Photo: Vivian Zink/NBC)

The whole season, there’s been cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Will we see one at the end of the finale?
We tried to do something at the end of every episode that propelled you to the next one. It’s sort of an old-timey network TV move of “Tune in next week.” That is explicitly what we were going for, and I think that pretty much continues right up to the end of the season.

Hulu has extended cuts of The Good Place episodes. What has been the hardest thing to cut from the broadcast version of this show, or thinking back to Parks and Recreation?
With Parks and Rec, honestly, it was always Ben Schwartz or Aziz [Ansari] or [Chris] Pratt or Amy [Poehler] or anybody who just found some weird little comedy game and blew it out into three crazy minutes. Like Patton Oswalt’s Star Wars improv that he did: I mean, there was never a way we could put that 11-minute rant into the show. But that show was really fun and loose in that way, where there was always these crazy funny things. By the way, sometimes we would just keep them. When Aziz did his other names for food, like chicken parm became “chicky-chicky parm-parm” — that was like a solid minute, and it was like, “We don’t have time for this, but we just can’t cut it. It just makes us laugh too hard.” Very often we figured out how to cut other stuff to wedge those things in.

But it’s very different with [The Good Place], because this show is more tightly plotted, I guess you would say. There are more plot points that matter, because it’s this mystery that we’re unfolding one step at a time. There have been scenes we have shot on the show that really killed me to have to cut. There is one in the finale that I can’t talk about without spoiling that was a real bummer to cut. But there is always stuff, and that’s a good thing: If you didn’t have to cut something that you liked, then there would be a problem, because that means you are barely scraping together enough good stuff to put an episode together. So it always makes me feel good when we’re cutting scenes we like because that means that episode, as a whole, has come out well.

The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.