Kirston Mann shares her fondest costume memories over four seasons, from Jason's Jacksonville DJ 'fits to Eleanor's fire fashion.
Warning: Spoilers through the penultimate episode (sob) of "The Good Place" below.
Hey benches, time to down a fishbowl-size margarita, mix up a steaming mug of hot pig urine with coconut rum, per Jason Mendoza's expert rec, or better yet, spritz on some of his and Pillboi's energy drink x body spray to self-medicate before sending off "The Good Place." After four seasons, the critically acclaimed and fan-beloved series airs its finale on Thursday, Jan. 30 and I'm not ready to say goodbye.
I'll miss humanized demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) and all-knowing, not-a-robot (or girl) Janet in her many incarnations (D'Arcy Carden); plus, Team Cockroach-turned-Soul Squad: reformed Arizona dirtbag Eleanor (Kristen Bell), chronically indecisive and "surprisingly jacked" ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), habitual name-dropper Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and the lovably dumb Jason and his cheekbones carved from marble (Manny Jacinto).
The Mike Schur-created series really is the "smartest, dumbest show on television," as "The Good Place: The Podcast" host Marc Evan Jackson — a.k.a. butthole spider wrangling demon daddy Shawn — likes to say. So let's pour one out for the writing, direction, down-to-the-detail set design (the Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet menu is so comprehensive) and Easter Egg-filled costumes by Kirston Mann.
"We never want to hit anyone over the head with any this stuff," says Mann, over the phone, about the team effort in "intellectualizing" the characters and determining journeys for leads and guests. Take Janet's baby/ex-rebound boyfriend Derek and his progression from utilitarian boilersuit to constantly rebooted James Bond tuxedos. "We just want all [the characters] to grow." As Schur's longtime costume designer, she's infused her cleverly subtle — and repeatedly hilarious — talents into the wardrobes of "Parks and Recreation," "Brooklyn 99" and the pilot of "Sunnyside."
For superfans, I also highly recommend "The Good Place: The Podcast," which honestly just confirms that a Mike Schur joint is always the forking best place to work. Mann drops fun behind-the-scenes details on Chapter 11 and Costume Supervisor Alexis Jacks appears on Chapter 41 to explain "greeking" the Adidas logos off Eleanor's sneakers. While the series wrapped back in August, Mann took some time to share her fondest and memories spanning four seasons of "The Good Place" costumes, which have been anything, but basic. Read on below.
Janet(s) (D'Arcy Carden)
"She was the fun thread for me throughout [the series]," says Mann, referencing the evolution of the all-knowledge-holding "Palm Pilot in a cool vest," who can also materialize Timothy Olyphant straight out of "Justified" (and wearing Raylan Givens's actual hat).
The Good Janet's signature '70s-style purple vest and skirt outfit remained consistent throughout the series, but Mann flexed her ingenuity with all the other iterations, including flatulent Bad Janet in her Sandy from "Grease"-inspired liquid leggings and moto and "boring Janet," as Mann referred to the all-beige Neutral Janet. Mann also custom-built signature Soul Squad outfits to fit Carden when she flawlessly played each member in the Janet void, plus Janet Eleanor pretending to be Janet Jason. (There's still time for an Emmy nomination, Academy. Just sayin'.) "Mike [Schur] gives us so much creative freedom and the writers are so creative with their ideas," Mann says. "It was just a fun place to play,"
The Janet evolution culminated this final season with the manifestation of previously mentioned Disco Janet in her sequins and roller skates (above), plus all the Janets risking marbleization to hide Judge Gen's "Earth destroyer thingy," which looks exactly like a rickety garage door opener. The march of the Janets, plus stunt double for roller skating Disco Janet, required multiples from the costume department in conjunction with the wizardry of the visual and special effects teams.
"A lot of extra people that look a lot like D'arcy stand in and they're wearing the costumes and in the next scene you move her into that outfit," explains Mann. "It requires D'arcy to do multiple, multiple changes."
Michael (Ted Danson)
Although he's a "6,000-foot-tall fire squid" (with tentacles and "teeth everywhere") packed into "skin suit," Michael has worn his share of human-inspired personas — and began feeling all the associated emotions. In the final season, he reprised his ripped-from-an-Old-Hollywood-film P.I. trench and fedora to rescue Janet from The Bad Place jail, alongside Jason in his hot Jake Jortles disguise.
But, "the most fun I have with Michael is just his most classic look. It's what we opened [the series] with," says Mann, about the now-Good Place boss's consistently rakish bow-ties, usually in delightful prints and bright colors, from jaunty checks to the University of Michigan maize and blue chevron during Eleanor's flying shrimp torture sequence. But Mann's most cherished neckwear incorporates almost metaphysical symbolism with a feather theme, like the eye-catching peacock one in the pilot (above).
"Because [Eleanor is] supposed to be in some heavenly place and there were peacocks walking around in Huntington Gardens, where we initially shot it," she says. "It was the magical combination of things."
Ironically, Michael himself also serves as a disguise, notably the onesie "Michael Suit" worn by demon striver (and aspiring method actress) Vicky (Tiya Sircar). She half unfurls the zip-up to casually hang at her waist — complete with a deflated Ted Danson head dangling at her hip.
"That's pretty complicated," says Mann, who built the physical costume and collaborated with props and visual effects wizard David Niednagel (yes, the namesake of the scarf creature worn by Tahani when Chidi sees the Time Knife). "There are multiple versions of the costume, including, making a whole Michael thing that can fall down in one piece and sewing the whole thing together."
Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell)
Along with maturing into an actual ethical person, Eleanor also embarks on the most considerable costume journey over four seasons. But Mann maintained one common thread throughout her looks. "[Eleanor's wardrobe is always] what we all want to wear," says the costume designer. "We all want to look cute in casual clothes." (Mann even copped some of the same items she bought for Bell to wear as Eleanor and vice versa. "We both got into Apiece Apart and we love No. 6 clogs," she adds.)
Eleanor progresses from her initial crunchy (fake) Peace Corps volunteer skinny jeans, flannel shirts and clogs to season three's "collegiate" preppy rainbow striped shirts to, ultimately, elevated suits and vibrantly-printed collared shirts and fine knits. Eleanor's aesthetic felt especially climactic in the finale season with some pretty fire sartorial occasions, too. Highlights include a black v-neck pleated midi-dress by A.L.C. (above), for Team Cockroach's "Hail Mary" black-tie event on judgement day, and a super chic military green and belted G. Label jumpsuit. Bell wore the latter to both endure douche-wad Brent's "Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery" writing debut, on-screen — and deftly direct the episode, off-screen.
"Eleanor did get to have some fashion moments, for sure, and as she should. She's evolved as the seasons progressed, so we ultimately grew her up on the show [into a] a leader," explains Mann. "She wore the cute suits in the beginning of the fourth season when she was trying to emulate Michael, and then went for a little more business casual. She was trying on different personalities, like we all do in our lives."
Although, costume designing for flashback Eleanor's intentionally basic Arizona-party-girl tanks and cut-offs remains the most fun for Mann "because it was more of a costume." She really enjoyed leaning into the essence of each character for the in memoriam moments in "The Funeral to End All Funerals" episode. Highlights included Eleanor's "Dead AF" t-shirt and usually-posh Tahani's low-rider sweatpants with "Skank Army" emblazoned across the butt. "They all got to play a very strong version of who they were and dressing the other cast members like they would fit into the scenario, like, Tahani in an outfit that she would never wear, but what somebody at Eleanor's funeral would wear."
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Tahani al Jamil (Jameela Jamil)
"She is who she is. She's the Ginger of Gilligan's island," laughs Mann, who continued custom-building the British socialite's dresses based off of Jamil's own personal collection that the TV host-turned-actress brought in for her first fitting. Although, Tahani actually wears quite a bit of Asos — specifically from the prom collections— which might actually be a form of low-key torture for the renowned hostess who "would never serve finger sandwiches at a lake house."
While the socialite spent the majority of the four seasons in strapless and off-the-shoulder midi dresses, Tahani did enjoy outlier outfit moments, beyond the sweatpants or practical cargos and Crocs she reluctantly wore to open season two in an early reboot (and repeated in the season-three premiere while briefly finding enlightenment at a Tibetan monastery.)
For her "Rhonda" disguise when Team Cockroach infiltrates a party at The Museum of Human Misery in The Bad Place, Mann dressed the cast in authentic '50s vintage. Tahani sports a faux bob and a very Jameela Jamil cropped jacket and pussy bow-tied tuxedo skirt suit. Mann also enjoyed creative license in dressing the robot installations within the "Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness," featuring shirt-heads from various eras, like the Victorian topped (but pantless) "First Man to Send an Unsolicited Picture of His Genitals" and the "First Waiter to Approach a Diner With an Empty Plate and Sarcastically Say, 'I Guess You Hated It,'" circa 1967. "We just got to go to the extreme," she says.
Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto)
Mann happily sprinkled Jacksonville Jaguars teal, black and gold into the Blake Bortles superfan's costumes throughout the series. (Or actually, now, "Fooolllllles.") So, of course, Mann went all out for Jason's pool party funeral in an imaginative — and ultra dapper when worn by Jacinto — custom-built jacket printed with blue-and-black jaguar spots and roaring cat heads (above).
"Over the course of the seasons, the characters took on a life of their own, but the heart of Jason stayed the heart of Jason: a wannabe DJ who dies in a heist in a safe," laughs Mann. "His Florida version was the most exciting part, as fun as his monk costume was." As faves, Mann cites Jason's "Dance Dance Resolution: We Resolve To Dance" yellow and Jaguars-patched set, season one's cartoon feline-headed and whiskered Acidcat costume, when Jason fails to impersonate a Deadmaus-esque EDM DJ, and all his custom-built tracksuits.
Mann also enjoyed fittings with Jacinto. (I mean, who wouldn't?!) "He is, first of all, the sweetest person ever," she says, adding, "He's such a good actor; he just got it. Of course, he was just having fun with it all because it all is funny clothes."
Chidi Anagonye (William Harper Jackson)
"Oh, I do love the mailman," says Mann, echoing our sentiments and Eleanor's longtime fantasy come to (after) life. But, as with the rest of the Soul Squad, Mann's fave is Classic Chidi. "His character really stays consistent, other than the mailman and 'wine time,'" she laughs. "I just like him best when he's the most classically who he is — when he's in a sweater vest and he's very professorial.”
Although, continuing his graphic t-shirt streak into the final season, Chidi wears more visual sight gags, including the cheeky "The Good Place" take on the Experimental Jetset 2001 Beatles T, which has spawned a demonic number of copies and has kind of become, well, basic (above). "The writers thought those t-shirts were very funny, so they wanted to make our version of them," explains Mann, who then brought the scripted joke to life for Eleanor's pretty terrifying version of Pictionary.
In the third-to-last episode for the awkward afterlife video promo — and before Michael and Janet's comically cringe-y rendition of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" (sorry, Patrick and David over in "Schitt's Creek") — Chidi wears "The Good Place Architect" T in code-appropriate green. Fittingly, Jason reps The Bad in a bold saturated red, which was banned by Mann in season one for the obvious devil/demon association. (Because they were actually in The Bad Place, see?) Mann also chuckles at the "Human" T worn by Tahani, accented with a string of refined pearls.
"Those were fun to make and I secretly wish I kept one," she says, wistfully. Now where's my fishbowl marg?!
Hompage image: Colleen Hayes/Courtesy of NBC