The Good Place ended its first season with the mother of all twists, so now what?
NBC’s quirky afterlife series reset the rules in shocking fashion in the freshman finale, which left many viewers’ mouths agape, wondering (and freaking out), “Did that just happen?!” Here's a refresher course: After believing she was wrongly thrown in to the good place -- the self-absorbed Eleanor (Kristen Bell) smartly put two and two together. She and her motley crew of dearly departed souls, the endearingly neurotic Chidi (William Jackson Harper), mute DJ Jason (Manny Jacinto) and pretentious socialite Tahani (Jameela Jamil) -- weren’t in “heaven” at all, but the bad place this entire time.
The revelation changed the game for The Good Place. The architect of said bad place, the formerly unassuming bowtie-loving guide, Michael (Ted Danson), turned on a dime, revealing himself to be a wicked mastermind. Once Michael figuratively hit the reboot button, a memory-wiped Eleanor woke up to find a note she wrote herself, pinpointing her next move: "Find Chidi." But will she figure everything out in time?
Ahead of Wednesday's season two premiere, ET jumped on the phone with The Good Place creator Mike Schur to preview the comedy’s rebooted run, the challenges of living up to the twisty finale and if he already has an endgame in mind.
ET: Going into the second season, after pulling off a successful twist in the finale, how much pressure did you feel in regards to maintaining that level of surprise and expectation for viewers?
Mike Schur: Of course we feel some amount of pressure because we sort of established what the bar was for the show. We established a certain tone and a certain pace, and it wasn’t just the finale. To me, it was the whole season -- every episode, we tried to bake in a twist or a surprise ending. I wanted it to feel like an old-timey show. At one point, I told the writing staff I wanted them to be able to almost hear an old-timey announcer saying, “Tune in next week for the shocking conclusion!” At the end of the second episode, Eleanor got a note that said, “You don’t belong here.” At the end of the third episode, John Yu was revealed to be Jason, an idiot from Florida. The pressure that I felt wasn’t so much specifically from the finale, it was more from the sense of we have to maintain this pace otherwise the show is going to feel like it’s slowing down. That was the goal going in, to make the second season week-to-week as exciting as the first.
What was your directive for the second season, since the finale, in many respects, reset the show’s rules?
As they say, we hit the reset button. All of the characters’ memories were wiped clean and they were waking up just like they did in the pilot. That was fun and it made for a really exciting finale because it was like, Oh my gosh, what is happening?, but it instantly creates a narrative problem, which is that the audience is way ahead of the characters and any time the audience is ahead of the characters, it can get real boring real quick. Our goal was to solve the riddle of how to catch up very quickly and we figured out a way to solve that problem pretty quickly by the end of the third episode, and have the show go off in a new direction. We couldn’t do the same season again, with a slightly different storyline, it would be really boring and that wasn’t what the point of the show was supposed to be. That was the biggest challenge coming in and the staff did a really good job of solving that puzzle.
What were those conversations like with the writers as you were trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of how to ensure the audience wouldn’t be ahead of the story or anticipate the next move?
We felt like we had what the answer was going to be [for the premiere]. That was baked into the finale, because the only thing that was different or new about the world that Eleanor woke up to was that she had written herself this note [that told her to find Chidi]. When we game-planned out what would happen [in the aftermath of the finale], our feeling was that you could unravel that mystery pretty quickly. If you found that person and you talked it out, it doesn’t take a super-detective to figure out what is going on. And after that, now the burden shifts from the shoulders of Eleanor, who is in a weird, tricky situation, to Michael because his boss is angry at him for screwing up. So if it goes sideways again, [Michael’s boss] says in the finale, “You’re done.” The problem is, it goes sideways again and we shifted our perspective a little bit to Michael’s point of view. We thought what if this guy is doing a weird, slightly unsanctioned science experiment and has to keep it away from his boss? We transformed the manic energy of “How do I manage this crazy world?” from Eleanor to Michael.
Do you have a concept in mind for how The Good Place will end?
Yeah, I do. I went into the writing of season one from the beginning knowing what the end of season one was going to be, and we decided to try to do that again and we did that again. We didn’t start writing season two until we had an idea of what the end of the season was going to be. With a show like this, where everything is connected and everything is continuous -- cliffhangers that lead pick up right where they left off, you kind of can’t wing it because everything flows from everything else. We certainly have an idea. We knew where we were going at the end of season two before we started writing season two, and towards the end of the year, we started talking about what the end of season two meant for season three, should we be lucky enough to get season three. For this one, you gotta have an idea or else you’re going to end screwing up. You’re going to end up getting to a point where you do a big twist reveal and then the Internet is like, “This doesn’t make any sense!” (Laughs.)
How surprising is the direction this season? Should viewers expect another big twist or is the show distancing itself from repeating a similarly splashy finale reveal?
Our feeling going in was that we were successful in pulling off the twist at the end of the first season, in part because no one was expecting it, but the funny, ironic thing about a big twist is that it then leads to people expecting big twists and it makes it harder to pull off big twists. We went into season two saying that is not our goal. Our goal is not to figure out a way to do something at the end of the year or even in the middle of the year that is as world-upending as it was in season one. That was the goal and we wanted to maintain, like I said, the pace and the tone and the DNA of the show, in terms of it being surprising and having things happen that propel the show forward in a crazy rapid rate. It’s a narrative twist -- that the show is taking on a new direction, following a new path; there’s a new rivulet that breaks off of the main river and the kayak is propelled down that stream. But we aren’t gonna try to do something as all-encompassingly [sic] world-changing as season one.
The Good Place kicks off season two with a one-hour premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, before moving to its regular time slot on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.