Mind blown, again. The Good Place returned Wednesday night with a special one-hour Season 2 premiere, and it needed every minute of it to put its main characters through the ringer once again following Season 1's big reveal that the Good Place was actually the Bad Place.
Only this time it was Michael (Ted Danson) who seemed to be tortured as he attempted to replicate his plan from the first season but was met with terrible results. In the end, Michael opted to start over again by resetting things and erasing his subjects' memories, leaving us to wonder where the show will go next, because at this juncture, anything is possible.
To find out where the series is headed, we got The Good Place creator Mike Schur on the phone to ask him what's ahead this season and what the actual Good Place might look like.
You started off the season by resetting the reset from last season's finale! Where the fork do we go from here?
Mike Schur: Well, you know, the idea was at the end of Season 1, Michael begs his boss for a second chance. He says, "OK, you can have one more chance, but if it falls apart again, you're done. This is over." And unbeknownst to Michael, while that was happening, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) was sending herself this big clue, which was a note to herself in her own handwriting that said, "Find Chidi (William Jackson Harper)." So that was a smudge on the lens of this — do you remember the movie Real Genius? This is the analogy we use. So in Real Genius, they're trying to build a super laser, and Val Kilmer's nemesis sneaks into his lab and smudges this mirror with grease or something, and then when Val Kilmer tries to demonstrate this amazing laser they built, it blows up. We're like, OK, that's what this note is. This note is a smudge on this sensitive piece of delicate equipment that Michael has built. And it's going to cause everything to go haywire, so it does. Who knows whether Michael's new plan would have worked to torture all these people, individually at first, and then later to have them torture each other, because before it can even be tested, Eleanor had this crazy clue that was a domino that was knocking down all these other dominoes — now I'm just mixing metaphors here willy-nilly, sorry — but the lens was smudged and the whole thing fell apart.
But in Michael's mind the idea was, "OK, I know my boss said I only had one chance, but come on, man! This isn't fair." He didn't get a real shot, this was an aborted launch of this rocket ship — that's three metaphors now. At the end of the premiere, he considers that a false start, and he's going to try one more time. So Episode 3 is the next thing that happens now that he has decided to actually lie to his boss and try one more time.
How many chances can he get?
Schur: Well, you'll have to watch Episode 3 to find out. Episode 3 answers that question very specifically. The larger issue isn't how many chances can he get, but what happens to a guy who is lying to his boss. He digs himself a very deep hole at the end of the second episode by starting this lie. In the fine tradition of all of the great Ponzi schemers and liars and crooks in history, Michael tells a small lie that will snowball and become a larger one as time goes on.
If the question of Season 1 was 'Why is Eleanor in this place?" what is the question that Season 2 asks?
Schur: Season 1 was sort of saying, "Can a human being who wasn't a very good person actually learn how to be good?" Which, as it turns out, is a crucial concern in ethics. I didn't know this, I sort of stumbled into it. There was a lot of debate about whether you can try to be good, and whether the simple act of trying to be good nullifies the potential to be good. This is widely debated; I understand about five percent of the debate. That was what Season 1 was about, is it like Alcoholics Anonymous? It is a fake it 'til you make it kind of deal where you just exhibit the behavior even if you don't fully believe in it and after a while you look up and you're just doing it? Or is it impossible, does the very fact that you need to try, does that mean you're not a good person?
So Season 2 is saying well, let's say it is possible, let's say Eleanor became a better person in the first season, let's say they all did... what about a demon? What about if you're a pure piece of evil whose existence in the universe is to torture people, what about that guy? Is it possible for that guy to change? What happens when that guy is put through the same rigamarole that Eleanor went through in the first season? So that's what begins to happen in future episodes, it becomes a little bit more of Michael's journey, and then there are other big things that happen along the way.
Season 1 was largely told from Eleanor's perspective, and later from the perspective of Tahani, Chidi and Jason. Now that we're seeing things through Michael's eyes, how does that change how you write the show?
Schur: Well, it's really fun. Ted Danson was performing his character with one hand tied behind his back in the entire first season. The fact that he was as good as he was goes to show how incredible of a performer he is, because we were hampering him and telling him he could act with only half of his range of thoughts and feelings and emotions he was going through as his character. And now it's full Ted Danson. We get to see the fake, conniving, faux-pleasant, angelic version, and behind the scenes we get to see the furious, angry insecure, cruel demon that he is and has always been as he plots and schemes and plans this eternal torture. Being able to go back and forth between those two things, you have two characters now, whereas before you only had one. And both are being played by Ted Danson. It was like we could finally take the shackles off that guy.
When you switch points of view, you get a whole new camera angle on everything. Seeing the stresses and strains of him trying to keep his crew together and trying to deal with people who maybe don't know what they're doing and aren't quite as invested in this project as he is, having Vicky (Tiya Sircar) complain about the size of her character, and trying to cope with all the little stresses of his job, there's a whole new aspect of the show which is basically a workplace comedy. Like the boss of a little startup, who is trying to achieve his life's dream and is being hampered by all his annoying little employees.
The idea of soul mates was a recurring theme in Season 1, but it was largely a device of Michael's to torture these people. But is there more to the idea of a soul mate continuing? Because I think people are invested in Eleanor and Chidi, or Jason and Janet.
Schur: The concept of soul mates is in the background of the whole season, I would say. We are deliberately being mysterious about whether or not soul mates are a real concept or whether Michael just invented it as part of his torture mechanism. But that is something long term that we will be exploring.
Schur: Whenever we reference a real torture device that is ostensibly real and being used in the real Bad Place, we always try to keep it silly. Because the reality of what must be going on in the real Bad Place is obviously horrifying. So we try to keep it to things like penis flattener, or butthole spider, or my favorite one is in the premiere when the character who was playing Eleanor's fake soul mate says, "Hey man, I was perfectly happy with my old job in the twisting department. People would come in and then I would twist them until they snapped in half, and then I would move on to the next one. That was great!" As a rule of thumb, I have a 9-and-a-half-year-old son, and I imagine if my son would giggle at it, and if the answer is yes then we do it. If it would scare him, then I wouldn't do it. It's a comedy show, and the reality of how miserable everyone is in what amounts to Hell is nothing we want to delve into in any meaningful way.
You have the actual Good Place in your back pocket to show off whenever you decide to. Have you thought about what it would look like?
Schur: Yes, we have a very specific idea for what the real Good Place is. I think it would be negligent of us to not have a concept of what it is. Whether or not the actual place that we eventually someday might see is exactly how we conceived it, who knows? But yes — part of the fun of the show is as we go along breaking episodes and coming up with stories week to week, we also get to do this big picture thinking about what the whole map is, what it looks like in the real Good Place, what it looks like in the real Bad Place, how the bureaucracy works, how the Janets came into being, who's running the show and all that stuff. So from time to time we'll spend chunks of hours just inventing what we think the whole layout of the afterlife looks like, which is very fun.
Do you own cargo pants?
Schur: It's like exclusively what I wore in high school, I would say. I'm 41 years old, and growing up in suburban Connecticut, it was like a state law in Connecticut that everybody had to wear cargo pants. So yeah, I feel Tahani's (Jameela Jamil) pain.
The Good Place moves to its regular time slot Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.