Ever wonder what happens to people who cut you off in traffic or who yell at a waiter? Well, executive producer and creator Michael Schur admits a part of him wishes, at least a little bit, that maybe they go to the Not So Good Place when they die. After all, shouldn't there be a running score based on the good and bad things we do in life that determines such things, with Heaven being the ultimate prize?
That's the premise of his new comedy, called The Good Place, with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. It “was just a slow build in my own life of thinking about good behavior and bad behavior, and getting frustrated in Los Angeles. People would do little tiny things that irritate me that I felt were breaking the social contract,” said Schur.
“That's what you wish on some level. You wish that, when people make illegal left turns and hold up traffic or just stiff waitresses for tips for no reason, you hope someone is keeping score, somehow. And so, it was just a long slow build of these little things. Working on the idea of what if we're all playing a video game, essentially. What if we don't know we're playing and there's an actual point value to each of our actions. That the people with the highest scores get rewarded,” he said.
In The Good Place, a not-so-nice woman named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) accidentally is sent to...well...The Good Place after she dies. Eleanor finds herself in paradise where everyone around her has lived very worthy lives. Her guide is Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of the heavenly community she's supposed to live in forever with her soul mate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper).
The only problem is that Eleanor wasn't a very nice person in life and there's been a terrible mistake. She should have been sent to The Bad Place, which from everything she learns is a very bad place, indeed. She manages to convince Chidi to try and help her become someone who deserves to stay in The Good Place, while keeping her secret from Michael and her neighbors. The series is executive produced by Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett and Drew Goddard, who also directed the pilot. The series also stars Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D'Arcy Carden.
“The season is roughly divided into two halves. I won't say what the thing is that is the midpoint, but the first half of the season is the development of the idea in the pilot, which is to say Eleanor is a not great person in a place that is reserved for the best people who ever lived, and she's hiding and she's trying to get better and learn how to be a better person. And she convinces Chidi, her fake soul mate, to teach her about ethical behavior, because that was his job on earth. So, she is in school, basically, and learning lessons and trying to enact them and trying to become a better person. To try and hide and also earn her place. And then something happens exactly midway through the season. We're doing 13, so at the end of episode seven is a gigantic twist that sets in motion the events of the second half of the season,” he said.
“And in general, the way that the pilot goes is, we establish the situation. You learn who she is, you learn who everybody else is, and then, at the end, there's a giant twist, which is her bad behavior causes things to go haywire in this perfectly calibrated universe. And that's a big part of the DNA of the show as well, is that at the end of every episode, there is some kind of cliffhanger or crazy twist that leads directly to the next episode. The show's very serialized and very often we're starting an episode exactly where we left off in the previous episode. So it really plays as a continuous story. In certain ways it's like one big movie that's broken up into distinct parts.”
The premise of The Good Place “is that when Eleanor does something not great, the world goes a little nuts. And so, we have things catching on fire and we have things raining from the sky and without the kind of advances that have been made in the last few years [in special effects], I think the whole show would basically be kind of impossible or so painfully weird to look at it wouldn't work.”
For Schur, who's written and produced Saturday Night Live and executive produced The Office, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place let's him write “a new kind of story. I've never been involved in writing stories like this. I've never worked on anything like it. So you do have to exercise different muscles in your brain. But that part is really fun,” he said.
Taking on a fantasy series with big special effects has something entirely different for someone who wrote workplace comedies for over a decade.
Luckily, Schur has the help of a great cast and crew, including Goddard, the Academy nominated writer of The Martian, to help figure out the more fantastical elements of the series. And he's thrilled he was able to get Ted Danson and Kristen Bell as Michael and Eleanor, along with a talented cast of newcomers.
“Ted Danson is like an American hero to me,” he said. And Kristen Bell “has a warmth about her and a forgiveability about her that made her the perfect person to play the role.”
What it's added up to is a wild story involving flying giant shrimp, a clown house and the ultimate afterlife video game that NBC loved enough to bring it straight to series. And the network has enough faith in the show that there will be a special hour long premiere of The Good Place after the premiere of The Voice tonight.
Here's a look at The Good Place: