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The Good Place creator explains why hell has sexist dudes - but not burning eyeballs

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Nov 21, 2018, 4:26 PM EST (Updated)

If hell is other people, then The Good Place’s version must be absolute torment. From the tug-of-war dynamics that make Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani the most tortured of friends to the disappointingly lowbrow and insensitive morons who menace residents of the actual Bad Place, playing hostage to someone else’s crummy attitude is the cruelest, and the funniest, of punishments.

There’s a reason why The Good Place only alludes to physical torture, but never shows it, according to series creator Michael Schur. The show’s take on the lake of fire, he says, is funnier precisely because it leans more on its insufferably demonic personalities — and less on hot pokers and barbed whips.

Sexist jerks and social philistines offer a wealth of comedic potential that heretic’s forks and iron maidens can’t match, Schur recently told Vulture. That’s because physical pain, he said, has a jarring effect that tends to break viewers’ immersion in the show’s created universe — while social pain helps them relate to it.

“If they were really evil demons who were hedonistically ripping people’s eyes off and stuff, that doesn’t sound too funny,” he explained. “There’s an episode where Dax Shepard guest-stars and there’s a group of dudes who work in the toxic masculinity department [of the Bad Place]. For me, if there’s a hell and I go there, it would be those dudes greeting me.”

Every time one of the show’s career demons gets screen time, whether it’s to do a little horse trading in Michael’s neighborhood or ply their torture trade down in the bowels below, he or she (or it) exhibits a phenomenal grasp of how to act like a total boor. Bad Janet, who’s not even an actual demon, can’t so much as pretend to be polite without melting in on herself like a microwaved candle, and Trevor — the Bad Place’s demon ambassador — delights in flouting propriety on every front: table manners, hygiene, privacy, and just basic human decency.

Schur said the creative team follows a couple of important guidelines when it comes to torture: Don’t bring kids into the picture, and don’t actually show people being harmed. “No kids,” he said, “because that’s too depressing, and no physical anguish. I think that keeps the show from devolving into some weird manifestation about human pain. It’s better to show toxic masculinity or annoying YouTubers, because that sounds like what hell really is.”

Catch up on Season 3 of The Good Place every Thursday on NBC, and binge back episodes from previous seasons at Hulu, Netflix, and the NBC app.