After each of The Good Place’s first two seasons ended with wild cliffhangers, Mike Schur went into radio silence for a few months to let fans talk amongst themselves about what had happened and what might come next. Season Three concluded in a less shocking place — with Eleanor and friends setting up a new experiment to prove that the afterlife is fundamentally flawed, and with Chidi’s memory being blanked to preserve this new experiment — but Schur still opted for extended quiet. Until now.
In an email interview, he discussed the ins and outs of the new status quo, the challenges of spending much of the season on Earth (and also the advantages, including lots of new guest stars), the improbability of Chidi’s jacked physique and more.
What turned out to be trickiest in setting so much of the season on Earth?
Well, obviously, we had to come up with a logical way for the four humans to come together, which took a bit of plot engineering. And we were briefly operating without one of our main weapons: the ability to do crazy afterlife stuff. We decided that if we were going to be on Earth for even a few episodes, we had to run a parallel story in the afterlife — Michael/Janet intervening, the Judge finding out, Shawn getting involved, etc. — so it still felt like the same show. We also decided to have them find out the whole story by the end of episode four, so they could catch up to the audience before too long.
Did you go into the season knowing that it would end with a new neighborhood and a slightly different experiment? If not, when and how did the idea arise?
Yes, we knew that was the ending before we started shooting — that’s why we had Simone drop a line about “repeating the experiment” in the “Snowplow” episode. We did a lot of research into neuroscience experiments — one of our consultants this year was a neuroscientist/philosopher named Joshua Green, who helped us figure out exactly what Chidi and Simone would be trying to prove, and how they’d go about it.
I’ve seen it suggested that the longer the show is around, the more it’s become an argument against the possibility of living an ethical life in a capitalist society. Does that feel accurate to you? And what kind of notes do you get from executives whenever Chidi or someone else riffs about capitalism?
We did not start with that observation — that late-stage capitalism makes life difficult — and work backward. We had a million discussions of why it would be hard to earn points, given the system we have laid out in the pilot, and this is where we ended up. (Also, importantly, we said from the beginning that the system itself is very elitist — regardless of era, the idea is that it was extremely hard to get in.) The idea that your actions have consequences — that they ripple out, and that you’re responsible for all of their effects — means that life in 2019 (or even 1919, or 1819) makes it very hard to avoid being dinged for things you didn’t even know you were doing. It’s a tangible way for us to express the frustration of trying to be ethical in the modern world. I am very Chidi-like in my own actions — how I spend money, the products I use, the food I buy — because I find it very hard to ignore the moral implications. I am aware that I fail, every day, to be a moral person. That has a lot to do with late-stage capitalism and its interconnected ethical traps. But it also has a lot to do with the fundamental impossibility of just being a human being on earth who tries to minimize his/her negative impact.
As for notes: We never get content notes from the studio or network. They have been 100 percent supportive of the show and its content.
You’ve worked on other shows where couples took their time getting together, and/or broke up and reunited a few times. With Chidi and Eleanor, you have the added complication of one or both of them getting their minds wiped over and over, to the point where they can fall in love again just by seeing evidence that they had previously fallen in love. How does that complicate telling this on-again, off-again romance story?
It takes more thought, honestly — and not just because when we come up with a story, we often have to pause and recall exactly what each of them remembers about the relationship. Starting this season — in the episode where Eleanor got some of her memories back — their memories were asymmetrical for the first time. We’re also trying to say something specific about the nature of “soul mates,” which will be crystalized in the fourth season.
How helpful was it to be able to incorporate so many new characters this year, whether they were one-offs like Donkey Doug or more frequent guests like Simone?
We liked it for several reasons: It let us showcase some wonderful actors, like Leslie Grossman, Andy Daly, Rebecca Hazelwood, and Mitch Narito. It let us shade in the earthbound lives of the main characters. And most importantly, I think, it hit the central premise of the show: that being a good person depends on your relationships with other people. We can’t only see how the main four humans are doing — we have to see how other people are doing, too.
Speaking of Simone, how did you decide that the four new neighborhood residents would all have past ties to our heroes? Was there ever a version of the finale where we got to meet all four, or did you always want to save two to give you more time to write, cast, etc.?
Repeating the experiment wouldn’t mean anything unless the four new people were, in the words of the Judge, “roughly the same level of badness” as the original four — if they were either all Doug Forcetts, or all Idi Amins, the experiment would have too many variables and wouldn’t tell them anything. So the next logical question was, if you were Shawn, how would you go about trying to skew the results in your favor? People with personal ties to the original four was a cool demon loophole for him to exploit. (Which isn’t to say the next two have to be perfectly lined up with Eleanor and Jason, per se. John is a good person to torture Tahani not because he actually knew her, but because his job and personality profile make him her personal kryptonite.)
As far as the timing of meeting them, we decided early on to hold two of them back so we’d have enough room to deal with the aftermath of Simone showing up. There just wasn’t time to cram in four new people and also show what happened to Chidi and Eleanor, all in 21:30.
“JeremyBearimy” is the show’s explanation for how time works in the afterlife. How did you settle on that as the name you’d use?
Sometimes in writers’ rooms, you have a large-scale problem — a big-picture issue with the way you are presenting the world of the show — and you can either just ignore it, and hope no one questions it, or you can try to explain it in a way that is both satisfactory and (in a comedy) funny. If you choose the latter, solving that problem can eat up hours and days and weeks of the room’s time, as you debate the relative merits of how to construct your answer in a way that answers all of the questions it needs to answer without chewing up like 40 percent of an episode with exposition. And sometimes, if Josh Siegel is on your writing staff, he just says “What if Michael tells them that the timeline in the afterlife looks like: JeremyBearimy?” And everyone laughs and we all get to go home and see our families.
If you want the actual granular trivia, he first pitched “JeremyJeremy,” and we changed it to Bearimy because we felt like the loops in the capital B would better explain that time circles around and doubles back.
Did William Jackson Harper’s swole torso prompt any internal debate about how such a perpetually indecisive man like Chidi could get it together enough to follow a workout routine that would leave him looking like… that?
Yeah. Our internal logic is that his constant anxiety burns a lot of calories, and also that at some point someone was like, “You know, exercise is a good way to alleviate stress,” and he started doing push-ups and never stopped.
Have you given much thought to who was the last person admitted to the Good Place back in 1497? Or does JeremyBearimy mean the last admission could have died in another year?
We have thoughts, yes, though honestly I’m not sure if we’ll ever express them on the show. It’s more important that it’s been that long than it is to pinpoint the exact person who slipped through the door right before it closed.
Even if the world has become much more ethically complex, couldn’t someone who lives in an isolated, indigenous community avoid most of those conflicts and still rack up enough points to get in?
The inherent catch-22 of the system is: You can’t get enough points unless you affect a large number of people’s lives, but with the world becoming ever more complex and the effects of your actions becoming more and more unpredictable, it’s harder and harder to do so without screwing yourself. Doug Forcett is living in a Westernized, modern society, but has sequestered himself in a rural environment so as not to have to participate in the structures that suppress his positive point accrual, has spent his whole life doing nothing but good deeds… and he wasn’t really close to getting in.
When Tahani mentioned Larry Hemsworth back in Season Two, did you ever expect to actually show the poor guy?
We honestly didn’t — it was just a joke, but then when we needed a relationship for Tahani, and we happened to be in Australia, it was just sitting there waiting for us.
Will the end of the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville affect the show at all? Or not, because Jason died again before Nick Foles came to town?
You really think, after 300 Blake Bortles references, we’d let the Bortles Era end without addressing it?
What did Michael McKean bring to the role of Doug Forcett? Were you anxious about casting a character who held such an important spot in Good Place mythology?
He’s a wonderful actor, first and foremost, and his comedy acumen is second to none. But also, I think, Chuck McGill [from Better Call Saul] kind of popped into our heads as we were conceiving of his life — isolated, a little fearful of the outside world… Doug is kind of a comedy version of Chuck.
Similarly, what do you feel Stephen Merchant and Nicole Byer brought to their roles as Good Place employees?
I just love Stephen as a performer — everything he does made me laugh. And I knew Nicole because my daughter watches Nailed It!, and Nicole has the most incredibly happy energy. It just made sense that she’d be the first person we meet from the actual Good Place.
Wouldn’t John recognize the other three humans as the non-celebrities who died under bizarre circumstances with Tahani? And if Chidi’s memory has been wiped back to his original death, won’t that interfere with what John knows of how he died?
So, we didn’t say this explicitly — because if we actually laid out all of the things we wanted to, explicitly, the show would be nothing but exposition — but the idea is, when the Judge gives them the OK to erase Simone’s memory back to before she met any of the other four, and then Chidi decides to erase his memory back to the moment of the air conditioner falling on his head in his original timeline, all of the other people who might have any knowledge of his alternate timeline life/death would have those little memories erased as well. So, for example, John remembers that Tahani died in Canada (or, probably more likely, that she “disappeared” in Canada, since there would be no actual official account of what happened to her, or anything), and we’re positing that if he happened to have any memory of someone named Chidi Anagonye or Eleanor Shellstrop or Jason Mendoza also disappearing in that same moment, it would’ve been wiped.
Did the various Finding Nemo references during the Australia episodes scratch the same itch for you and the other writers that the restaurant names in the neighborhood did before (and now will again)?
It’s definitely a cousin of the dumb restaurant names. The Australia jokes in general provided us no end of enjoyment. I put in the street names Thatsnota Street/Thisisa Street very late in post, when we chose that exterior stock shot of a cafe in Australia, and was so stupidly gleeful I took screen shots and sent them to the entire writing staff as if I were sending them pictures of my newborn baby or something.
Did you already know prior to making “Janet(s)” that D’Arcy could play her co-stars so well? Does anyone else in the cast do a particularly good Jason or Chidi or Tahani impression?
We didn’t know at all, no, but it’s never a big risk to bet that D’Arcy can pull off a performance of any kind. I’m not sure if there are any particularly good mimics in the cast. The writers all do terrible Tahani impressions. Dan Schofield does a great Shawn. Matt Murray does a phenomenal Derek.
How did Eleanor and Neil deGrasse Tyson end up with a rivalry that was one-sided from his side?
In my head, she commented on an Instagram post or something and it was so devastating he couldn’t sleep for like four days, and then he commented on her posts but she didn’t even notice, and then he eventually blocked her, and she never even knew ay of it had happened, because she doesn’t care.
Finally, I’m afraid that the Internet needs to know: Does Michael have genitals?
You will learn a lot more about Michael’s corporeal form in the fourth episode of this season.