Mike Schur’s latest NBC comedy, “The Good Place,” is about to break its own format. After the first season finale revealed the so-called “good place” was really just an elaborate setup within “the bad place,” orchestrated as a new way of torture by architect Michael (Ted Danson), the second season plans to explore what happens after Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and her new friends have their memories wiped and dropped right back in the experiment again.
Variety spoke with Schur ahead of the season 2 premiere about how to keep a show interesting when the audience’s knowledge is ahead of the characters.
The first few episodes of season 2 seem to be more from Michael’s perspective than Eleanor’s. Is that a trend that will continue throughout the new season?
Yes, that was the big idea, really, of how we could make it an interesting show in a situation where everyone’s memories are erased, ’cause it’s a cool thing to erase everyone’s memories. But you then are in a situation where the audience is ahead of the characters, which is kind of boring for the audience. The way around that is we switch perspectives. The first season is Eleanor’s, the second season is – largely speaking – Michael’s. The beginning of the premiere is five minutes of him talking to his crew. That’s how it starts, with him saying, “Here’s what we’re doing, here’s where we went wrong, here’s what we’re gonna do to fix it,” and the idea is to say OK, you’re going to see a lot of things you’ve seen before, albeit slightly varied, from a different camera angle and a different point of view, and hopefully that’s what makes it exciting for the first couple episodes.
Kind of like being behind the scenes of the good place.
The farce “Noises Off” is a good analogy. The first act of it is a rehearsal for the play, the second act is an actual performance of the play, and the third act is the behind the scenes. So now, you’re seeing a bunch of stuff but you’re seeing it through the eyes of the people staging it rather than the people in the middle of it.
Are we going to get to see any other locations within the bad place?
I don’t want to give too much away because there are some crazy things that happen over the course of the year. But the idea has been that the typical bad place is just a pretty awful, mundane series of torture pits where individual people are thrown in and tortured in various ways. And Michael’s goal was to build a better mousetrap, so we were mostly following his weird little bespoke experiment, not the boring bureaucratic world that the bad place is usually like. Although I think part of the fun of the show is that unexpected things happen. Last year, at the end of the year, they realized there was this medium place that had once been built for Mindy St. Claire [Maribeth Monroe]. They hopped on a train and were able to get to that medium place. I enjoy the idea of peeking around the edges of the curtain to see what the rest of the afterlife looks like. I think it’s safe to say that will continue in the second season.
Michael identifies part of the reason they figured out his plan as their pairings with soulmates. Does that mean they’ll be more isolated in the new season?
The idea is Michael believes that the flaw in his first design is that he moved too quickly. There are all these ways in which their actions affect each other in this very negative way. And his belief is that he moved too quickly by lumping them all together. Because the four of them bonded and were spending so much time together, it was too intense and it led to this situation where he didn’t get maximum torture out of it because they formed this friend clique. In the second version, he’s split them all up, they all have new soulmates, he says explicitly at the beginning of the premiere, “We’re gonna start with them separated and do some nice individual torture and then ultimately the goal will be to get them together so they’ll start torturing each other.” But the new plan is let them be tortured individually first and then eventually, slowly they’ll sort of find each other and start torturing each other, but things don’t work out exactly the way he planned.
Eleanor went from being very self-centered to a team player in season 1. Does that progress also get erased with her memory?
The erasing of everything that happened includes any progress she might have made in terms of becoming a better person or any kind of self-knowledge she might have gained from investigating the reasons behind her bad behavior. She is right back – as are they all – to the exact person she was at the moment she died. Any learning that she did in the first version, she will have to do all over again. That was one of the things we wanted to make super clear, for the four humans, there is no residual sense of “I’ve been here before” or “I remember this” or “I don’t know why but I want to learn ethics.” There’s no residual effect from what they went through in the first version.
What about Jason [Manny Jacinto] and Janet’s [D’Arcy Carden] romance?
When Jason’s wiped clean, that’s it, he doesn’t remember having any emotional feelings for Janet. The question remains what is it like for Janet, obviously, because she’s not exactly a human being. Janet ostensibly has been rebooted again, and she shouldn’t have any memory of him either. But that is something that we’ll get into later in the season.
Will Adam Scott be making a return as Trevor?
Sadly, Adam betrayed me and went off and created his own TV show called “Ghosted” so we couldn’t get him back this year. If it were up to me, he would be in everything I’ve ever written or ever will write because I love him so much.
“The Good Place” season 2 premieres on NBC Sept. 20 at 10 p.m.