Director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) and creator Michael Schur (Parks and Rec) bring us a mashup of their worlds with The Good Place. The show centers on Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a woman who accidentally ends up in the Good Place when she gets mistaken for a woman with the same name as her. Run by the architect (Ted Danson), The Good Place begins to see the ripple effects of Eleanor’s presence while she tries to hide from being discovered. If she gets caught she’ll se sent to the bad place for all of the bad choices she made while she was alive.
Q: Kristen and Ted, what was it about The Good Place that got you to sign on?
TED DANSON: I never saw a script there was no script. It was just Mike Schur. He talked for like an hour and a half about this show. He’s so bright and so smart and so intelligent. I signed on in the room without seeing the script. It had to with him and Kristen.
KRISTEN BELL: You were in his mind when he was cultivating his idea. When he met with me, it was the most flattering day in my life. We knew each other peripherally but I never thought he would call me on my cellular telephone. And he said, ‘I have this idea. It’s weird and i can’t get it out of my head. I really think I need to talk to you about it cause I really think it’s for you. Just call me back.’ I mean I was overjoyed. That was almost a year ago. Got the most bizarre pitch I had gotten in my life. And he said, ‘While I tell you this imagine the architect of the neighborhood to be Ted Danson.’ That solidified how excited I was.
Q: How quickly did you guys find your dynamic together as the characters. Did it come really quickly or did you have to kind of talk about it and figure out how you were coming at each other?
TED DANSON: When you talk about dynamic or chemistry, my philosophy is if you’re a relatively good actor and you’re given brilliant words you have chemistry and you have the dynamic. All you have to do is go play in that framework that Mike has set up for you and you immediately hit it off.
KRISTEN BELL: I would agree. This show is difficult to talk about because there are a lot of spoilers that could happen. There’s actually a lot. The unveiling of each episode as Mike shows it, he’s made the incredible commitment to making the end of each episode feel like the end of a season. When he told me that as talented as I think he is, I looked at him and I smiled and I thought, ‘Yeah right.’ And he’s done it.
TED DANSON: The last line in the pilot is, ‘Wait, what?’ That’s pretty much what happens at the end of every episode. Then you’re off!
Q: The premise for the show has potential for some sweet moments and not just comedy. Can we expect more than just a half hour of laughs every week?
KRISTEN BELL: That is actually what I love so much about this. It genuinely combines my two favorite things. Comedy and knowing what it means to be a good person and actually examining ethical dilemmas and what your ripple effect on the world is. (Mike) comes at it from this place of crazy nerd research. He isolates each episode with an ethical conundrum.
TED DANSON: It’s sad, tragic, emotional connection that at the same time they’re funny. All the characters but (Eleanor) especially.
Q: Watching this you can’t but think of your own karmic footprint. Did you guys start to reflect on the parts of your life that bring those questions up?
TED DANSON: I wake up every morning out of guilt. I go to the bathroom out of guilt. I do everything out of guilt. I’m already a guilt ridden person.
KRISTEN BELL: I had already been living that way. In which my mind spins with every decision I make. I bathe my girls but I don’t want to bathe them every night because there’s a water crisis in LA. What’s the balance of being respectful to the water crisis in Los Angeles and keeping my kids clean? Those things cross my mind. When I get a sandwich at a sandwich shop, I wonder was this meat humanely harvested? Even if it’s healthy is there bad juju involved. Is it local? Is it sustainable? In the age of information when you can see your connection to the rest of the world. It’s alarming how many things you’re socially required to ask yourself. I had already been thinking about these things. I don’t buy things that I think have a terrible impact on the world. That’s not to say I don’t mess up because I certainly do but I’m striving.
TED DANSON: You’re definitely Good Place material. I, on the other hand– and this I think is in the show. You know when you leave a generous tip that you want don’t want the barista to have turned around and missed, so you put the tip in while they’re watching so that they know that you’re being generous? It’s a bit of a karmic wash. I’m that guy. I’ll be lucky to get to neutral.
KRISTEN BELL: You’re a national treasure. I think Karma is more infinite because people don’t believe good people are the majority anymore. My data just tells me that’s wrong.
TED DANSON: Did you know that there’s less violence, less crime, less poverty, less disease and less wars than ever before in the world? We do not read that.
Q: Have you learned anything else about yourselves because the show really does touch on the moral compass aspect of life, that you maybe didn’t know about yourself before?
KRISTEN BELL: I’ve learned a lot more about the great thinkers. (Mike) references Plato, Socrates and Immanuel Kant and all these incredible thinkers who have caused me to go home and google what Mike Schur was talking about.
TED DANSON: I do believe that this show is actually about something that is important. It is basically saying that everything you do has an impact and ripples out into the world and if we all walked around and behaved with that knowledge it would be a way better place. It’s very funny and tells that in an in an amazingly entertaining way and that’s what it’s about.
Q: What was it about each other’s bodies of work that drew you to one another to collaborate on The Good Place?
DREW GODDARD: As I enter the twilight of my career I’ve been reflecting that I’ve been lucky to do very different things. All of them are about characters who are looking out for one another in strange situations. Everything I have been on, that’s what it’s about. There’s a reason when Mike pitched me the idea that it resonated with me. I knew as soon as he started talking to me about it, it just spoke to me. It felt like, ‘Oh right, this is important.’ There’s something about this dynamic that needs to be said.
MICHAEL SCHUR: From my point of point of view, this show is a very different subject matter and setting than anything I had done before. I called Damon Lindeloff, who I was sort of friends with, maybe not good enough friends with to ask him for this favor and I said ‘Will you come out to lunch with me and I’ll pitch you this idea and I’ll tell you if it’s any good because it was more in his world than in mine. He liked it and he said, ‘You should talk to Drew Goddard about directing this.’ and it instantly made so much sense. Cabin in the Woods specifically and then similarly Buffy and Angel those shows worked in genre but had a sense of humor. Cabin especially and part of the story that I had already outlined was that basically Eleanor’s presence in this place it was designed for someone else causes everything to go crazy. There were going to be giant lady bugs running around and giant frogs eating shrimp out of the sky and as soon as Drew’s name was mentioned I was like, ‘Oh that’s the end of Cabin. I’m stealing this idea from this guy I might as well ask him if he wants to do it. He was the perfect. When I met him I said, ‘You’re plan A and there is no plan B.’
Q: What was it about Kristen Bell and Ted Danson that made them the perfect pair to play Eleanor and the Architect?
MICHAEL SCHUR: Ted was perfect because I think we would all agree that if you died and you woke up in a room and someone said to you that you have died and are now in the next phase of your existence in the universe you’d be a little freaked out. But if that person was was Ted Danson, you’d be like: ‘I’m fine! I’m on board for whatever this is.’
Eleanor on the other hand is not a great person but still likable and a person you wanted to root for and hope that she can get better. Kristen is such a warm and inviting presence and also so good at acting that we can push the boundaries of how bad Eleanor is than you could with someone else and get away with it.
Q: Which religions and philosophies will we be seeing in the Good Place?
MICHAEL SCHUR: Right at the beginning (you see) that this isn’t any specific religions view of the afterlife. I read a lot of different books on different conceptions of the afterlife. They’re fascinating. They’re all really fascinating but it’s not a religious show. It’s an ethical show. The kind of stuff that Eleanor does to try and improve herself isn’t, ‘I’m going to become familiar with this or that religion’s worldview.’ it’s more like this or that’s philosophers treatise on ethics or moral practice and I’m going to try to glean how to become a better person through that. There’s eastern and western philosophy in the show.