“The Good Place” is the kind of show that invites speculation. Every episode seems to reveal new details about the mechanics of the show’s afterlife, and even throwaway jokes contain deep references to episodes prior.
And ever since an earth-shaking Season 1 twist made the show’s big ambition clear, fans on Reddit have taken it upon themselves to pick apart its details and scour each episode for clues about where it may be headed. It’s the kind of show that invites deep analysis and fan engagement.
But series creator and showrunner Mike Schur doesn’t see any of it.
“I don’t really [pay attention to fan theories]. And not because I don’t find it interesting, quite the contrary,” Schur said in an interview with TheWrap ahead of the NBC comedy’s third season premiere.
“I’m worried that I’ll find it too interesting and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a better idea than what we have,’ and I’ll be tempted to use it,” he said. “When the show is over, I will enjoy going back and reading all of the fan theories and everything that was written.”
Another part of the reason Schur avoids Googling his own show is that, even though fans are going deep trying to guess what the endgame is, Schur himself doesn’t even know. At least, not for sure.
“My theory is, about all of this stuff, is what you want to do is have ideas for where you want to go in a given season, or the length of the show, but you don’t want to chisel them in stone,” he said. “Because if somebody comes up with a better idea, you don’t want to be so set in your ways or in your ideas that you’re unable to then absorb that and go off in a different direction.”
Season 3 for instance, takes the central four characters (played by Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto) and puts them back into their old lives on Earth as part of a grand afterlife test to see if they qualify for admittance into the show’s titular version of heaven. It’s a bold reset, one that deepens the show’s understanding of its main characters by seeming to undermine everything they’ve done in the last two seasons — and one that likely few fans saw coming.
“The whole point of this show is that we’re never going to settle in or be in one place for more than half a season. And yeah, that’s very scary, but that’s the point,” said Schur.
When “The Good Place” first premiered two seasons ago, with the premise that a woman ended up in heaven who wasn’t supposed to be there, it was unclear what that show would look like in the long run. Now, if fans have learned anything in the last two seasons of careful analysis and wild speculation, it’s that the show really could look like anything.
“It’s got a crazy premise that only works if you’re constantly reinventing it,” he continued. “And that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it sure is a lot of fun.”
Read TheWrap’s full interview with Schur below.
TheWrap: Season 3 kind of resets the show all over again, putting the characters back in their old lives on Earth. Was that something you were looking to do from the beginning, this idea that the show basically reboots itself every year?
Schur: Yeah, certainly. And it’s kind of baked into the premise. When I came up with this idea, which now seems like a million years ago, I thought, Okay, well there’s a juicy idea. This idea that there’s a person in heaven who doesn’t belong there. But how long can you really sustain that? Huge high concept ideas burn off really quickly in TV shows. You can get away with them in movies, but in TV shows, week after week, if it’s the same high concept, you’re going to get bored. And I knew I had this big twist at the end of Season 1, but I was like, I don’t think that’s good enough. I think it’s kind of got to constantly be changing. There needs to be lots of momentum so the audience doesn’t get bored with this premise. So yeah that was really, from the very beginning, something I was consciously trying to do all the time.
How far in advance do you plot out the show? Did you know while you were doing Season 2 that this is where Season 3 would look like?
We knew certain things. We’ve been way ahead, which is a luxury. We’ve been talking about stuff sometimes a year in advance. Now, we don’t know everything that’s going to happen. When we started Season 3, we had some big ideas, and we knew some big stuff that was going to happen in the middle, but by the time we started shooting, we could tell you definitively where the whole season was going to go. For a show like this, I think it’s kind of necessary. If you’re trying to make things up on the fly, you’re going to blow it. You’re going to do something that doesn’t make sense, or you’re going to make a bad decision. I think it’s kind of vital for this show that we know where we’re going very well in advance.
Do you have an idea for what the show-long arc is? I guess if the plan is to constantly reset the show, you could theoretically go on indefinitely, but do you have an endgame in mind?
Yeah, to some extent. My theory is, about all of this stuff, is what you want to do is have ideas for where you want to go in a given season or the length of the show, but you don’t want to chisel them in stone. Because if somebody comes up with a better idea, you don’t want to be so set in your ways or in your ideas that you’re unable to then absorb that and go off in a different direction. It’s sort of like, you want to have a clear path, but you also want to be open enough to doing something different. So it’s a combination of meticulous planning and remaining open to throwing everything in the garbage and starting over.
Now that Season 3 is on Earth, there’s less opportunity for some of the more fantastical elements of the afterlife that we’ve seen over the past two seasons. Does that change how you approach the show at all?
I think that the idea of just doing a show on Earth after what we’ve been through on the past two seasons would be kind of boring. So what that means is that we have to work really hard to figure out ways that every episode can incorporate some of that stuff. Because it’s part of the show, and part of what makes the show fun. So in the premiere and pretty much every episode going forward, you won’t watch an episode without seeing something. Whatever you want to call it, something otherworldly or afterlife-y. You’ll get something because that’s part of the deal that we’ve made with our audience after two seasons. That’s baked into the show and you’re going to get that when you tune in.
The show doesn’t get too wonky with the different timelines and the mechanics of all the resets, but in your mind, how does all of that work. Do the events of the last two seasons inform the way the characters behave now, even though that was technically a different version of themselves?
I’m laughing because all I can say is, just watch episode five. It’s been a big topic of conversation in our writers’ room. And one day we were like, Okay we’re going to answer all of these questions. So all of those answers come in episode five in a way that really delights me.
I think a big element that the fans will want to know about is state of the romance between Eleanor and Chidi. Is that something that still exists with this version of the characters?
Yeah, I think of that as something that’s just as much part of the show as the afterlife/magic stuff. It’s a core tenet of the show. The two of them have a special relationship, I guess. I don’t know how to describe it, even. It’s kind of like, incredibly complementary friends who provide something for the other one that he or she doesn’t have. And then there’s also an incredibly strong romance. There’s a strong sense that these two are almost fated to be together. There’s also the fact that part of the reason that Michael’s torture arrangement failed is that they always found each other. So we’re not going to abandon that, I can almost guarantee it.
What is it that draws all four of these characters together? When Eleanor watches Chidi’s speech back on Earth, what does she see that inspires her to fly halfway around the world to see meet him in Australia?
Well, I guess I would say that the premise of Michael’s torture experiment — he didn’t choose these four people at random. They were specifically chosen because in his mind they each had qualities that were going to make each other miserable. And it’s not just Eleanor and Chidi. It’s Jason and Eleanor, Tahani and Chidi, it’s Eleanor and Tahani. He actually laid this out when he was pitching the idea to his bosses in the Season 1 finale flashback. He picked these people because they had these incredibly strong vectors connecting them to each other. And so part of what we’re suggesting is that those very same forces that were powerfully intended to torture each other, are the very same things that are making them bond and connect to each other.
With Eleanor and Jason, for example, the idea for Michael was that he was going to drive Eleanor nuts because he was sort of a ding-dong. He was going to reveal himself to her, and she was going to freak out and worry that he was going to get them both caught. That was certainly true while they were being tortured, but on the flip side, he revealed himself because he saw a kindred spirit in her, and she in him, at some level. They have things that bond them and unite them. When Jason makes a dumb joke, Eleanor goes for a no-look high-five, because they get each other. So one of the things that we’re trying to get at is that Michael accidentally found four people who, in the right circumstances, if they were trying to be good instead of trying to be bad, they would become really good friends. And they would learn to care about each other. So he kind of screwed himself.
One of the things that people really enjoy about the show is the attention to detail and continuity, but does that make it harder to write the show as it goes on?
Yeah, because there’s more detail we have to pay attention to [laughs]. But that’s fun, I like that stuff. I’m sort of a continuity nerd. As a consumer, I get kind of perturbed when rules are established and not followed through on. I’ve seen the challenges of it, and I’m sure we’ve messed up at one point or another, but I really like that stuff. It’s what makes the world seem lived-in. There’s a bunch of that in Season 3. There’s a bunch of Easter eggs and little tiny connecting jokes to things that you’ve seen previously. So the longer the show goes on, the more we get to have fun showing that we’re being consistent in our continuity.
Those elements kind of make the show bait for those fans on Reddit who are scouring the show for errors or clues about what’s coming next. I think one of my favorites is the theory that Janet is God.
[Laughs] I haven’t heard that one, that’s funny.
Do you pay attention to that stuff at all?
I don’t really. And not because I don’t find it interesting, quite the contrary. I’m worried that I’ll find it too interesting and be like, Oh, that’s a better idea than what we have, and I’ll be tempted to use it. All you can hope for when you make a TV show is that there are people in the world who care about it. All of the Twitter stuff and the Reddit stuff and blog posts and whatever, it’s great because it means that people care. When the show is over, I will enjoy going back and reading all of the fan theories and everything that was written. And I will not enjoy reading all of the fan theories that turned out to be better than what we’ve written. I’ll curse the name of those Redditors.
Season 2 didn’t have the same kind of gotcha twist as the first season, but do you worry that if fans do predict what’s going to happen that’ll change their viewing experience?
I don’t really, because there’s nothing you can do about it. Your job [as a showrunner] is to make the best show you can. Try to make the twists and the left-turns and unexpected as you can, but whether or not anyone guesses them is sort of out of your hands. There are certain shows in the past decade or so — I’m not going to name names — that have really kind of invited the fan theory and toyed with the audience in certain ways. It’s almost like they’re daring the audience to guess where they’re going and why they’re doing certain things. And that’s a very dangerous game because someone somewhere is going to guess the answer. And to me, it makes the actual show less pure. I think if you try to add in to your show any element of “I’m going to do this with the audience” or thwart this expectation deliberately — you just have to make your show.
When you make a show with this much forward momentum, is it scary to abandon the things that you already know have worked in the past?
No, it’s exciting. It’s what makes the show fun to me. You can get really comfortable in TV, and say “Well, this works, so let’s do it a million times.” And that works for some shows, that worked on “Cheers.” Some shows have an infinitely refillable central premise — it’s a family in a living room, or it’s people in a bar — but this show has never had that. The whole point of this show is that we’re never going to settle in or be in one place for more than half a season. And yeah, that’s very scary, but that’s the point. It’s got a crazy premise that only works if you’re constantly reinventing it. And that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it sure is a lot of fun.
“The Good Place” Season 3 premieres Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8/7c on NBC.