Recently, The Good Place creator Mike Schur told Fast Company all about how he designed the first season of his hit show to work on two levels. On the first level, it’s a show about a woman (Kristen Bell) who enters the afterlife’s Good Place by accident and has to keep it a secret. On the second level (spoiler alert), the first season’s finale reveals that this show is about a demon (Ted Danson) torturing people by convincing them the Bad Place is actually the Good Place. This new information rewards adventurous viewers with many scenes that play differently upon repeat. For instance, the house Bell’s character is assigned to in the “Good Place” is decorated with clowns, which she hates, but doesn’t complain about for fear of arousing suspicion. Of course her house is decorated with something she hates!
During his Fast Company interview, Mike Schur spelled out how writing details like these organically led his writing team to make a meta-commentary on the tropes in sitcom writing.
“When you’re writing a TV show, you end up doing things that are absurdly convenient,” Schur says. “Like, just at the moment Person X is thinking a certain thing, Event Y happens to make that person reflect on the situation of their life. So we had a situation last year where in episode 5, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Eleanor (Bell) get into a huge fight because Eleanor is kind of selfish and she’s soaking up all of Chidi’s time and he needs a break from her, and just when they’re about to break apart for good, there’s an emergency lockdown and everybody has to stay in their own house. And that’s the kind of thing that TV writers just do because you need to do things like that to get funny stories. But the fun of this show is that, no, this time that’s not just happening: It’s Michael [Danson’s demon character]. He’s like a writer on the show you’re watching. There’s a writer on set, an omniscient writer who’s observing Eleanor and Chidi and who’s like, ‘This will be hilarious if just at the moment they’re most miserable and hating each other, I trap them.’ So we were just doing the same things as TV writers that we normally do, but they had a point. Instead of just being a little unlikely, they ended up being crucial to the story.”
The Good Place airs Thursday nights at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.