“The Good Place” enjoys connecting the dots. Whether the writers are crafting a joyfully twisty story or breaking down philosophical interpretations of morality, the critically hailed NBC sitcom uses its comedic engine to drive two pistons firing in unison: One fuels a compelling narrative while the other pushes viewers to think about tricky, big picture topics like the meaning of life, the meaning of death, and how morality relates to both.
In other words, there’s a lot going on in Michael Schur’s comedy, but the journey is so fun, it’s addictive.
With that in mind, let’s take a little trip, starting at “Homeland” star Claire Danes and ending on Michael Schur’s favorite joke of the season. The story circles around one brilliant episode of Season 2 — Episode 10, “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent,” which is available to stream on Hulu and NBC’s website — but illustrates the intricate detail within all of “The Good Place,” making it one of television’s best, most inventive comedies. Like the show, how these two ideas connect may not be clear at the onset, but the joy lies in the journey as much as the destination.
American Film and Television Actress Claire Danes
Speaking at an unofficial FYC panel for Season 2, alongside executive producer and director Drew Goddard and cast members Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto, Schur said the writers faced a distinct challenge while crafting a “crucial” part of the gang’s trip to The Bad Place.
“That’s one of the coolest things about this job,” Schur said. “We were looking for something Eleanor could teach Chidi when they’re in hell, [but] Chidi has such a particular, unrelenting moral view. He’s a very strict Kantian, so how the hell could Eleanor talk him into this thing we need him to do?”
The answer: Google.
“You poke around the internet and you find out that Jonathan Dancy, who is Hugh Dancy’s dad, is a famous philosopher in the U.K.,” Schur said. “And he popularized this thing called ‘moral particularism’ which is this world view that says there are no absolutes, no moral rules, no laws — you have to sort of evaluate the morality of each particular situation you’re in at a given time.”
It seemed like the perfect fix, except for one problem: “I was reading about moral particularism [and it’s] very hard — the headline is great and easy to understand, but I bought [Jonathan Dancy’s] book and I read four pages and didn’t understand a word.”
So how does Schur find someone to explain moral particularism to him in laymen’s terms? Go to the source — well, kind of.
“Hugh Dancy, as you may know, is married to Claire Danes — an American film and television actress — and my wife, who’s also a writer, was developing a TV show with Claire Danes,” Schur said. “Claire Danes had a birthday party and Hugh Dancy was there, and I said, ‘Hey, can I ask you some questions about your dad?’ And he explained some moral particularism to me pretty well, and then we wrote it into the show.”
Kristen Bell Becomes Eleanor
The story, however, does not end there. Though the series was set in terms of finding a way for Eleanor to usurp Chidi’s steadfast beliefs about morality while they fought their way through The Bad Place, it turns out the solution Schur found for the show convinced more than just his characters to buy in.
“There’s a line about moral particularism that includes this crazy, squiggly, up-and-down [line] where Eleanor goes, ‘But if you’re a moral particularist — like me, like I am, I’m one now, I just decided — what you would say is blah, blah, blah,’ Schur said. “We just sort of wrote that because we thought it was funny, but then Kristen sort of became a moral particularist. It was like ‘The Secret.’ We put it out there, and it happened.”
Bell was pretty quiet on the matter, but she did confirm Schur’s assertion. After digging into the ideology for her role, she, too, started to abide by Mr. Dancy’s assertions.
“Good job, Claire Danes!” Carden said.
Michael Schur’s Favorite Joke of Season 2
But the trip to The Bad Place wasn’t just one of the coolest parts of Schur’s job; that same episode also produced his favorite joke of the season, which connects all the way back to the show’s origins. Back when Schur and crew were still trying to figure out where they could shoot this series, they stumbled across a hidden gem from a despised source.
“In the pilot, when we were scouting, we were really kind of screwed the way the script was written. For a while, we were just going to shoot it all in Pasadena and say, ‘Oh, the fake neighborhood Michael designed is just like a strip of coffee shops and stuff,'” Schur said. “We didn’t know what to do, but then we found this backlot called European Street, and the only thing that had been shot there in years is this one short scene from, like, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 31,’ or whatever it was.”
Schur couldn’t remember which film of Johnny Depp’s “Pirates” franchise took advantage of the set (other than to remember, “Someone fell off a balcony or something?”), but they spruced things up and turned it into the vibrant, beautiful setting that viewers can see in “The Good Place” — or when visiting Universal Studios.
From that, sprang this: Schur’s favorite joke of Season 2. When Bell asked about an “easter egg” referencing their set’s origins, the creator explained.
“Oh, that’s my favorite joke of the year,” Schur said. “When they go to The Bad Place and the train pulls into the station, they get out and Michael’s saying like, ‘Keep walking, keep walking.’ But on the wall there’s a movie poster, and it says, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 6: The Haunted Crow’s Nest or Whatever, Who Gives a Crap?’ Then at the bottom it says, ‘Playing in every theatre, everywhere, forever.'”
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but the poster can be seen in the corner of the frame for a few seconds. Crediting writer Matt Murray for the joke, Schur elaborated on why this particular moment makes him so happy.
“I like it for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason I like it is that the implication is that that’s where those movies are made, and then they’re exported up here. That’s where they come from; they’re made in hell.”
It should come as no surprise that a detail-minded person like Schur finds joy in the little things — or, more specifically, in a very large thing that’s barely seen. It’s part of what makes his show rich, absorbing, and special. “The Good Place” makes connecting the dots rewarding because each individual dot is valued. So go back, and find your own “Pirates” moment; there’s more than one for everyone.
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