6:00pm PT by Rick Porter
'The Good Place' Creator on the Latest Twist and "Hero" D'Arcy Carden
[This story contains spoilers for the Dec. 6 episode of NBC's The Good Place, "Janet(s)."]
The Good Place finally got to its titular location in its final episode of 2018 — but not before spending time in two other unexplored locations in an extremely eventful, emotional episode.
"Janet(s)" placed a huge workload on castmember D'Arcy Carden, who had to impersonate four of the five other regulars on the series for an extended time — and play out significant character beats as Janet-shaped versions of both Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) while acting opposite herself.
The cast and crew, including director and executive producer Morgan Sackett, did all they could to help Carden, Good Place creator and showrunner Mike Schur tells The Hollywood Reporter. But it still came down to her ability to pull off the task.
"It was an all-hands-on-deck effort, but no one more than D'Arcy, who was a true hero," said Schur. "I think by the end of it, she had gone a little crazy, and who could blame her?"
The episode tied together Eleanor's emotional growth — highlighting her vulnerability in front of Chidi — and Michael's (Ted Danson) quest to discover whether the Bad Place is rigging the afterlife points system. The group spent significant time in the blank space of Janet's void and the accounting department of the afterlife — both new locations for the NBC show — before finally, finally depositing everyone in the actual Good Place.
Schur assures that the final scene isn't a fake-out: "Just in case anyone's wondering, they are really in the Good Place. That's not a yank. It's not like the main gate or whatever (laughs), but [Eleanor] is not wrong."
Schur discussed the technical challenges of the episode and where things are headed with THR.
When did you hit on D'Arcy carrying so much of the load in this episode?
We started talking about the episode in theory like a year earlier, toward the very end of season two. We were like, where can we physically go in season three? We knew we were going to Earth, we've been to the Bad Place, haven't been to the Good Place yet — which is why at the end of the episode they go to the real Good Place — but one of the places we talked about was Janet's void.
Then right away it was, "OK, what about an episode where she takes them all into her void and all the humans look like her, and D'Arcy plays all the characters?" That just seemed fun.
We didn't have the idea fully, because while that seems funny for a scene, if there's not a point to it, then it's just a gimmick and I didn't want to do it. Then as we developed season three, we had this moment where it was like, if they're down on Earth doing good things and trying to help people, at some point the Bad Place people would show up and try to stop them. Then OK, they disappear into Janet's void.
That then got linked up with the idea that it would be right after Eleanor tells Chidi, "Look, I saw these memories and we were soulmates for real, and I think I might be in love with you again." The fun part of it was making the connection — I wish I could remember who did, but someone in the room said that's a very un-Eleanor thing to do. Part of what's fun about that character is she's changed a great deal and become a different person, and part of that would be being vulnerable in front of the man she realizes she loves.
There's plenty of philosophical writing about conceptions of the self and who am I and who are we. So all the threads got tied together, and that's when we really started writing the episode in earnest, when it became a mediation on the self. There were lots of different component parts to it, but all in all it was just about a year of theoretical discussions about an episode where D'Arcy would get to play all of her castmates.
Did you give her extra time to prepare to do the other characters?
We did. I told her as early as March that this was going to happen and you have to prepare yourself — for doing the work, but also just prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for what's going to be the weirdest week of your life. We gave her a ton of advance warning, and we finished the script really, really early, then we did a bunch of things along the way. We did an audio recording of the table read, where we had all the castmembers read their own lines. So she had a tape of all the castmembers reading the lines as they would actually say them, which she listened to. We also then did a complete blocking rehearsal with all the actors doing the lines for real, so she could study their mannerisms and see how their mouths and hands moved and all that sort of stuff.
We were joking that most of the episode is a bottle episode — in fact it's an extreme bottle episode, because it's only one actor involved in the entire thing and it's in one white room. But it's the opposite of a bottle episode, because every single shot had to be completely, perfectly calibrated and lit, and her eyelines had to be meshed, and we had four women who are D'Arcy's height who played other versions of Janet. So at one point there were five Janets walking around in identical Janet outfits and wigs. There was a tremendous amount of work that went into it, but we gave D'Arcy as much lead time as we possibly could and as many weapons as we could think of to help her out.
I would think the final scene with Eleanor and Chidi, where Eleanor keeps changing, took an especially long time to put together.
That was a tricky one. Of the sequences, that was probably the trickiest. Technically, D'Arcy kissing herself, which then leads to her kissing Kristen, which leads to Kristen kissing Will, was probably the hardest for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is Kristen and D'Arcy are not the same height. So there was a lot of trickery and fudging of certain details. But there was this weird pair of paraffin lips on the end of a long pole that D'Arcy kissed so she could be herself kissing herself. It was fascinating.
The Good Place has aggressively gone against the notion that TV comedies tend to maintain the status quo. Do you have certain signposts at the outset of each season where you know you'll switch up?
To some extent. It's sort of a feel thing. The design of the first season was — and I've talked about this before — but I thought to myself, OK, a savvy TV viewing audience will watch this pilot and say the natural rhythm of this will be in the 13th episode of the season, the big cliffhanger will be Michael finds out that Eleanor doesn't belong. That'll be the thing that sends us into season two. So I'm going to take that moment and crunch it down into the middle of the season — it was in episode seven.
That sort of set in motion this very general thing where that established the rhythm of when gigantic things happened, which roughly speaking is every six episodes. Roughly speaking, there's no status quo on the show that lasts more than six episodes. Whatever the thing is — if it's they're back down on Earth and trying to become good people, and the premise is Michael and Janet are monitoring them, in six episodes that will have blown up and we will have moved on. Sometimes it's four, sometimes it's seven, but whatever the status quo is, whenever we announce, "Here's a chunk of stuff we're going to do on the show," that chunk of stuff is not more than six episodes. It's not like it's a rule; I think it became what happened because of the way we broke down that first season.
You were just renewed for a fourth season. Had you been talking with NBC for a while about it?
We are off-cycle. We start our season in January with the writers, and we're shooting in late March, early April because we need the time. I finished the visual effects on the "Janet(s)" episode, like, a week ago. It just takes a really, really long time. So we can't start on the normal schedule. … Because of that, they have to decide. They have to pick us up by the end of December, because if they don't we can't start in January, and that means we can't be on the air in September.
They've been really good about it. Network TV is not known for being light on its feet or being agile in the way they approach things like pickups. Obviously, they're giant, lumbering beasts, and they have a lot of things to consider in any given moment, so it's hard for them to make exceptions to their rules. They sort of do everything in big chunks at the same time. But early on, we were, like, "This is the deal: If you like our show and want more of it in the fall, you need to tell us in December instead of May." They've been really good about that all three years. So we were in discussions right when it [premiered] in September. We were talking about what we needed for next year.
Have you given much thought to how much more story you have left?
(Laughs) Yeah. Obviously because of that DNA, where status quos get blown up so frequently, this is not a show that is destined to be on for nine years. It's not a 200-episode, Friends kind of a deal. It's not a hangout show. So, yeah, we've given it a lot of thought, and we have a certain plan, which I think you'll get the sense of in the fairly near future.
What else can you say about the last episodes of the season?
They're in the Good Place, and they meet people who work in the Good Place. They have a little mini-adventure in the Good Place. But in case anyone wonders whether we're lying to them, we're not. That's real.
The door they came through said "postal services," correct?
Right. It's the depot where they send the files up from the accounting office. This actually got from the episode, but anytime someone wants to send any communication between any two places in the Good Place, it goes through there. It's the main postal center.
Stephen Merchant as the accountant …
He's perfect, isn't he?
He is. You obviously go back to The Office with him, but you've had some really strong guest stars this season — Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Michael McKean, Andy Daly. Did you write their parts with them in mind, or was that Allison Jones and Ben Harris working their casting magic?
Except for Kirby, yes. We wrote that character, and Allison Jones found her. I had just started watching her on Killing Eve, so I was. like, "Oh, my God! You're the Killing Eve person!" But in the other cases, I'd say Andy and Michael and Stephen were all the person we were targeting once we designed the characters. We went three-for-three with that, which was fantastic.
With Stephen, I called him and was, like, "We have this part, and I think you'd perfect for it." He was flattered, and I said, "Have you seen the show?" He said no … and I said, "That's fine, except for the fact that to tell you about this character I want you to play, it's going to take about an hour to explain." (Laughs.)
One of the many reasons I love our special effects master, David Niednagel, is we wrote into the script that he had a mug that said "Existence's Best Boss" as a little reference to Michael Scott and the Office connection. The way the mug was printed, when Stephen held it, the words faced away from the camera and you couldn't read it. David went in and digitally moved the words, which apparently was incredibly hard to do, to track them and wrap them around the curve of the mug. But he did it because he's great and is an Office fan and thought we had to do it.
You expect people to comb through the show for things like that and background jokes and call-outs to Parks and Recreation, right?
We have since the beginning. It's part of the DNA from when we did that screen in the pilot with the examples of point totals. … If I were watching the show, I would pause it and check to see if they did their due diligence. So we've felt that way from the beginning that this isn't a show where you can half-ass the props or the costumes.
In the episode this season where we went to the sort of reverse Outback Steakhouse, American-themed restaurant in Sydney, the graphics department printed up an entire menu that had tons of jokes on it, really funny jokes, knowing full well there was a one in a million chance anyone would even be able to read it based on the way we were shooting it. But you still have to do it, because if you accidentally put in a shot where you can read that prop and it's nonsense or something, you're going to pay for it.