When The Good Place debuted in September of 2016, it looked on its surface like a fairly standard half-hour comedy, albeit one with a slightly higher concept than most. The story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a bad person who dies and is accidentally sent to an eternal reward that she did not earn, known on the show as “The Good Place,” is a situation rife for mistaken identity comedy. Add sitcom legend Ted Danson as Michael, the architect of this particular neighborhood of The Good Place, and a talented cast of relative unknowns as fellow residents of the neighborhood, and the series was off to a solid start. Little did anyone know the twist that was coming at the end of that first season, and the cult following the show would develop over the next few years. As The Good Place prepares to enter its fourth and final season, the cast and producers came to San Diego Comic-Con to talk about what’s to come and what they’re leaving behind. Bell and Danson were joined by executive producer Drew Goddard, series creator Mike Schur, and actors William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D’arcy Carden for an SDCC panel moderated by recurring The Good Place guest star and host of the show’s official podcast, Mark Evan Jackson.
As the panel began, Jackson took a moment to remind audience members how to ask questions, including what words to use and what words to avoid. Jackson then welcomed the panelists to the stage, and before diving into questions it was announced that the gag reel from season 3 would be released later that day.
Kicking things off, Jackson asked Carden what she did the previous Tuesday morning. Carden said she woke up, then presented the nominations for the Emmys, for which The Good Place was nominated in multiple categories, including Best Lead Actor in a Comedy for Danson (his 17th overall nomination), and Best Comedy Series for the series. The show was also nominated for writing and for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Maya Rudolph.
The table read for the final episodes is being held on the Monday following SDCC. Schur said they had originally planned to send it to the actors the night before the panel, but then decided that was a bad idea both because it’s very emotional and sad and also because he didn’t want Danson to spoil it on the panel.
Jackson wished Kristen a happy 89th birthday, referring to a video of Bell asking her children how old they think she is. Bell said she found out the series was ending from Schur over the phone, and that she made Schur swear to write something else for her as soon as the show ends. Danson asked if he had written anything for her yet, and she said not yet.
Jamil called it ‘a tragedy’ to walk away from the series and its fans, but that she’s also proud of going out on their own terms.
The breakup between Janet and Jason ‘sucks,’ Carden said, but that it seemed like the right thing to do for the characters.
Does Danson already have another job? Yes. “That’s how I handle breakups,” he said with a laugh. His next role will be working with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, playing the mayor of LA. He said he has seen a script for that show as opposed to The Good Place, which he signed on to without a script having been completed. Danson then expressed his gratitude for Schur having created the show, and Carden drew attention to a child in the front row dressed as Michael.
Jackson called Harper’s performance as Chidi the ‘glue’ of the series, saying that he is the most human member of the Soul Squad, acting as the audience’s guide through the series. He then asked if Harper has any pets. Harper said he does, Chico the Dog, who has a massive underbite. The dog is from Puerto Rico and is, according to Bell, the show’s mascot. Jackson asked Harper if Chico has a theme song, and the cast and audience pressured an embarrassed Harper into singing it. Harper sang the song, which…really defies description, so just watch it:
Jacinto said people on the street still sometimes yell ‘Bortles’ at him. The actor has been shooting his own documentary about the series. He said he was inspired by Jeff Bridges on Goddard’s last film, Bad Times at the El Royale. By the end of the season he hopes to be able to release some of the footage and images for fans to see. Jackson mentioned Jacinto’s recent dance as part of a 60-person dance crew, and Jacinto said before he was an actor he wanted to be a dancer, and Schur was able to make it happen for him. Schur teased more dancing to come in the final season, and Carden also suggested releasing a full version of a dance Jacinto did during season three of the show
Jamil was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential people of the internet. Jackson asked if season 4 was the last season of the show because Jamil had actually become Tahani, and Jamil joked that it was because Tahani had been resurrected inside Jamil’s body and she’d become a total wanker. She said she hoped the photo shoot for that would be the last time she appeared in a photo with Donald Drumpf.
Goddard directed the pilot of The Good Place, as well as the first two episodes of the new season. He called directing Jackson a ‘nightmare’, and that the actor stays in character as Shawn the whole time and is so mean to everyone. They began to discuss who is the hardest to work opposite because they’re so funny, and Carden said you should keep an eye on people in scenes with Jacinto because you’ll see they’re struggling to get through the scenes without laughing. Jackson asked Bell to tell a story about Jacinto making Danson cry, which was apparently a scene in which Jacinto had one line that made everyone laugh for literally an hour. Danson said it’s irritating because he or Kristen will have a page and a half of dialogue to get through, and then Jacinto says one thing and everyone breaks.
Jackson asked Goddard if there were things he couldn’t have anticipated about the show’s evolution from the beginning. Goddard said the core of the series was there from the beginning, and even then that it had an expiration date, which he tried and failed to get Schur to change his mind about. He praised the cast for the strength of their performances.
Season 4 brings in some new directors, including Valeria Collins, the show’s script supervisor, and Steve Day, the show’s First Assistant Director, which involved promoting everyone for a week. Schur said the joy of working on a show for so long is that they have a chance to let people try new things. In Collins’s case, she’s in charge of the show’s continuity, so having her direct an episode is the most natural thing in the world, Schur said. He also called Day frequently the only person on set who actually knows what’s going on. He praised the show’s production team led by Morgan Sackett as being really solid and allowing them to experiment with things. Bell also directed an episode this season, and she said the best lesson she’s learned from Schur is that he knows how to empower the people around him, which is something that will stick with her. Jamil said it’s the only set she’s ever been on with an even split of male to female writers and directors, and she thanked Schur for that. Schur was clearly emotional at that point.
Jackson said Bell’s directing an episode went “aggressively smoothly.” Bell said her favorite thing has always been having a decisive director, which is how she was while directing the episode. She joked that she’s already pretty bossy anyway, and the other actors said she gave them what they needed, which she said she tried to do.
The episode “Janet(s),” in which all of the characters enter Janet’s void and briefly become a ‘Janet’ version of themselves, is Emmy-nominated for writing by Josh Siegel and Dylan Morgan. Carden called the episode an incredibly collaborative experience and said the writers were always there to help her with acting as the other characters. Jackson said that Harper typed out his dialogue with spaces to indicate the way he would deliver it so Carden could refer to it while shooting the episode. Harper said he does that frequently when he has large pieces of dialogue to deliver, so he can group the ideas in his mind. Carden said that helped, and that all of the actors gave her something to work with on that episode. Schur expressed frustration that Carden was not nominated for an Emmy for that episode.
Audience questions began, and three women dressed as different versions of Janet all stood up at the microphone. Bland Janet delivered a question about Janet playing Eleanor, and Eleanor playing Janet playing Eleanor. Carden said she wasn’t sure how she did it because she knows the other actors so well and it just sort of happened. After the “Janet(s)” episode, Carden said Bell called her and said she was so proud of her she felt like her milk was coming in.
A fan asked about which of the show’s minor characters they would spin off into their own show. Jackson immediately answered Shawn, to laughter and agreement from several other panelists. Carden also nominated Pillboy, and Jamil said Vicki needed to be in it. Schur said there’s a very funny and sad show about Donkey Doug, Pill Boy, and Dance Dance Revolution set in Jacksonville, and also there’s a weird, Lynchian show about Derek (Jason Mantzoukas) just floating through space and time, describing the character emerging from an atomic blast a la Bob on Twin Peaks.
A nine-year-old fan named Sophia told the cast The Good Place was one of her favorite shows, and she asked who everyone’s favorite Janet is. Jamil cited Bad Janet, and Bell agreed. Schur said he kind of loves Neutral Janet, calling the character a late addition to the “Janet(s)” episode but one that he loves so much that they kept coming back to it. He teased that you might meet a new Janet this year, and Bell said that, if a new Janet is introduced, she one might be her favorite Janet. Jackson said Carden’s description of playing Neutral Janet was that she just “lets her face meat hang.”
Schur was asked a deep-cut question from a fan about…to be honest I don’t know what they were talking about. He told the fan to meet him outside after the panel so they could exchange emails and discuss things.
A fan asked the cast what they wanted to take from this show into future projects, aside from the people. Jamil, who had primarily been a BBC presenter before being cast as Tahani, said she literally learned how to act on the show. Danson said that you can’t write about what it means to be a good person unless you truly understand it, and called Schur an inspiration.
A fan asked how Chidi chooses which philosophers to refer back to. Schur said he did a lot of reading before writing the show, and that there are two philosophy professors who act as advisors on the show and help him understand the basics. He said he would describe Chidi for them and they would tell him which philosophers went along with his personality, and that he did that with them for all of the other characters as well. He also praised the writers’ room as being full of very smart people who do their own reading and research. Schur said it’s a bunch of people understanding things “at a Wikipedia level” trying to find thinkers who fit the characters and their personalities and problems.
The final question was for Bell, on how her Good Place character would interact with Veronica Mars. Bell said Veronica would “slay” Eleanor, but she thinks Eleanor would have mad respect for Veronica afterward and become a part of her crew. There would also definitely be a physical attraction.
Before the panel concluded, Jackson thanked Schur for the show, which prompted a very long standing ovation from the crowd and the rest of the panelists. An emotional Schur thanked the cast and the fans for supporting the series.
The full audio of this panel has been posted as an episode of The Good Place: The Podcast. You can listen to it here. The final season of The Good Place premieres on Thursday, September 26th.