The Good Place writers Jen Statsky and Megan Amram reportedly aren’t allowed to sit together in the writers’ room, lest they bring productivity to a halt. They were together for this panel, held at Vulture Festival Sunday night. And yet, the massive panel (11 writers, creator Mike Schur, and moderator/costar Marc Evan Jackson) managed to give attendees a great peek inside one of the smartest shows on TV. Among the revelations from the panel:
1. The accuracy behind the philosophy does matter. When assembling the writing staff for The Good Place, Schur emphasized finding people with a sense of intellectual curiosity. People who were willing to delve into the issues that the show would address, but not necessarily experts in the subject matter. Writer Andrew Law benefitted from that mightily, having studied political philosophy in college. Similarly, writer Dan Schofield shared a book from a Clemson professor on a topic they’d been trying to break (“what happens to your view on morality if you’re immortal?”), and now Dr. Todd May is the show’s primary philosophical advisor. But lest you believe the show takes its philosophical origins gravely seriously, Schur dispelled that quickly: “It paints this picture of long walks around campus. We read Wikipedia!” The message is, “I don’t know if I understand this, but it’s interesting.”
2. The writers room is a Good Place. A real Good Place. Mike Schur has cultivated a reputation for being one of the nicest people in show business, creating rooms and sets that are full of kind people who are also wildly talented. Cord Jefferson came on in year two and worried about things being cliquey or “like junior high,” but admits “something that is overwhelming is the sense of kindness in the room.” The show’s newest writers, Rae Sanni and Kassia Miller shared similar, particularly in regards to a writers’ room tradition: “the girl blanket.” “One of the first emails I got about the writers room was about the girl blankets on the couch” from Statsky and Amram, Sanni shared.
In a larger sense, Schur characteristically downplays his role in making the place nice. “I wouldn’t say I should take the credit for that.” He in turn gave credit to producer Morgan Sackett, who helps staff the departments that keep the show running: props, wardrobe, lighting, all areas clearly staffed with similarly kind people. “It takes a concerted effort on all levels of the show.” He even shared how stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson contribute to that culture. Schur cites Cheers as one of his seminal comedy influences, and appeared incredulous as he recounted getting a missed call from “world’s nicest human” Danson on his phone, calling back only to find out that Danson wanted to tell him how great a day at work he’d had.
3. The Jeremy Bearimy scene was borne of real writers’ room confusion. How do you explain a non-linear timeline? Not easily, as the room found out as they tried to explain why time didn’t move in the Bad Place as it does on Earth. Sanni admits that her confusion held up the writing process for a full afternoon, as she repeatedly said to Schur, “I’m sorry, I just don’t get it!” Writer Josh Siegal audibly giggled before pitching, “it moves in a Jeremy.” The room then ran with the idea, noting that “it had to have a B,” and then “it had to have an I,” before taking its glorious final form in Megan Amram’s script for “Jeremy Bearimy.” Additional fact: the diagram that Danson refers to was drawn by writer Joe Mande.
The Jeremy Bearimy resolution is an example of what the room does when the philosophical explanation for something is either too arcane, or simply frustrating to them. Does it explain the concept in question? No. But in a comedy it doesn’t need to. Danson’s flippant read on the line, “you get it” confirms that sometimes the real meaning isn’t as important as finding the laugh in it.
The Good Place airs Thursday night on NBC at 8:30pm ET.