Mike Schur knows ‘Good Place’ to stick landing
As the creator of “The Good Place,” Michael Schur has spent years honing the art of brain teasers on morality and mortality. That may explain why death creeps into some of his thoughts on television.
It comes up when he’s talking about the paralyzing volume of TV: “We’re all going to die with thousands of hours of unwatched television on our DVRs.”
Or in trying to crystallize the fear of missing out that’s piqued by really good TV: “I met (’Breaking Bad’ creator) Vince Gilligan for the first time between that show’s split final season. And I told him a true fact: When I was 24 and (“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”) was about to come out, I had a thought all the time, which was, ‘Please don’t die, just please don’t die.’ Because it would be so sad if I got hit by car in May of 1999 and the last thought that went through my head was like, ‘I don’t know what happens.’ …
“And I had that feeling again in the time between the last two ‘Breaking Bad’ seasons. It’s the most potent feeling a consumer of entertainment can have: ‘Please don’t die before this comes out.’ … I had it most palpably with ‘Breaking Bad.’ But I had it with ‘Lost’; I definitely had it with ‘The Sopranos.’ I have it retroactively when I think about the ‘Cheers’ finale. You feel sadness and remorse and fear, but also you’re thrilled and it’s just such a rare thing.”
That’s just some of what came up in conversation earlier this month at Schur’s bungalow office on the Universal backlot — a short walk from the stages that housed “The Good Place” during its four-season run. The Emmy-nominated afterlife comedy embarked on its final season Thursday, bringing one of TV’s most unpredictable sitcoms to a close.
“The Good Place” is the third series that Schur, 43, has created. Since cutting his teeth as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s and, later, working on the U.S. version of “The Office,” Schur has become one of scripted TV comedy’s most prolific creators with shows like “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (which he co-created with Dan Goor) and “The Good Place.” He also serves as an executive producer on shows such as Netflix’s “Master of None” and NBC’s new Kal Penn-led comedy “Sunnyside.” And his empire is only growing. Schur recently renewed his overall deal with Universal Television — at a hefty price — just as many of his counterparts have fled for the deep pockets of streaming services.
Surrounded by framed posters of his TV imprint, Schur talked about aiming for satisfaction — not perfection — with a series finale, putting narrative before longevity, and the value he still finds in working with a traditional TV studio.
‘The only superlative it’s going to be is the last’
I think when we were writing the “Parks and Rec” finale, it felt like people were obsessed with finales in a way that I think is unhealthy. … “The Sopranos” finale and the “Mad Men” finale, the “Breaking Bad” finale and the “Lost” finale — people wanted those shows’ finales to be the best episode of anything that had ever happened. And it’s just asking too much.
For example, I think the best episode of “Breaking Bad” was the one that was third from the end. It was the one that started with the shootout in the desert, and it was just one of the most riveting hours of television I’ve ever seen.
I loved the finale too. I really did. I liked it a lot, but there were some people who reacted to it like, “How dare you not be as good as the one that happened two episodes ago.” Right? And so that just seems like you’re putting too much pressure on that thing.
And so when we were writing the “Parks and Rec” finale and breaking the story, I was like, I can’t make this the best episode of the show. It’s impossible. There’s too much to do and it has to have a different tone and a different feeling. And so the word that I kept coming back to was “satisfied.” I just want people to feel satisfied.
Like, it’s not going to be the funniest episode ever. That one probably aired in Season 4 or something. It’s probably not going to be the most emotionally fulfilling in some way, because that’s probably when Leslie and Ben got married. So it’s very hard to make it any kind of superlative. The only superlative it’s going to be is the last, right? So I just wanted people to feel like they had been on a journey for 124 episodes and that at the end they felt like we did a good job in telling you how it all ends. Right?
So that was the goal for “The Good Place,” except this has a slightly different element, which is it’s incredibly plot-driven. So it has this gigantic overarching plot, but when we started breaking the episodes this year, we had a similar discussion in the writers’ room that was basically like, “We can’t save everything for the last episode.” There’s just not enough time. It’d have to be a three-hour movie.
(Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service)
Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper in “The Good Place.”