The Good Place, new comedy from NBC, ponders the idea of what happens to us when our time on earth expires. Do we take up residence in the Good Place, a utopia-like dwelling that is our idea of what happiness looks like in real life, or the Bad Place, everything that is counter to happiness.
But more importantly, who gets to go where and why?
Ahead of the September 19 premier, co-star William Jackson Harper, who portrays Chidi, discusses with BSO his idea of ‘the Good Place,’ where this The Good Place fits in with past religious-themed TV and film and why being nerdy and weird is always a good thing.
BSO: Before we dive into the show, if you had to envision your own “good place,” what would it consist of.
WJH: It would be hanging with my lady, eating lots of tacos and video games
BSO: That’s all you really need. What about apples? I’ve heard you have a thing with apples.
WJH: *laughs* I feel like I want to tast the rainbow when it comes to tacos. Why not. Whatever you throw in front of me I want to try.
BSO: The Good Place is new to NBC this season and you portray Chidi who is the ‘soulmate’ of Kirsten Bell’s character Eleanor. Are your characters romantically involved?
WJH: My character Chidi, in life, was a professor of ethics and moral philosophy. I land in the good place and I spend my whole life arguing and thinking about questions of maorality and what is universal truths and what is universally good and that was my path.
BSO: If you’ve landed in the good place then you are obviously dead. In the trailer Eleanor makes it to the good place after being hit by a bus, what happened to land you there?
WJH: You’ll have to wait and see.
BSO: Such a tease. What were your early reactions to Chidi when you first read for the script?
WJH: Inititally I thought I wasn’t going to have to go this far to get this character. I thought they were going to cast some pretty boy but I knew I could do this part well. He’s such a nerdy guy, I’m a nerdy guy and I thought it would be so cool to play a character that’s an aspect of my personality and amplify it. I honestly felt I was a good fit.
BSO: Chidi is kinda nerdy, you’re kinda nerdy, is that where the similarities ends?
WJH: I think Cheedi and myself are both over thinkers. We both can get very myopic and obsessive about certain things and in general enthusiasic about the things we love. On the other hand, we both can be completely absent of interest in things we don’t.
BSO: When the show premiers, viewers will know they are watching a show about ‘heaven’ in a sense. Do you expect a strong reaction from religious groups and spiritual people who believe in the afterlife?
WJH: Not exactly. I think for me, I just want to the show to help people. I want people have questions coming away. More than anything that’s what I want.
I welcome whatever response people have. There’s room for all of it. I don’t want to get too evangelical about what they will walk away with but I hope people don’t get too deep with it and accept it for what is, a show that’s asking some big questions and see if they can ride along with us. If that really bothers them, there’s not too much I can do
BSO: We’ve seen Hollywood take on religious-inspired storylines with films like Dogma and Bruce almighty and TV shows liked Touched by an Angel. How does this show fit in with that specific genre.
WJH: It’s blazing new ground. To me it almost feels like it has a sci-fi aspect to it because everything is so outside of the box. I don’t know if it really belongs in with those heavily Christian influcenced show. It’s a show that wrestles with what it means to be a good person and at what cost. It’s a difference niche completely.
BSO: So what DO you want people to go in thinking when they tune in after The Voice?
WJH: This is a show that’s catching up with our audiences. Audiences are proving themselves smart and capable of following interesting, strange story archs and embracing their weirdness. I hope The Good Place shows we aren’t going with the same old formula and they come on board.
“The Good Place” premiers on Monday, September 19th at 10pm.