by Ashley Spencer | Thu., Nov. 1, 2018 10:12 PM
When The Good Place dropped Eleanor, Chidi, and co. in Sydney for the start of season 3—and kept them there for the majority of the first five episodes—Australian fans were quick to comment on everything from the joys of a "We Crumb From a Land Down Under" food cart to the attempts at Aussie accents by non-Australian actors.
The accents in particular spawned a series of theories ranging from arguments that the offenders must be demons in disguise to the idea that the entire Australian setting was a virtual simulation in which our heroes were trapped.
Now, as the NBC comedy (airing on Netflix in Australia) seemingly leaves Australia and its Larry Hemsworth jokes behind, we talked to the show's creator, writer and executive producer Michael Schur for answers.
First of all, what made you decide to set a chunk of The Good Place's third season in Australia?
Well, some of it was baked in from season 1 on because we decided in the pilot that Chidi [William Jackson Harper] was teaching in Australia when he died. That decision was made because we needed a predominantly English speaking nation that was on the other side of the world from Eleanor's home. So, when we decided to go back to earth in season 3, Australia was the natural place for them to gather. And the leap of faith that Eleanor [Kristen Bell] takes at the end of season 2 where she gets on a plane and decides to put her moral life in the hands of a stranger she's never met, that's a bigger gesture if she's flying to Australia from Arizona than if she's flying from Arizona to Oregon.
Did you ever consider filming any of it on location?
We really did. We had plans to do that, or at least ask NBC if we could do that. It ended up that really only the first few episodes are about Australia. And then once they start figuring it out they go to different places—Jacksonville, Budapest, Nevada. If we had spent the whole year in Australia the way The Leftovers did, I think we would have fought for it hard, but when we really sat back and looked at the season it didn't make a ton of sense because Sydney's climate and environment is very similar to Los Angeles, and we decided there were better ways to spend our money.
The show got so many small details about Australia right—from the power outlets to the Bundaberg ginger beer on Eleanor's nightstand. How did you go about researching those elements?
There is an insanely talented art department and production department that no matter where you set anything on the show, they're tireless and they're incredibly competent about what they do. It's hard when you're representing Australia because the cars have to drive on the other side of the road and that involves shutting down a bunch of streets and getting cars where the driver sits on the right-hand side of the car.
We tried, as much as we could, to cast native Australians in a lot of these roles and the art department did a really good job of building things that looked like Australia. Then we just loaded the show with dumb Australia jokes. Just super lazy, dumb Australia jokes. My favourite one that was a tiny thing, I don't know if you noticed it, in the last episode Chidi had been in a virtual reality simulation trying to figure out how to break up with Simone [Kirby Howell-Baptiste] and he goes to the real café—
Please tell me you're talking about the "Thatsnota Street" and "Thisisa Street" signs.
Yes! It was so dumb but it made me laugh so hard because in the real stock footage there were street signs and they were blank. It's like they were daring us to make a dumb joke about Australia, and so what we came up with was "Thatsnota Street" and "Thisisa Street".
I think the small details and Easter eggs like that are a big part of why this show is so beloved.
I agree. I just love them. I love finding them, and I love planting them. I mean, why not? Especially if the universe gives you this piece of stock video footage with blank street signs. What am I going to do, not make a dumb joke? You've got to be out of your mind, of course I'm going to.
It's great that you cast Australian actors in many of the minor roles, but there were also some non-Aussies attempting the accent, which is notoriously hard to nail. Theories here were running wild on if the bad Australian accents could have a deeper meaning…
[Laughs] Who were the ones that were cited? I mean, Ted [Danson]'s was bad kind of on purpose, that was the joke. Janet even called it out, even though he was really proud of himself.
I believe Simone [played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste] was named as one of the main offenders.
In her case, she was just the best actor for the job. My ear, and anyone's ear who lives in the States, for how good or bad an Australian accent is, is always going to be functioning at maybe 10 per cent of what a native's would be.
So, to me, when it's a part like somebody you meet in a bar, of course you're going to hire an Australian actor because the accent will be authentic. When you're looking for a person who plays a more significant role—and Simone was the love interest for one of the main characters—you're not starting from the place of who has the most accurate accent. You're starting from the place of who's the best actor. And she's incredibly talented and very charming, so if she had never even attempted an Australian accent before I wouldn't have cared. I would have much rather have had the right actor in that role.
So, what you're saying is, there was no greater conspiracy on The Good Place hinted at by bad Australian accents.
There was not. I can definitively say there was not. Simone was a real person who dated Chidi in his new undead life, and then he broke up with her and that was the end of Simone. And she is not a demon. She was a human.
How did the idea of Larry Hemsworth come about?
Larry Hemsworth was a throwaway joke in season 2 about Tahani [Jameela Jamil] having dated a lost Hemsworth brother that made us laugh. But when we were set in Australia the next season and had this storyline that Michael needed to find Tahani a loving companion to fight her feelings for Jason [Manny Jacinto], we were like, oh we know of one! It was the ultimate writer's room red meat because she's dating a Hemsworth brother, and the idea was that he's exactly as tall and strapping and accomplished as the other Hemsworth brothers, but he has really low self-esteem because his older brother was, like, Thor. We could have written an entire spin-off show about Larry Hemsworth.
You also had all the minor characters with name inversions like "Mylie Kinogue", "Len Bee" and "Gel Mibson".
I personally have an unhealthy love and obsession with crazy names. I was a Monty Python fan when I was a kid, and I have always loved crazy names. Almost every character on every show I've ever worked on, I'll give a first and last name that's crazy and absurd. And then, again, it was just enjoying the laziness of making Australia jokes. We took every Australian celebrity we could think of and just swapped the first letters of their first and last names. And it's harmless because most often, you don't hear or see anyone's name so it doesn't negatively impact the viewing experience with absurdity. But then if you happen to look at the credits at the end of the episode, you get the weird bonus of knowing that all these people had these crazy, inverted Australian names.
Were there any Australian jokes or plot points that didn't make it into the show?
There were some that we put in the show that got cut out, like the motel that Eleanor is staying at when Chidi finds her and convinces her to come back to class is called "The Waltzing Motel-da".
There's one running joke that started in a flashback in the second season when Chidi is having dinner with his friend, and the art department needed a name for the restaurant. Someone pitched Eating Nemo, and you can actually see it on the back of the menu. So, this season when we needed a bar for Eleanor to drink at it became Drinking Nemo, any store became something "Nemo", as if the entire continent of Australia was so proud of the movie Finding Nemo that the whole nation had gone gaga for Nemo names.
And then there's Easter egg things even within that. For example, the grocery store that Chidi goes into when he buys all the chili is called BNG, which stands for "Bagging Nemo Groceries". And the bank that Tahani goes to when she wants to transfer all her money to Jason is called FNB, which stands for "Financing Nemo Bank". And the café where Chidi dumps Simone in her last episode is called French Pressing Nemo, and there's a picture of a French press with fish bones sticking out of it. It just goes on and on and on. There's literally no joke too stupid for us in connecting it to Finding Nemo.
But you're an equal opportunity stereotype teaser—you go after Florida as much as you went after Australia.
Those aren't in any way anti-Australia jokes, those are literally just jokes about how lazy we are being about commenting on Australia. The Jacksonville stuff hits a lot harder. Jacksonville we said the entire city is a swamp and it's slowly sinking into the ocean, and the taxi cabs are monster trucks. We're much harsher on Jacksonville than Australia. It's really not about commenting on Australia as it is making lazy jokes about what we know about Australia, which is very little.
Is there any chance the gang might come back to Australia later this season or in future seasons?
I don't want to give away any spoilers or anything, but part of the fun of writing this show is that anything is possible. Australia served as a very important place for us in terms of what it represented and why Chidi chose to go there. It said a lot about his character that he went to the very end of the earth looking for truth—the part of civilisation that's furthest away from civilisation. It's a meaningful place for us. It also has a Lost connection, and the show owes a psychic debt to Lost, I think. We never say what we're going to do, but also the point of the show is that anything can happen at any time.