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Parks and Rec creator talks leaving office-comedies behind for a show about ethics

From municipal politics to philosophical questions

Eleanor (Kristen Bell) sits in Michael’s office in a screenshot from The Good Place.

Mike Schur has made a name for himself over the years, having created two of the most beloved sitcoms on television: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation. Now, Schur said he's ready to leave behind the buddies-hanging-at-an-office-inspired comedies and take on a whole new challenge.

The Good Place, Schur's new project, is an abstract comedy about religion, ethics and, above all else, humanity's morals. The show's main cast, which includes Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, live in a utopian, suburban looking community called the "good place." The town is full of well-meaning people with good hearts who live in constant fear that they could end up in the terrifying "bad place," which no one has ever seen.

It's quite the departure for Schur, but the executive producer and lead writer said after spending nearly 12 years working on shows like Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Office, he was ready for a new challenge.

"I was done with it," Schur said during a panel at the Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles. "I was ready to try something new and I had this idea kicking around."

Schur said he had been thinking about doing something with religion and ethics for quite some time, and when he came up with the concept of The Good Place, he was excited to explore it. Before he could bring it to NBC, however, a network that has given him nothing but support on his original ideas, he wanted to know that there was a future with the series.

"I didn't pitch it until I knew what the whole season was going to be and I couldn't imagine what it was going to be until I knew where season two would actually start," Schur said.

Despite Schur having the entire first season plotted, getting ready to shoot the finale and preparing for the show to air, there's no guarantee The Good Place will get a second season. The show's future may be up in the air, but Schur affirmed that for fans of his previous series who enjoy digging through old episodes and find Easter eggs hidden within them, The Good Place will have plenty of those opportunities.

"The most fun we had with the pilot was writing 10,000 jokes that appear in the video Ted shows off," Schur said. "We wrote so many of them and I wish they could all be on screen, but if you pause and rewind it, it'll be worth your time."

Schur's the first to admit that his jokes can sometimes go off the rails — something that only worsens when he surrounds himself with writers that have the same type of humor and no boundaries. In order to make the new comedy, which has science-fiction elements woven into it, more accessible to the general public, he made sure to reign in the jokes and keep it as linear as possible.

"The first season was very carefully plotted and a lot of thought and energy went into making sure we weren't flying off the rails or going too crazy," Schur said. "Everything feels pretty consistent."

Schur said just being given the opportunity to work on a series that lets him incorporate his most abstract thoughts about religion, ethics and morals into a 30-minute comedy. For Schur, he's hoping that the series will act as a Rorschach test for everyone who watches it and leave every viewer with a different opinion on the choices made in the show.

"I mean, this is a very eighth grade level of philosophy," Schur said. "But it's something that it's very easy to forget, or at least, very easy for me to forget. It's important to revisit these philosophies and reflect on who we are and if we're in the good place."

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