NEW YORK — While prepping for his role on NBC’s “The Good Place,” Ted Danson stopped by Wardrobe to get his character outfitted.
“I was kind of floundering. I wasn’t quite sure how to do this. Then the costume designer said, ‘I don’t know how you feel about bow ties, but I have some.’ And I said, ‘Oh! THAT’S who I am!’
“Bow ties make a real statement,” he observes, flashing his bright smile. “They’re always slightly overeager. My bow tie gave me permission to be as silly as I needed to be.”
On “The Good Place” (airing Thursday at 8:30 p.m. EDT), he plays Michael, a bow-tie-sporting celestial supervisor who, indeed, is a bit overeager, sometimes overwrought and clearly in over his head. Despite his eagerness to prove himself to a certain Higher-up, things don’t always go smoothly in the sector of the afterlife that Michael oversees.
For instance, unbeknownst to him, he is harboring an undeserving soul named Eleanor (co-star Kristen Bell) who, through a screw-up, has landed in the Good Place rather than the Bad Place, where she belongs.
Eleanor’s challenge: to masquerade as good enough to keep Michael from catching on to this major snafu, even as her presence disrupts the all-pervasive bliss in various chaotic ways.
For Danson, “The Good Place” has been a good time.
“Here’s the hardest part: to not talk about the entire season. I just want to giggle and tell you the whole story,” he says.
“The Good Place” is a serialized comedy with a story arc stretching across the season’s 13 episodes as crafted by the show’s creator, Michael Schur (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” ”Parks and Recreation” and “Master of None”), who has likened its evolving, anything-goes essence to “Lost”-with-laughs.
“I wanted to do another comedy,” says Danson, who made sitcom history a quarter-century ago in “Cheers” and since then has scored with “Becker,” ”Bored to Death” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
“I listened to Mike pitch his idea for an hour,” he says. “He had the entire first season nailed down, and it was so strange! I signed on without seeing a script, which is kind of unheard of.”
Though production wrapped last month, Danson was just getting started.
“Shooting was fun, but watching it has been very scary,” he confides. “The first time I watch an episode, I’m devastated that I’m just me, Ted, and I’m picking myself apart. The next time, I go, ‘Ah, I guess I’m not that bad.’ And around the third time, I think, ‘There are OTHER actors in this piece and aren’t they wonderful! And — oh, look — there’s a STORY!'” He chuckles. “It takes me that long to really see it.
“My wife” — fellow actor Mary Steenburgen — “gets so mad at me!”
For all its absurdity, “The Good Place” does have a serious undercurrent. As Michael informs new arrivals, everything a person has done in life has a ripple effect that puts a certain measure of good or bad into the universe.
Maybe there isn’t really a quantifiable scoring system that determines if you’re a Good Place candidate (and only one out of every 450-odd cases are, as Michael explains), but Danson believes there’s a lesson here nonetheless.
“A lot of times we forget that everything we do has an impact,” he notes. “In this Twitter world, we sometimes behave as if it doesn’t matter how we act. And it does.”
Danson, who turns 69 in December, has come a long way since his breakout performance in the 1981 film “Body Heat” (with water spritzed on him and his co-stars to look like sweat when, in fact, their Florida location was chilled by a mid-30s cold snap) and his decade-long “Cheers” run as the Boston barkeep who knew everybody’s name.
Life these days is good, he reports. There are grandchildren to spoil. Steenburgen is having fun of her own on the Fox comedy “The Last Man on Earth.”
“And our friend Hillary is running,” he adds. “So it’s a very scary time — and a vibrant time.”
He doesn’t mention Hillary’s last name or bring up her rival, Donald Trump, in this bruising presidential race.
“There’s just so much fear and anger out there,” he muses instead, “and it’s easy to get sucked into that. It’s OK to be critical of what needs to be changed. But we need to come at it with a positive attitude. The world’s not falling apart. There’s a lot to do, but it’s not falling apart.”