Warning: This post contains spoilers for Thursday’s The Good Place.
Eleanor and the gang had to get Judge Gen to listen to them, so — in what will likely turn out to be the best TV guest spot of the year, even though it’s only January — Janet conjured up the Judge’s biggest TV crush: Timothy Olyphant, in full Raylan Givens-from-Justified mode, wearing a plaid shirt and that trademark Stetson hat. Olyphant’s presence convinced the Judge to hear out Chidi’s pitch for a new afterlife system, and he even pushed back with a few questions of his own about how the system would actually work. (When Eleanor scolded him for siding with Shawn and the Bad Place, Olyphant shrugged: “I don’t have a dog in this fight, little lady… I’m just looking for clarity.”)
The pitch was ultimately unsuccessful, and Olyphant dissolved as quickly as he appeared, but we still needed to know more. So TVLine reached out to The Good Place executive producer Michael Schur, who gave us the inside scoop on how they landed Olyphant, the “truly delightful” line that Olyphant improvised, and whether that outfit he wore was left over from his Justified days.
TVLINE | How long had this cameo been in the works? Because Judge Gen has been talking about Timothy Olyphant since the beginning of the season, and she’s mentioned Mark Harmon in the past, too.
This is one of the great advantages of breaking, at least big-picture, seasons way in advance. We knew we were going to get to this episode where they needed desperately to keep her attention, and the solution, given four years of her talking about bingeing TV, was to conjure a TV star that would just stand there as eye candy and would buy them some time… Mark Harmon was raised in the room as an option, but Tim was the first guy we thought of, in part because I know him a little bit, and knowing who he is, I thought there was a pretty good chance he would do it.
So I called him and said, “Have you seen the show? Because if you haven’t, this is gonna be really hard to explain…” [Laughs] He had, thankfully. I think he watches it with his kids. And he was like, “I totally get it, I’m in.” We had actually already shot the first couple episodes, but Maya [Rudolph] wasn’t available when we shot them, so we weren’t going to shoot her stuff until later. And I was like, “Oh my God, now this is perfect, because we can retroactively go back and plant from the very beginning of the season that she’s been watching Deadwood.” So we dropped all these hints over the course of the next nine episodes: She’s bingeing Deadwood, and in the episode before this, she mentioned that she’s watching Justified and mentioned Timothy Olyphant. So… we were able to go back and plant from the beginning of the season that Tim was her new obsession.
TVLINE | But he’s not just eye candy here, as you said. How did you land on making him this inquisitive listener with these provocative questions, rather than just passive?
[Laughs] Well, that was the real fun comedy writers’ room creative breakthrough, which was: He shouldn’t just stand there. He should start causing trouble for them, which really made us laugh. Just asking questions and getting involved, and everyone looking at him like, “Is he supposed to be doing this?”… If you get Tim Olyphant to do something like this, it’s pointless to just have him stand there, right? You want him to engage in the proceedings. So we didn’t really know what we were going to do with him until that got pitched. And then it was like, “Well, yeah, that’s a home run.” Knowing that guy and his persona and all that, that was the real breakthrough.
TVLINE | Did you shoot anything with him that didn’t make the final cut?
No, honestly, we literally used every line we wrote for him. And then also, he did one hilarious small improv, which was when Eleanor says, “Good question, Timothy Olyphant,” and he goes, “Tim’s fine.” [Laughs] That was just him improvising in that moment, which was truly delightful. It’s such a funny little aside. But we used literally every moment that we had him for.
TVLINE | Were the hat and outfit he wore actually left over from Justified, or was that just a close facsimile that your costume people pulled together?
Well, it was important to me that he be Timothy Olyphant and not Raylan Givens, but the more we thought about it, the more we were like, “I want him to be at the Raylan Givens edge of his many personas.” I love that show so much, and I love that character, and I felt like he as a performer was so at home in that character, and then for the little comedy game of just casually throwing questions out and being sort of lackadaisically charming… when I asked him to do it, he said, “Am I me, or am I Raylan?” And I said, “No, you’re you, but I think I want you to be Raylan-y.” And his question was, “Full Stetson?” [Laughs] I said, “Yeah, I think ideally full Stetson.”
And as we were having that conversation, I was like, “Oh, I’ve gotta call [Justified EP] Graham Yost.” Because I don’t know him, but if anyone were having Ted Danson on another show and it was even evoking Michael, it would be nice to receive that call, just to say, “Hey, I intend to do this, are you OK with it?” So I got in touch with Graham Yost and explained what was going on, and reassured him that it was one hundred percent out of love and admiration for that character, and he was like, “Oh my God, that sounds great, totally, go crazy.” So it made me feel safer about putting a Stetson hat on Timothy Olyphant.
So that was our costumer, Kirston Mann, and her number two Alexis [Jacks]. I believe at least one of them was also a fan and immediately knew what to do. The only question was: He had a couple different [looks]. He had a suit look as Raylan, too, when he was in full U.S. Marshal mode, and I was like, “No, I kinda like the jeans and the checkered shirt.” So they just exactly sort of replicated his look from that show.
TVLINE | Well, I’m calling it right now: It’s a very early frontrunner for best TV cameo of 2020. I don’t know how it could be topped.
The thing is, I believe Justified is one of the most underrated TV shows of this prestige era, and it just kind of got subsumed by Mad Men and Breaking Bad and whatever. But when you see in full Raylan Givens mode, it’s just so fun to see that guy back again. Hopefully, this will spur some kind of Justified movie or something that Graham Yost can get up and running again, because that character is just too good to never see again. The second he appears, Maya’s reaction, that sort of open-mouthed gape… it was basically my reaction, even though I knew it was coming! [Laughs]