Ted Danson on 'Good Place' twists, and divorcing his wife on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

Patrick Ryan
Last week's episode, "Janet and Michael," was centered on the charismatic devil and his hilariously agreeable assistant.

By now, fans of NBC's The Good Place are probably familiar with "the twist." 

In January's first-season finale of the zany, sweet NBC sitcom (Thursdays, 8:30 ET/PT), uncouth miscreant Eleanor (Kristen Bell) learned that she didn't really go to heaven when she died, but was actually in a uniquely orchestrated hell designed by affable devil Michael (Ted Danson). 

Always one to keep viewers on their toes, series creator Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation) has switched things up yet again this season. After countless failed attempts at torturing Eleanor and her cohorts, Michael teams up with the humans against his fellow architect-demons, and learns about ethics in the process. 

Danson, who also appears in HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David this fall (Sundays, 10 ET/PT), chats with USA TODAY ahead of Good Place's midseason finale Thursday. 

Q: Last week's episode focused on Michael and his sentient helper, Janet (a scene-stealing D'Arcy Carden). How was it exploring their dynamic? 

A: One of them is an eternal demon, and one of them is this informational, Google-like system, and yet they're both slowly (becoming) humanized. That's a great first step to the rest of what happens this season. I don't want to be coy, but it's pretty neat the direction Mike Schur is taking this story. 

Q: At the end of the episode, Janet created a dim-witted new boyfriend, Derek (Jason Mantzoukas). What does he bring to the show? 

A: Instant laughs. You can get (Jason) to say anything and it comes out in the most wonderful, funny way. I don't want to do a spoiler thing, but what (his character) brings is total chaos and danger to the plan to appear as if we're still torturing the humans. He's such a loose canon, it makes for scary moments. 

Q: What's it like playing Michael this season compared to last, before the audience knew he was actually bad? 

A: Last year, you were waiting for the other shoe to fall, but you didn't know if there was another shoe. It was this strange (question of), Is Michael just this high-strung architect in the Good Place? Or is he what he is now, which is this highly complicated demon who's desperately been trying to succeed at torturing these four, and then has to give up and try to join them? It's an easier comedic acting job this year, because it's not that one note. It has many colors and that's fun to play. 

Q: What's your version of the Bad Place?

A: A very loud restaurant so that it’s very hard to hear anybody, surrounded by people whose names I’ve forgotten but should know. That’s hell for me.

The fictional Larry David gets a rude awakening when his ex-wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), starts dating Ted Danson in the new season of HBO's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.'

Q: How did it feel returning to Curb Your Enthusiasm with Mary (Steenburgen, Danson's wife)? 

A: It’s always fun to play with Larry David. It’s kind of effortless. You don’t have to learn lines because there are no lines. It was a little bizarre to take Mary’s and my relationship, and say we’re now divorced and I’m dating Cheryl. We got barraged by phone calls and inquiries by some people who should know better, wondering whether we’re still together. It was kind of a perfect Larry David moment, in a way.

Q: With so many shows being revived these days, would you ever want to bring back Cheers

A: Oh, no. That’s a fun thing to play when you’re in your 30s — probably not so much in your 60s. I don’t know that it’d be funny to see 60-year-olds in a bar acting like adolescents. That becomes slightly pathetic. But look at Will & Grace: They’re doing great because they’re wonderful actors. I don’t think it’s because Cheers was lacking in any way, but I just think we’ve aged past that.

Q: You're turning 70 next month. Any plans to ring it in? 

A: It’s an awkward date: December 29. I had a moment of, "Yeah, let’s have a big party," but everyone’s either traveling or exhausted from Christmas. So we settled for what I actually enjoy anyway: lots of family and a few friends. But I reserve the right to throw parties all throughout my 70th year.