Advance warning: This post will give away a lot of fun stuff that happens in the first season of The Good Place. You probably shouldn’t read it if that’s the kind of thing that will bother you. Don’t let me ruin The Good Place for you. Don’t let anyone do it, to be honest. But especially not me.
The Good Place is a very good show. The first season was brilliant and funny and surprising, a rare combination for any show, let alone a network sitcom. The performances were great, across the board, from Kristen Bell playing a degenerate who is trying to improve herself in the afterlife, to Manny Jacinto as a Buddhist monk slash Jacksonville breakdancer whose favorite restaurant was a place called Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump, to D’Arcy Carden as a supernatural A.I. answer-bot who can best be described as “like if Alexa was a real lady.” Adam Scott showed up as a demon named Trevor. It’s on Netflix. You should check it out if you haven’t seen it. But this isn’t about that. This is about something much more specific. This is about Ted Danson’s evil laugh.
Quick, necessary background: The Good Place is about a Heaven-like place that Kristen Bell’s character, Eleanor, finds herself in after dying. The twist is that she realizes pretty quickly that she’s there by mistake. The whole first season is about her hiding this and trying to figure it out, leading up to the finale, where we discover that what she thought was “The Good Place” was actually “The Bad Place,” and that the seemingly nice architect in charge of it all — Michael, played by Danson — is actually a demon who orchestrated the entire ruse to make her and her three cohorts miserable. Like, a new, super devious form of torture, more psychological than physical. I really recommend going back and watching the whole first season a second time with the knowledge this twist is coming. There are layers in there, man. Again, The Good Place is a good show. But also again, this is not about that. This is about the laugh.
When Eleanor figures all of this out, after a dramatic scene involving sacrifice and impossible choices, she tells Michael she’s onto him, and Michael — the lovely bow-tied man played by American treasure Ted Danson — changes his entire facial expression from innocence and concern to pure evil, and then uncorks one of the greatest evil laughs you’ll ever hear.
It is kind of incredible, in a few ways. First and most importantly, because I did not see it coming at all and it shocked me in a way that made me freeze. It was one of those moments where all the pieces come together in your brain at once you’re left feeling both blown away and silly for not realizing it. If I had been holding a coffee cup, I would have dropped it on the floor.
But also, holy hell, what a great evil laugh. What a great evil laugh. I watched the scene on Netflix again last night to try to find the words to describe it, and I was relieved to see that the people in charge of closed captions had done it for me.
Yup, that’ll do.
And it’s even better because it is Ted Danson. Ted Danson! The guy has been on television more or less continuously for 40 years and he had this evil laugh in his back pocket the entire time and no one knew. I wonder if he even knew. I can’t imagine it’s something you practice until it comes up. I mean, you can’t just go around breaking out an evil laugh here and there without people starting to worry about you. Although it is very fun to picture Ted’s wife, Mary Steenburgen, walking into their bedroom one night and catching him doing a full-on evil laugh into the mirror, but like, 10 years ago, before he needed it for a role.
That said, it’s almost more fun to assume he knew. Imagine having something like that just sitting around collecting dust in your toolbox waiting to get used. Like, picture him getting the script for the finale and seeing a note that says “Michael does an evil laugh” and getting very excited that he can finally bust it out. In fact, picture series creator Michael Schur coming up to him before that and saying “Hey, Ted, can you do a good evil laugh?” and Ted Danson smiling confidently and saying “I think so, sure,” and then doing a small version of the laugh for real after Schur walks away.
(Related note: In an episode of Schur’s previous show, Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler’s character did a pitch perfect impression of Megan Mullally, and I had this exact same thought. Did they hear her do it one day and put it into the script later, or did they write like “Amy does an impression of Megan Mullally” and then just get blown away that Amy Poehler had been sitting on a perfect impression of her co-star’s wife the whole time? I can’t decide which I like more. I hope I never find out.)
It’s just… it’s so good. And it’s not easy. Go ahead, try your own evil laugh now. Number one, you will probably find yourself getting very self-conscious about it, but number two, it’s hard to find the right balance. You have to go big because supervillains do not chuckle, but push just a tiny bit too far and you’re into a MWAHAHA caricature. There is an art to this. That’s my point.
But also, I guess we shouldn’t have been that surprised. He was Sam on Cheers, for the love of God. The guy is television comedy royalty. Being that surprised he can do an A+ evil laugh would be like asking Adele to sing a Celine Dion song and being surprised she can hit all the notes. Of course Ted Danson can do a great evil laugh. The bigger shocker here should be that no one has asked him to before. Although I guess that would have made for a weird episode of Becker.
So, yeah. Congrats to The Good Place and congrats to Ted Danson, for being good, again, even though that’s not the point here, but mostly for giving us one of the two greatest evil laughs in television history. Sideshow Bob may be a homicidal maniac hellbent on ruining the life of a child, but in this case, he’s damn good company.