The Jacksonville Jaguars don’t suck, Jacksonville native Jason Mendoza confidently argues in the second season of The Good Place. “All we need is a defense. And an offense. And some rule changes.”
Since that episode, “Leap to Faith,” aired in November 2017, the following has transpired: The Jaguars got a defense, led by Pro Bowl cornerback and trash-talking extraordinaire Jalen Ramsey, the team was second in the NFL in total takeaways and yards allowed, and first in points allowed per game, and defensive DVOA. They also got an offense, and with the help of some rule changes, Blake Bortles went from being football’s best joke to a fully functioning quarterback. Jason, somehow, was right: The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t suck. The team went 10-6 in 2017 and came within one quarter of beating the New England Patriots and making it to the Super Bowl.
The success has carried over into the 2018 season: The Jags have started out 3-1, and have already exacted revenge on the Patriots, winning 31-20 on the back of a 376-yard, four-touchdown performance from Bortles.
This mind-blowing turn of events has caused some issues for The Good Place’s creator Michael Schur and his team of writers. When they first started making the existential comedy in 2015, it seemed like a guarantee that they’d be able to make fun of the Jags and Jason’s admirable but hilariously stupid optimism for years. Now everything’s all upside down. “The Jacksonville Jaguars … are good now,” Maya Rudolph’s Judge declared with the utmost disbelief in tonight’s episode, “The Brainy Bunch.” Ted Danson’s Michael responded with just as much incredulity: “Impossible!”
Ahead of the episode, I spoke with Schur about The Good Place’s journey with the Jacksonville Jaguars, how the writing room had to come to terms with the team’s success, and also if he thinks Baker Mayfield will end up in the Bad Place.
I wanted to ask first: Is Jason from Jacksonville because of the Jaguars, or did all of that just sync up?
No, Jacksonville came first. We wanted him to be from Florida because I’ve had a longtime obsession with Florida, and Jacksonville seemed like the least trodded territory of the Florida canon. You’ve got plenty of Miami; there’s plenty of Orlando; there’s no shortage of West Palm Beach or whatever. Jacksonville has a lot of crazy things about it: In terms of area, it’s one of the largest cities in America. It’s this crazy sprawl. The entire thing is below sea level. It’s gonna be underwater in like a week. So Jacksonville just seemed funny. It seemed funny for someone to have extremely tribalistic feelings about Jacksonville.
So then you realized, “Oh, the Jaguars.”
Joe Mande was like “Oh, he’s gotta be a Jag fan, and he’s gotta love Bortles. He needs to have drunk the Kool-Aid of ‘Our first-round pick Blake Bortles: He’s the savior. He’s the guy.’” And so we just made him into a hardcore Jags fan.
And now they’re good.
The Jaguars started to get good, like, as soon as we started writing the show. And it weirdly wasn’t as funny, because the worse Blake Bortles was on the field, the funnier it would be that Jason Mendoza was completely devoted to him.
Was the reaction completely like, “Shit, they’re good now?”
[Laughs.] Well, you know, there’s no bad results, right? Because if you have someone desperately devoted to a sports franchise and that franchise is terrible, there’s plenty of funny jokes to be made and stories to be told. And if that sports franchise does really well, then that’s just a different set of tools you have. So we did the thing in the second season when Michael revealed himself to the four humans and they were all asking him questions. Jason was like, “I have only one question that I need to ask: Did the Jacksonville Jaguars win the Super Bowl last year?” And Michael laughs and says, “Oh, you were serious. No, they didn’t.” And then Jason says, “Will they ever win the Super Bowl?” and Michael’s response was “Jason, I can’t predict the future, but no. No they won’t.” We filmed that last year! And then the Jags went on this crazy run and they made the playoffs and they were leading the Patriots at halftime, you know?
So when do you start pivoting to the explanation that’s presented in “The Brainy Bunch,” that the Jags’ success is a butterfly effect caused by Michael?
We had already had a bunch of conversations, but then I started texting with the writers going, “OK, this is what I think we should do if they make the Super Bowl and they win it. Here’s what I think our plan is.” In essence, [what’s in the episode] was the first plan, to say the only reason they won the Super Bowl was because, somehow, a butterfly flapped its wings and a chain reaction of small events occurred that changed the timeline and that meant the Jags won the Super Bowl. Since they didn’t win, we sort of did a version of that joke where the judge is like, “No I’m serious. Blake Bortles is kind of OK, maybe.” It really makes me laugh—the only reason that the team is good and that Bortles is good is because these angels and demons are fighting amongst themselves about these four people on earth.
So, presumably, Jason is aware that the Jacksonville Jaguars are actually good now. How does that affect him?
Well, I think he’s the kind of fan who, when they were 5-11, was like, “We’re one linebacker away from the Super Bowl,” right? He’s an eternally optimistic guy. In his mind, they’re in every game. They were in every game that they lost. So I think his life is happier now that the Jaguars are good. In Episode 4 of this season, you get to see some of his fandom in all its glory. I won’t spoil anything, but I think he’s just psyched in the same exact way that any sports fan would be psyched if their team was doing well.
Right. And he’s got Jalen Ramsey openly smack-talking the rest of the league.
That’s the other thing that’s funny about him loving Bortles so much—of course he should love Jalen Ramsey more. They’ve got like four All-World players on defense. Like, he should be celebrating those guys. But it’s just funnier to [make him love] Blake Bortles.
OK, as an exercise, I wanted to throw this year’s top rookie quarterbacks at you and have you tell me if they’re going to the Good Place or the Bad Place.
Keep in mind I’m off the NFL right now—and that the short answer is they’re all going to the Bad Place, because they’re football players—but I’ll give you my impressions.
Alright, let’s do it: Josh Allen.
Umm … ehh. I think Josh Allen is going to the Good Place because he plays for a long-suffering franchise. He went to a small school. He’s been underrated his whole life—so I’ll say he’s got a shot of going to the Good Place.
Oh, he’s going to the Bad Place. He plays for the Jets and he went to USC; he has a weird, giant monster-head. Frankly, he was doomed the moment he [picked] USC.
Baker’s tough because he’s kind of an asshole, right? He’s kind of a macho dingus. But he plays for the Browns, and if he could actually lead the Browns to respectability, that’s a huge boost for him. Being the savior of a long-suffering franchise … I mean, part of the Good Place point system is it’s cumulative. So think about the number of Good Place points you would get if you lead the Browns to a playoff game. To a winning season, even! Because of the number of people that you’re making happy, that’s a huge boon, right? They’ve been so miserable for so long. So I think he started off in a deep hole because he seems kind of like a testosteroned-up macho douche. But if he can keep it together and lead the Browns to respectability, that’s going to really help his case.
Uhhh. [Heavy sigh.] I don’t know. I don’t think you can grade him yet. I think it’s an incomplete.
And what about Lamar Jackson?
Lamar Jackson’s going to the Good Place. All black quarterbacks are going to the Good Place, absent some Michael Vick–type situation. It’s just the number of times that a black quarterback has had to [face] insults and sleights and just kind of racist BS that gets thrown at them from professional people who are professionally paid to comment on football. Lamar Jackson [won a Heisman] and then Bill Polian, on television, said he should be a wide receiver. I mean, can you imagine having to live through that? Every day of your life you’re winning trophies for being the very best at what you do and then still people are like, “Yes, but you can’t continue to do that. It’s impossible.” Because the implication is you’re not, what? Smart enough? I mean, it’s deeply insane.
So Bill Polian: Definitely going to the Bad Place?
Oh man. [Laughs.] Don’t get me started on that guy.
To bring this back to Jacksonville, whose games are playing in the Bad Place now that the Jags are good?
It’s a good question. Who’s a contender this year? I thought it was the Bills, but then they beat the Vikings. I thought it was the Lions and then they beat the Patriots. You know what they’re probably doing? Showing last year’s Browns on a loop. And part of the torture is knowing that this year’s Browns are actually more interesting and more fun to watch—but you can’t watch them.