This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Good Place" is the oddest comedy to hit television this season. It's also hilarious.
Airing Thursday at 7 and 7:30 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5, it's about Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a downright terrible person who dies and is accidentally sent to "The Good Place," which turns out to be an idyllic town where everyone is happy and gets to spend eternity with their soulmates.
Turns out that Eleanor's next-door neighbor Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), a Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence, is really Jason Mendoza, a wannabe DJ and small-time criminal who is one of the dumbest people alive.
Well, one of the dumbest people dead. And how he dies is seriously hilarious.
And Jason has turned out to be one of the funniest things in the show. He's dumb, but he's so sweet and you can't help but love him.
"Well, that's Manny Jacinto," said creator/executive producer Mike Schur ("Parks and Recreation" "The Office"). "Honestly, we searched for so long to find that guy. We looked at Asian men from every Asian nation on Earth."
They were looking for an Asian actor who could be mistaken for a Buddhist monk.
"When we ended up with Manny, who is Filipino by descent, we got a bonus joke," Schur said.
Jason says, "Everyone here thinks I'm Taiwanese. I'm Filipino. That's racist. Heaven is so racist."
Jacinto didn't find out what he was in for until after he was cast.
"When I first met with Mike, he was like, 'OK, so here's what's going to happen. You're a monk. You're not going to speak for three episodes. And then you're going to come out and we're going to do some fun stuff,' " Jacinto said. "He dropped a bomb when we had the first meeting, that's for sure."
As originally written, Jason was a bit of a jerk. But it was decided to "amp up his childlike behavior," Jacinto said. "That's where I get most of Jason and Jianyu's motivation. What would a child do?"
It's a great role. It's also groundbreaking because it fits none of the Asian stereotypes so prevalent in Hollywood. Jacinto is great-looking and athletic, and Jason/Jianyu is the polar opposite of the nerdy, glasses-wearing brainiac that has become an Asian stereotype. As a matter of fact, the nerdy, glasses-wearing brainiac on "The Good Place" is Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who's African American.
"Will and I actually had a conversation about that," Jacinto said. "We were, like, 'You know, if this wasn't Mike's show, I would probably be Will and he would probably be Jason.' We're killing the stereotypes."
And breaking down barriers. Including when ultra-dumb Jason falls in love with and marries Janet (D'Arcy Carden), who's a robot of sorts.
"It's rare to see an Asian male kiss on screen," said Jacinto, who also pointed to flashback scenes he shares with another Filipino actor "where they aren't talking about being Filipino. They're not talking in their language. And they're not related. They're just two regular people in the scene together. And that's incredibly rare in mainstream television."
Jacinto provides a rare performance. It isn't easy to create a character who's so sympathetic and so dumb. (Jacinto himself has a degree in civil engineering.)
"That's why we auditioned so many people," Schur said. "It was like we have to find someone who can both look like a silent, beatific monk and then also be a funny dumb guy, which is not the easiest job in the world. There's a lot of bad, funny, dumb-guy characters in the history of television. You can really step in it if you cast a dumb guy who isn't a good actor. That's why it took us so long to find Manny."
Jacinto isn't the token anything in "The Good Place." He isn't even the only Asian in the main cast Jameela Jamil co-stars at Tahani.
"The idea of tokens is completely scrapped in this show," Jacinto said. "We can have as many of these ethnicities as we want because we are all just people."
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.