A comedy that showcases television at its best – New York Post

In two months, we will find out whether humanity will be saved, or if it will be deemed a mistake and brought to an ­immediate end by a “human-wiper-outer thingy” that looks like an ancient TV remote from the 1960s (yes, there was such a thing; my grandparents had one).

This is just how high the stakes are in the final episode of NBC’s “The Good Place,” which will wrap up its four-season run on Jan. 30.

That night will bring to a close the most original situation comedy ever attempted on television — and one of the medium’s most imaginative, surprising and emotionally resonant shows.

Sometimes it can be amusing reading about the pretensions of sitcom-makers and how they think their shows address deep issues. For instance, back in the 1960s, a producer named Sherwood Schwartz claimed that he was making a program about “democracy,” a portrait of a “social microcosm.”

Sounds impressive. The problem was Schwartz was talking about “Gilligan’s Island.” He once lamented that “not a single critic got it.” Truth is that they didn’t get it because “Gilligan’s Island” was a show made by idiots about idiots for idiots.

“The Good Place” is almost exactly the opposite. It is a show about the weightiest topic imaginable — what does it mean to be a good person? — but it is told with a gossamer lightness.

It is set in heaven, and the only thing we really know about the universe is that it’s a little off, because it thinks Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) deserves to be there. She isn’t an awful person, though she tends toward the amoral, but neither does she seem to deserve to live in Paradise.

Paradise, or “the good place,” is a charming little town where festivities and parties and delights are presented to residents on a minute-by-minute basis by Michael (Ted Danson) and his sidekick Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

Everyone gets paired off with their soulmate. Eleanor’s is a philosophy professor named Chidi, who just doesn’t seem like her soulmate at all.

So it seems heaven doesn’t work right. Eleanor begins to fear she will be discovered for the not-great person she is and sent instead to the “bad place,” where humans are eternally tortured.

In the universe of “The Good Place,” Paradise is full of frozen yogurt shops but hell is still Dante’s Inferno.

Only, it turns out the other people in “The Good Place” aren’t all that good, either. Chidi is paralyzed by indecision. A silent monk turns out to be a petty criminal from Jacksonville, Fla. A British philanthropist is a compulsive name-dropper. What cosmological mistake has been made here?

It is at this point, in the midst of the first of its four seasons, that “The Good Place” literally becomes an exploration of good and the question of whether these four people can somehow be saved from what would seem to be their actual fate — eternity in hell.

It falls upon Chidi to lead them through study and example to ­address the question of whether people can change, can become better, can become good if they choose to become good.

The characters travel to both the Good and Bad Places and back to earth — and to a medium place ­inhabited by one person, whose primary goal after an eternity is to get some cocaine.

And as the show comes to an end, their fate becomes the very fate of humanity itself — to be adjudicated with an “Ally McBeal”-obsessed judge with the aforementioned “human-wiper-outer thingy.”

Now, we can’t really expect the show to end with all of humanity being obliterated. But given the corkscrew genius of creator Michael Shure, I suspect Jan. 30 will find a path between the fates.

You can catch up with “The Good Place” on Hulu or on NBC.com. Do it. Life itself might hang in the balance.

jpodhoretz@gmail.com