TV

‘God Friended Me’ Is Much Better Than Its Title, For What It’s Worth


CBS

It’s impossible to take a title like God Friended Me seriously but the show is ultimately so earnest that, by the end of the first hour, you almost feel bad for making fun of it. Almost. It’s still a hilariously bad title, an updated version of when my high school religion teachers would try to convince us that Jesus would totally skateboard or eat Go-gurt or whatever. Except here, it’s the idea that God is using social media to mess with the life of an atheist podcast host. Hey, everyone needs a hobby!

Here’s the weird thing: It’s not ….bad? It’s not exactly good, nor is it particularly compelling, but it is fascinating and competent. It’s even a little admirable. Maybe this is just because of fatigue from a lackluster TV season where nearly every pilot has been disappointing. Maybe it’s because this week has been extraordinarily long and incessantly depressing, so it was a relief to watch something that didn’t hinge on politics or trauma. Maybe it’s mostly due to its lead Brandon Micheal Hall, who made last season’s The Mayor a standout, and his effortless charm even when tasked with the silliest of dialogue. Whatever it is, it sort of works.

God Friended Me is such a CBS program, a vague religious-themed procedural in the vein of Joan of Arcadia (which is forever missed). Miles (Hall) calls himself the “Millennial Prophet” and hosts a podcast interrogating the existence of God. Although he grew up religious and his father (Joe Morton) is a Reverend, the early death of his mother caused him to lose his faith. Then, he gets a friend request from God. You know, a normal afternoon.

After repeatedly denying the friend request (which is absurd, I would immediately accept a friend request from any deity), Miles finally caves and the account recommends he also become friends with someone named John Dove (Christopher Redman). Miles doesn’t know John, but of course, John is right there, and Miles follows him into the subway; John attempts suicide, but Miles saves him. Then, the account recommends friending Cara (Violett Beane), and Miles promptly stalks her at her spin class and, later, stalks her at her job. It’s incredibly silly and it only gets sillier.

Cara is a journalist — the TV-version of a journalist, because the writers don’t actually understand how online media works — who agrees to help Miles because she desperately needs to write a story or else she’ll be fired. From there, the script takes all sorts of crazy (and spiritual) leaps and bounds and even if you’re not sold on the show, there’s an undeniable fascination with the hoops it has to jump through to get from Point A to Point B.

It’s a show that is full solely of coincidences: Miles’ friend Rakesh (Suraj Sharma) just happened to break into Miles’ apartment to get laid at the same time the God account is hacking Miles’ electronics. (For the record, I would absolutely watch a TV show about God being a master hacker.) There just happens to be a ridiculous past connection that ties Cara and Miles together. John Dove just happens to pop up at the time he is most needed, a pivotal moment that manages to be hilariously devoid of dramatic tension. It’s an utterly absurd show — so blandly written that a “shocking” car accident elicited a shriek of laughter, which was definitely not the expected emotion the writers had in mind. But God Friended Me is in a unique position where its inherent premise actually allows these coincidences to feel natural — because the coincidences hint at a larger meaning behind it all.

Oddly enough, I have a vague sense of admiration for the show and its total commitment to earnestness. God Friended Me knows that it’s cheesy, and it knows that its best approach is to double-down on that cheesiness rather than rely on sarcasm or snark. (That said, all of the moments designed to be emotional are so overwritten that nothing truly lands.) So much of it seems specifically engineered to produce a flurry of misspelled texts from parents asking if you’ve seen it, while reminding you that you haven’t been to church in a few years. It’s pleasant, it’s low-key, and it doesn’t end with a nail-biting cliffhanger. Presumably, each week, Miles will follow these strangers and improve their lives. There are worst premises for a show — and I actually welcome a little kindness and positivity. But I still wish they’d change the title.

‘God Friended Me’ premieres on Sunday, Sept. 30th at 8:30 pm EST.

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