“God Friended Me” – Finding Faith Through Facebook
CEG attended a premiere of “God Friended Me” this week in Burbank, co-created by Showrunners Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien (“Alcatraz”, “Gotham” and “Hawaii Five-O”), working with mega-producer Greg Berlanti. The television show makes its debut this Sunday, September 30th, at 8:30pm/7:30 Central on CBS.
The high-concept story is set in New York City, where according to the show’s premise, everyone is searching for meaning and answers. It features Miles Finer (Brandon Michael Hall, “The Mayor”, “Search Party”), a 20-something avowed atheist, who thinks he has it all figured out, but then something happens and it changes his life forever – Miles is friended by “God” on Social Media.
Miles is a self-proclaimed do-gooder with a new podcast, “The Millennial Prophet”, with the tag line “There is no proof of God, anywhere. Reminding you that there is no God, and that’s okay”. His ambitious business plan carries the Millennialist title: “How I Plan to Change the World.” Miles grew up in the church, and his father is a reverend. His tragedy-driven rebellious message is that there is no force that is going to reach out and solve our problems. He believes people should take responsibility for their own lives, and they would all be better off.
While trying to sell his atheist-themed podcast to Sirius Radio, Miles works a dead-end job call center job at an internet security company, along with his buddy/hacker Rakesh Sehgal (Suraj Sharma, “Life of Pi”, “Million Dollar Arm”, “Homeland”). His Sister Ali Finer (Javicia Leslie, “Killer Coach”, “MacGuyver”) is another 20-something working as a bartender at a hipster bar in their Jamaica Center neighborhood, and is a Christian believer. She advocates for the atheist Miles to speak to his father again, a Pastor celebrating his 25th anniversary in the pulpit. They haven’t spoken for years. Miles and Ali’s father, Pastor Arthur Finer, is played by the extraordinary actor Joe Morton, whom you would recognize from “Scandal”, “Eureka”, “Terminator 2”, “Justice League”, and “The Good Wife”.
Miles is content to travel through life unchallenged by his lack of belief in a supernatural being, but “God” won’t leave him alone. A stranger with the screen name GOD tries to friend him on Facebook, which he promptly deletes as SPAM. Miles is peppered with another friend request, which just so happens to contain a cloud profile picture that matches a cloud outside the window of the warehouse bar where his sister works. As he deletes the God friend request a second time, a planter near the street, literally a burning bush, spontaneously bursts into flame. Was it set by the kids who are chased-off by the shopkeeper with a fire extinguisher, or was it “God”, we are left to guess. When Miles finally accepts the God Account friend request to make it go away, the God Account suggests that Miles friend the stranger John Dove, whom serendipitously Miles crashes into on the sidewalk.
Five minutes later Miles sees John Dove in the subway tunnels, where Dove, distraught by the public breakup with his girlfriend, attempts to step in front of the oncoming train. Miles, recognizing Dove, pulls him back from the abyss, saving his life. Dove thanks Miles and steps onto the train, starring out the train window as it pulls away, just coming to grips with what he almost accomplished, and conveying with a look his thankfulness to Miles, the accidental hero.
Miles is now convinced that Dove was not going to jump, but is participating in some elaborate hoax orchestrated by an internet troll or his pastor-father. As Miles contemplates these possibilities, the God Account recommends another friend, Cara Bloom (played by Violette Beane, “The Resident”, “Truth or Dare”, “The Flash”), who works for the online magazine Catapult, an obvious stand-in for Buzzfeed or Gawker. Cara is another 20-something mod Hipster, who hasn’t had a trending article for weeks. Her vogue 40-something boss demands that she come up with a hit article by the end of the week, or lose her job.
Meanwhile, Miles convinces his hacker co-worker Rakesh to help him track down the God Account. Their quest leads Rakesh and Miles to Cara’s magazine office, whom Miles briefly believes is behind the God Account. Now, the Scooby Squad is complete, and we’re lead on a quest to chase down the ISP of the God Account, and we glimpse the tragic and complicated backstories of all of the characters we’ve been introduced to so far.
The premise is a simple one, and you have to suspend disbelief to buy it, but you’re willing to do that here because this is a delightful comedy full of entertaining and well-drawn multifaceted characters that don’t insult the viewer’s intellect. Unlike most situational comedy role players, who seem wooden and one-dimensional, you will like and identify with these complex characters, portrayed by a diverse cast reflecting our mixed culture. Yes, each is a stand-in for an archetype or belief, but you won’t mind, as each is witty and delightful messenger.
The language is colloquial and realistic, and the themes sometimes mature, but not too much. This is something you can watch with your 8 year old and 13 year old, and not be embarrassed.
New York Pop culture is featured prominently throughout the show, they play chess at St. Nicholas Park, in Harlem, meet lost relatives in St. Vincent’s Park in the West Village, and drink Macha lattes in Brooklyn. Soul cycle makes a cameo. They mention acting coaches Stella Adler, atheist authors Hitchens and Dawkins, and take Lyft to destinations. It features a fantastic soundtrack, including “I’m only human, after all” by Rag’n’Bone Man, “Helium” by Sia, David Guerra and Afrojack, “Mercury” by Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner, Nico July and James McAlister, and “Ways to Go” by Grouplove.
This is not “Touched by an Angel”, or your TV Dad Michael Landon’s “Highway to Heaven”. The stories here are real and heartbreaking, not pain free. Death, broken relationships, lost years, attempted suicide, resentment, anger and loss. These are the puzzle pieces of life that fit together in a world we cannot always see, but God can. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28. A God who restores the years the locust hath eaten.
The central character here is the unseen God, and the big question in the show is whether God is involved in the Modern World. Is God watching over us? Is God Cruel? Is there a Grand Design? These themes are all explored in God Friended Me. Is the God Account God, or just a trickster? We glimpse the possibilities for Miles, as he critiques modern spirituality as a cop-out, saying that you can’t have one foot in the eternal plane, and the other in the I’m cool category. God relentlessly pursues Miles here, but will Miles respond? Is Miles the Prodigal Son that will return to his Father, The Reverend’s, house? That’s an open question in this series.
Miles closes Episode 1 with the VO from his Podcast: “People say that God has a plan for all of us. That we’re all part of a grand design, well I never believed that to be true. But then he Friended me, and it kind of turned my life upside down. Not that I think it’s God, but in these crazy times we live in, we owe it to ourselves to ask the tough questions, to open our minds to a new way of seeing the world, a place where we can find our voice again. Where old wounds can heal, and new relationships begin. We finally understand our purpose, and find love in the most unexpected place. It’s not going to be easy, change never is, we just need to have the courage to take the first step.”
God Friended Me is about how God uses ordinary people to help each other – and even making some unexpected connections along the way. It’s relevant because it provides a voice for both the believer and the non-believer, and encourages civil dialogue, a tone our entire country needs right now.
Watch Sundays at 8:30pm Pacific/7:30pm Central, on CBS.
Follow up: First two episodes seemed to carry strong Christian themes. The third not so much. Time will tell where this goes.