The pilot episode of the new series offers charm and depth
“I found God. He’s in Jersey.”
Though technically God is everywhere, he doesn’t appear in the Garden State in the way the characters in the new CBS series “God Friended Me” hope. And they don’t even believe they’re actually seeking the real God. So what’s the story?
Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) calls himself “The Millennial Prophet” and hosts a podcast during which he happily declares, “There is no God and that is okay.” In explaining himself to his guest, who is a rabbi, Miles says that he simply wants to help people take responsibility for their own lives instead of having them rely on some fictional external force to help them.
Though Miles may be an atheist now, that wasn’t always the case. He was raised in a Christian church at which his father, from whom he is estranged, has been the pastor for many years. The podcast is both an outlet for Miles trying to discover his purpose in life – and also an attempt to get his own show on Sirius radio.
Miles’ certainty about the non-existence of a Supreme Being starts being challenged when he keeps getting Facebook Friend requests from someone or something that calls itself “God.” He ignores it several times, but whoever is sending this request won’t take “no” for an answer, so Miles finally relents.
Suddenly, God sends him a Friend suggestion named John Dove (Christopher Redman), who Miles spots on the street and decides to follow out of curiosity. Miles ends up saving Dove’s life, making it look like divine intervention brought them together. But ever the doubting Thomas, Miles can’t bring himself to accept that.
When God sends him another Friend suggestion – journalist Cara Bloom (Violett Beane) – Miles believes he’s being catfished and enlists his co-worker and friend, computer expert/hacker Rakesh (Suraj Sharma), to look into where the God account originates. In the meantime, he connects with Bloom and accuses her of making him an unwitting ploy in some story she’s working on. But Bloom knows nothing and reveals that she’s actually suffering from writer’s block. She decides to work with Miles to figure out who “God” is, thinking this might be a story worth covering.
“God Friended Me” delivers plenty of humor and charm in its debut episode, coupled with its profound existential questions about whether God really exists and makes Himself known to us. The episode includes a wonderful sight gag, for instance, that evokes Moses and the burning bush – but also includes poignant reflections on loss and how it can affect our belief systems. To the writers’ credit, there is a predictable reason for Miles’ loss of faith, but I found the details completely surprising and believable because life often includes cruel twists of fate.
As Miles and Cora, Hall and Beane make appealing leads who convey good-natured spirits, along with a depth of soul, grounded in pain and loss.
The character of Miles’ father, the Rev. Arthur Finer (Joe Morton), seems like he might represent traditional Christian belief. While he loves his son deeply, he also challenges Miles’ mission to convert people to disbelief, insisting “You are taking away people’s hope.”
But the show as a whole appears focused on exploring the fine line between faith and doubt, on asking questions and searching for something greater than ourselves. For inspiration, series creators Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien relied on their own lives. They were both raised in Jewish households, but only Lilien remains a believer. Stories, of course, require conflict, so living in the tension between faith and doubt should produce plenty of interesting ideas.
Considering that many millennials are reluctant to affiliate themselves with traditional religious denominations, the series may very well speak to them and get them to examine the connecting threads they see between people and circumstances in their own lives. Miles and Cara will need to learn to trust that “God” is leading them in a meaningful direction. And they will likely need to keep growing in virtues, such as selflessness and sacrifice, in order to serve others.
That being said, viewers shouldn’t expect the series to be a theology lesson. It’s a network television show meant to entertain and appeal to people of all faiths and no faith. Depending on how the story proceeds, viewers from different religious denominations may be able to glean lessons that affirm or challenge their own beliefs. The same can be said for agnostic or atheist viewers.
So will “God Friended Me” ever overtly affirm the existence of God. It’s way too early to tell. Technically, the God from whom Miles is getting messages could be akin to the all-seeing “Machine” from a previous CBS series, “Person of Interest,” which sent Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson on missions to help people. Or it could go the route of CBS’s Christopher Award-winning “Joan of Arcadia,” on which God was very much a real entity.
As far as the pilot goes, “God Friended Me” delivers a solid dose of hope and faith to a cynical world. It premieres on on Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8:30/7:30c on CBS. Or you can watch it now at the CBS website.