So this guy, a character on a new CBS drama, gets a message on his phone: "I found God. He's in Jersey!" Immediately, the character heads for Jersey, determined to confront God.
Of course he does. The new drama God Friended Me (Sundays, CBS, CTV, 8 p.m. ET) is structured like a procedural, a genre which inevitably involves tracking people down and unearthing secrets. And like a lot of CBS procedurals, the show is popular. It made its debut last weekend and did very respectably in the ratings. It might be the first breakout hit of this new TV season.
The reason the character, Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall), heads for New Jersey is simple. He got a friend request on Facebook from “God,” which was followed by friend suggestions from “God” and, intrigued and mystified, he discovered that the people suggested need help. He helps them. Doing God’s work, obviously. So when a friend who can hack computers says that “God” from Facebook lives in a house in Jersey, Miles wants to meet that “God.”
God Friended Me is this year’s iteration of the annual faith-friendly network drama series. Last year, it was ABC’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, about a misanthrope who touches a meteorite, is transformed into a “warrior for God” and can help others with a simple hug.
It’s not hard to figure out why there’s now an annual God-friendly series. And it’s not about a new, annual fit of piety by network TV execs. Each one is an overture to white evangelical Christians who are concerned about their religion’s place in the U.S. culture. Christian conservatives are a solid audience. They are also Donald Trump’s most steadfast supporters. Unregenerate sinner he might be, he’s their guy because he will put certain types of judges and justices in the court system. As the whole world knows, one of those judges is currently the subject of an express FBI investigation.
While Christian conservatives wait for the U.S. courts to reflect mainly their views, they get shows such as God Friended Me. It’s a dumb show, inelegantly made, poorly paced and lacking in charm. But it does have an atheist who is compelled to acknowledge that this Christian faith thing might be the answer to a lot of life’s mysteries.
That atheist is Miles. He’s a tech guy who has a podcast that promotes atheism and a science-based, fact-based approach to life. And – get this – his dad (Joe Morton) is a man of the cloth, a reverend gentleman. The plot set-up is so ridiculously slanted that you watch in stupefied amazement. Anyway, when Miles hears from “God” on Facebook, at first he thinks it’s a prank. But each step of the way, he gets more evidence that his personal atheism is just plain wrong.
Through Facebook, “God” directs him to a young woman, Cara (Violett Beane), who is a journalist. As such, she is trained to be skeptical. But even Cara tells Miles that you have to believe in something. You just do. “You recognize there is something greater at work here. Some grand design connecting us all. Otherwise, life seems kind of pointless.” One can imagine that dialogue being greeted with cheers and high-fives among the intended audience.
There are attempted elements of comedy in God Friended Me, but they are rather hopeless. There is also an emphasis on diversity. That is, the cast is not all-white. Not that any of these elements matter in the slightest. Nor does it matter that the show is very badly made drama. What matters is that it puts God back on prime-time TV. That makes good business sense and it’s politically savvy.