“God Friended Me” on CBS
Network television has a long history of forcing people to perform good deeds for random strangers. Whether that pressure comes from God (“Highway to Heaven,” “Touched By an Angel” “Joan of Arcadia” “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World”), fate/karma (“Wonderfalls,” “My Name Is Earl”), an artificially intelligent supercomputer (“Person of Interest”), spacetime (“Quantum Leap”) or some ill-defined supernatural something or other (“Early Edition”), the results are surprisingly similar: a bunch of guest stars and some easy uplift on a weekly basis. The brilliant, bleary-eyed folks at tvtropes.com have dubbed this the “Cosmic Plaything” trope.
Now CBS adds to the Cosmic Plaything pile with “God Friended Me.” This lightweight, hourlong drama centers around Miles Finer (Brandon Michael Hall from heavily hyped, short-lived sitcom “The Mayor”). Miles is an outspoken atheist with his own anti-religion podcast. Despite his rather common perspective on faith and belief, everyone around Miles harangues him about God. Ironically (or for simple storytelling convenience), his father is even a reverend. Surely, Miles has got it wrong about this religion thing. God is real—particularly on old-person-friendly CBS. That gets driven home one day, Cosmic Plaything-style, when Miles gets a “friend” request on Facebook from someone claiming to be “God.”
When Miles finally relents and accepts the friend request, God suddenly starts suggesting that he friend other random people. Naturally, Miles immediately crosses paths with these people and is then obliged to help them reunite with their soulmates or get a job or find their parents or not commit suicide or whatever. It’s up to nonbeliever Miles to deliver the requisite happy/touching ending in just 44 minutes and between several commercial breaks. Through a string of crazy coincidences, fateful meetings and some Rube Goldberg-style plotting, everybody ends up enriched, enlightened and happy. (You know, just like in the Book of Job.)
“God Friended Me” tries to milk some drama out of the fact that Miles doesn’t believe in God—because his mom died when he was a kid. (Backstory!) In between performing random good deeds, he spends much of the show trying to puzzle out who is behind this “God” account. He enlists his computer hacker pal (Suraj Sharma), leading to lots of jokey technobabble, and a cute journalist (Violette Beane), leading to some soft romance. Though it pays lip service to the debate between faith and science, agnosticism and spirituality, it’s clear that “God Friended Me” knows what side its bread is buttered on. While not explicitly “Christian,” the show sure likes its characters to preach at one another (in an intentionally nondenominational way). None of this is a crime, in television terms. But there’s nothing remotely original going on in this low-blood-pressure, middle-of-the-road, mainstream-American effort. Every flavorless moment feels recycled from other supernatural procedurals. Which means it’ll probably be a big hit on CBS.