God Friended Me, like its atheist main character, is in a bit of an in-between space. Its proximity to ideas of faith is rarely seen on network television outside of “very special episodes,” but that subject matter sits inside a youthful, millennial-focused presentation that feels at odds with its place on CBS. The show’s fine, but it’s more interesting to see if it’s going to survive. Network TV hasn’t seen a faith-centric show like this in a minute.
Brandon Michael Hall plays the atheist, Miles, at the center of God Friended Me. In the show, Miles broadcasts his pro-atheism podcast in the face of his pastor father (Joe Morton, on point) and wears his lack of belief huge across his chest. He’s working on a presentation that could take his podcast to satellite radio when he receives a notification that explains the show’s clunky title: God sends him a friend request.
To God Friended Me‘s credit, the request isn’t taken at face value by pretty much anyone, and most of the first episode moves forward with the idea that this is probably a trick. The “God account” has a cloud as its profile picture and its only friend is “Nature,” but it also seems to have a prophetic ability to connect Miles to people who need his help. It comes off as a benevolent version of Big Brother, and even if the show toys a bit with the “is it real, is it not” mystery of it all, there’s a pleasant thrill in watching Miles navigate the path laid out for him by the God account.
That being said, what answers do come in the first episode (there aren’t many) seem to point to something divine, and the open skepticism of the characters, including Miles by the end of the pilot, would also indicate God Friended Me is swinging with a pro-faith bat. Belief here is beneficial to others and faith is rewarded (usually) through more meaningful interpersonal connection and other positive consequences. There’s some room for questions and skepticism in this show’s tech-centric premise, maybe, but it doesn’t really continue in the execution. Based on the ending of the first episode, this is one of those things where the results will justify the conviction.
But that won’t rankle faithful audiences. For now, it’s fun to have a show like this on mainstream network television. God Friended Me is good enough as a character drama (you’ll like Brandon Michael Hall as the lead—the show blessedly doesn’t translate his atheism into condescension) to draw those who admire the premise, but its overall context muddies its prospects for anyone besides.
Regrettably, the show’s packaging is a bit too youth pastor-ish to be authentic as a young, millennial-leaning show. You might point to the central premise as indication of that (who uses Facebook anymore?), but God Friended Me is awash in music cues and references that are more “how do you do, fellow kids?” than actually in touch. Indeed, 2 Chainz’ “I’m Different” is an ironic banger nowadays, but you lose credibility when you use it un-ironically. Hall deserved a better introductory track.
This “hip with the youth” vibe is strange given God Friended Me‘s position on network TV. This is a primetime Sunday-night CBS show, meant to counter-program the NFL and attract post-church family viewership, so even if the genre makes sense, the style doesn’t. Parents might be eager to turn to something that’s not Family Guy or HBO, but is God Friended Me going to satisfy a culturally-savvy younger crowd? It’s hard to say.
Future episodes of God Friended Me would do well to lean into the complications that arise when people take bold steps in faith. For a show about an atheist confronted with things he can’t explain, God Friended Me is a bit too cozy about this transformation. A belief shakeup like this has positive and negative consequences, so for every hopeful scene between Miles and his father (side note: Brandon Michael Hall and Joe Morton are awesome together and should clash, bond and interact in every episode), there ought to be a degree of alienation or rejection between Miles and someone else. With faith, these evolving dynamics just come with the territory, and an exploration of that would help the show feel a bit more complex.
God Friended Me‘s pilot might not have been a home run, but it was a base hit. If the series can challenge its characters more and maintain an elusive central mystery, it could become a really solid faith-based TV show. Then the discord with CBS and the youthful aspirations could become unexpected strengths, and we’d be surprised with a strong, modern pro-belief program on a widely-seen network. That’s how something comfortable and insular for Christians becomes something provocative of the same change in the world that it’s seeking to depict on screen.
Tyler Daswick is a senior writer at Relevant. Follow him on Twitter @tylerdaswick.