As a fan of Melissa McCarthy (and by extension her husband Ben Falcone), I was excited about God’s Favorite Idiot, produced by and starring the Hollywood couple. The titular character, played by Falcone, is a mild-mannered and unassuming IT worker named Clark who begins inexplicably glowing, much to the dismay of his coworkers and strangers in restaurants. He is confounded by his new gifts until an in-person bathroom visit from a grandmotherly manifestation of God informs him of his simple purpose: to inform everyone that Satan has once again broken through the fortresses of heaven to do battle. In order to win, God needs everyone to “love one another and respect one another more.”
Sounds like a nice, albeit unsubstantial, mission, but God gives no attention to what this love and respect should look like. Clark is supported by his work colleagues who are won over by his sudden abilities to revive dead flowers and make Alexa play Harry Styles hits without saying anything. But in order to “get God’s message out there,” they endearingly resort to hackneyed methods: handing out pun-filled flyers on the street corner, creating social media videos using outdated trends, being interviewed by a small press journalist. These sincere and awkward attempts might be more interesting if they were funnier and had a more pointed outcome.
The show takes on huge theological phenomena with no development of its pat answers. God’s revelation to Clark is that “God is real, and God is God, and everybody, meaning all religions, are actually quite right about God. Also nobody’s really wrong.” But while there are a few references to religion among the main characters (Clark mentions he was raised Episcopalian and his colleague Moshin shares a little about his lapsed Muslim faith), the show shies away from any attempts to explore or resolve religious differences. Depictions of the spiritual dimension relies on Christian medieval tropes, with winged angels and fire-flinging demons, but then these spiritual beings also infiltrate earth with no explanation of how the heavenly battle relates to earth.
Do people need to be good and nice to defeat Satan, or does the army of God need to have the upper hand in combat?
While the premise is fertile ground for the kind of spiritual and metaphysical discussions tackled in The Good Place, God’s Favorite Idiot fails to deliver tight dialogue, original jokes, or to go beyond a couple trite statements about what it means to make the world a better place.
The strength of the show lies in McCarthy and Falcone’s ability as a couple to oscillate between sharp humor and gentle intimacy. Clark frequently confesses to his friends, “I think God picked the wrong person.” Despite his lack of confidence, Clark’s friends, inspired by the miracles, kindness, and integrity they see in him, are prompted to in turn become more self-sacrificing in their own interactions. In its sensitive moments the show reminds that God can work through the most unlikely of people. (Streaming on Netflix, rated TV MA for language and off-color jokes)