CBS’s “God Friended Me” is sort of like a kindergartener’s art project. It’s a bit of a mess. It’s not particularly good (some might even go so far as to call it ridiculous). But you can’t quite bring yourself to hate it. It’s sweet, it’s clearly trying very hard, and in this topsy-turvy terrible world, maybe that’s enough.
The most charitable way to describe the title of “God Friended Me” is to say it’s efficient. Indeed, God has taken to friending people on Facebook. But Miles Finer (Brandon Michael Hall, “The Mayor”) is an unlikely friend. He’s a staunch atheist podcast host who reminds his listeners that “there is no God, and that is OK.” It isn’t surprising that when he first receives the fated friend request, he laughs it off, clicks ‘delete’ and carries on about his day.
The Lord doesn’t give up so easily. After being pestered by notifications, Miles forms his covenant with God (that is, he finally accepts the request). Immediately, the account begins recommending other friends for Miles. The first is John Dove, who happens to be crossing the street at that very moment and is subsequently rescued from a suicide attempt by Miles. The next suggestion is Cara Bloom (Violett Beane, “The Flash”), a journalist employed at some sort of bizarro online news outlet where journalists can go six weeks without filing a story.
Cara denies any knowledge of the account when confronted by Miles, but she agrees to help him figure out who’s behind it, while pitching it as a “think piece about the intersection of faith and science through the prism of social media” (what?) to her editor. Along the way, they’re aided by Miles’s hacker friend Rakesh (Suraj Sharma, “Homeland”), because this is a television show and CBS is apparently contractually required to write in a hacker friend.
Yes, nearly everything about “God Friended Me” is cheesy and groan-worthy, but the show is so cloaked in earnestness that it doesn’t feel like a completely lost cause. As Miles, Hall is instantly likeable, with a breezy, effortless charm. When Rakesh traces down the account’s IP address, Suraj Sharma triumphantly delivers the line, “I found God. He’s in Jersey!” And “God Friended Me” seems sincerely interested in tackling difficult questions about religion and the connections that bind us together — both online and offline.
The trouble is, when you’re taking on the weightiest mystery of all, everything else feels excessive. The pilot for “God Friended Me” is poorly paced, with a second half that attempts, unsuccessfully, to introduce and resolve maybe four different unnecessary plot points. Premise-wise, the show is best set up to function as a procedural, à la “Joan of Arcadia” or “Early Edition,” with a new “suggested friend” and a new heroic quest in each episode. But “God Friended Me” looks like it has ambitions beyond that, pulling itself in a bunch of different directions without much luck in any of them. It’s not nearly funny enough to be a comedy. And for a drama, the emotional stakes feel a bit contrived.
Maybe that’s an unfair criticism. That’s the whole point of the show after all: We’re all part of some grand plan, all being operated on by some omniscient being, so of course it’s contrived. But surely there’s a way to manage that balance without resorting to melodrama and absurd twists. Could “God Friended Me” pull that off? Maybe — I have a little faith.