I had not done any research about Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” before sitting down to watch it, and perhaps for that reason, I spent the first half of the pilot trying to figure out what exactly was bothering me about it all. We follow Travis Stubbs (Alexander Skarsgard, “The Little Drummer Girl”), a typical Orlando area middle class working man whose life is consumed by the insidious, omnipresent multi-level marketing company FAM. In a thoroughly engaging, bizarre and surprisingly dark (yet charming) pilot, the show sets up a world in which rhetoric straight from the playbook of capitalism-on-steroids consumes and leads a man to his end. But what really bothered me for the first half or so was the fact that I couldn’t pin down why I recognized who was playing Travis, because Alexander Skarsgard was wearing a beautiful, glorious mullet.
But the real star of the show is one if its own executive producers, Kirsten Dunst (“Fargo”). She plays Travis’s wife, Krystal, a firm yet supportive woman who works a minimum wage job at the local water park. Travis’s relentless ambition and desire to become a millionaire leads him to sacrifice nearly every waking moment of his life to recruiting for the FAM pyramid scheme, leading to a simmering and rising tension between him and Krystal, as well as an unexpected, absurd demise.
Travis is ultimately an endearing yet sad, pathetic fool. Unlike the usual roles he gets, Skarsgard plays one which is dumpy and weak rather than charismatic and godlike. His full devotion to FAM takes on the character of a cult member or a religious zealot, leading him to eventually quite his full time J-O-B (FAM doesn’t permit saying the cursed word out loud) and submit fully to the company’s cause. However creepy and dystopian FAM seems, it’s an even creepier reality out there, considering that about 100 miles west of Ann Arbor lies the town of Ada, headquarters of Amway, one of the biggest multilevel marketers out there (created by a DeVos, perhaps a familiar name). Many struggling working people are seduced in the same way Travis Stubbs is, and while Stubbs’s persona is hilarious, it doesn’t completely mask how pitiable it is.
Meanwhile Dunst, who is poised to be the main protagonist after the pilot, is equally stunning. Dunst season is indeed in full swing, and her range is as well in the pilot. Equipped with a charming Floridian accent, braces and rather delightful outfits, she is nearly the polar opposite of her husband: steely, firm and a long-term thinker and planner. While she is supportive of her husband and even tries to help him in his FAM ventures at one point, she is rightfully exasperated by his sheer stupidity and the danger it poses to their young family.
“On Becoming a God in Central Florida”’s pilot is a promising springboard into future explorations of capitalism and the rehabilitating effects of MLM companies. Oh, and maybe Kirsten Dunst’s performance of a lifetime.