God Friended Me: TV for the Spiritually Agnostic (CBS, Sunday, 8:30/7:30c)
October 3, 2018
It is nearly impossible to blog when one is on a book manuscript deadline. In my case, I’m past the deadline with three chapters left to write. The book is Vocation & the Common Good. Soon you will begin seeing blogs based on the research behind this book: the significance of the gig economy, why we should take trade schools seriously, how the medical and legal fields have lost their way, how making a difference in the world means taking work seriously and taking working with others seriously.
I have longed for a TV drama that captures the New Copernican ethos—one that is searching, haunted, open-ended, and evocatively inclusive. Such a show would be highly unlikely from a writer oriented toward reaching the faith audience as in those productions by Pure Flix and Sherwood Pictures.
The networks have been actively seeking series projects with spiritual themes over the past few years. There were two such pilots this past season that went to series, ABC’s hour-long Kevin (Probably) Saves the World; and CBS’ half-hour Living Biblically. CBS has longstanding traditions in the genre with such dramas as Touched By an Angel and Joan of Arcadia. It is admittedly a tricky genre to master where religion has been significantly corrupted by politics and knee-jerk culture war sensitivity.
While it is too early to draw a blanket conclusion, here is a promising new show that is worthy of our attention. CBS has just released a dramatic comedy TV series, God Friended Me. This is a drama about an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God. Show creators and producers Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien are both Jews, but only Steven is a believer in God. Their friendship, differences in belief, and ongoing conversations about God spurred this show’s creation. Can conversations about God actually bring people together?
Bryan Wynbrandt explains, “When you think about how people use religion as a tool to divide, at times, we wanted to have a conversation about how we shouldn’t let religion divide us—we should let it bring us together.... Social media is a really interesting metaphor for religion in that way because it started off as a great way for all of us to stay connected. And now it’s become this divisive tool.” Steven adds, “Well, you never really see shows having conversations about religion on television. And it’s not something that we wanted to have that was judgmental or was taking sides, but would show everybody’s different points of view. That was really fascinating to us.” This is a show about spiritual pilgrimage that is designed to speak uniquely to the spiritually agnostic. It’s a show about seeking without closure. It’s about conversation, not conversion. As such there is much that is valuable for all: wherever you are or wherever you are going on your spiritual journey.
The take away from the first episode is that spiritual journeys with all their wanderings and wonderings will give you to a larger purpose, connect you to others, and make the world a better place. The journey is a valuable experience. Everyone should be open to such an adventure.