The world is a confusing place these days for many millennials — the current generation of teens and 20-somethings who, according to polls, have been largely raised without any traditional religion or concept of God.
Yet many studies also show that there is a yearning for a spiritual life, purpose, and meaning among many of these same young people, and that’s a feeling all ages can relate to.
CBS has tapped into this quest by creating the terrific new series “God Friended Me,” which plays like a “Highway to Heaven” in the social media-driven present day.
The show (which premiered Sunday, September 30) is centered around a young African-American man in New York City named Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall), who’s the son of an Episcopalian priest named Arthur (Joe Morton), yet hosts an atheism-themed podcast that he hopes to sell to the satellite-radio giant SiriusXM.
A childhood trauma has led Finer into losing his faith, to the disappointment of his father and bartender sister. But just as he’s preparing to meet with a SiriusXM exec about selling his show, he starts to get nonstop friend requests from someone claiming to be God on Facebook.
God’s avatar, or account image, is of a cloud in the sky, so Finer thinks it’s a prank, until someone also starts sending him other friend suggestions for two people named John Dove (Christopher Redman) and Cara Bloom (Violett Beane).
Just as he’s about to angrily dismiss all the requests, Dove literally runs into him on the sidewalk while his girlfriend is dumping him. Stunned, Finer follows Dove down into the subway, just in time to save the distraught dumpee from jumping in front of a train.
Now certain that there’s more to the story, and dying to find out who’s bothering him and why, Miles asks his computer-wizard co-worker Rakesh Sehgal (Suresh Sharma) to find the IP address of the computer the requests are coming from.
He also decides to find Bloom, who turns out to be a website journalist suffering from long-term writer’s block — and who decides that the search for “God” as a Facebook presence might be the story to break her out of her slump.
Thus the wheels are set in motion for a show that delivers solid performances across the board, fun dialogue and personalities, and a sense of purpose that is often lacking in today’s entertainment age.
The mystery has some nice tense moments, and there’s just a spark of possible romance between Finer and Bloom, but the real power comes from the family dynamics involved once it is revealed that Bloom has mom issues akin to Finer’s struggles with faith and his father.
At a special panel discussion for TV critics held in August, the producers and cast claimed that “God Friended Me” isn’t trying to put forth the idea that God is present in the Judeo-Christian sense or any other specific world faith.
But refreshingly, the show actually has a clear embrace of a Judeo-Christian God, thanks to its positive portrayal of Finer’s father and Bloom referring to Old Testament miracles in a matter-of-fact way.
The show has some touching discussions of God’s presence amid tragedies, divided families, and how to reconcile them and other universally relatable issues. As Finer, Bloom and Sehgal continue their search for who’s behind God’s Facebook account, the idea is that each week they’ll be helping a new troubled person out along the way.
Considering that the show’s creators, Steven Lilian and Brian Wynbrandt, are a writing team from shows like the superhero drama “Gotham” and the “Hawaii Five-O” reboot, it’s hard to tell how faith-based the writers are in their real lives and how much more deeply they will explore theology beyond a surface level.
But the pilot is a big-hearted, entertaining, and sincere effort that provides plenty of positive signs to find faith that it will continue to deliver as a show that Catholics and believers of all ages can enjoy.
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