CBS’ God Friended Me recently earned a second-season renewal, and hard on the heels of that, its stars and creators appeared in front of assembled press to talk about how the faith-and-Facebook comedy-drama has touched Sunday-night audiences.
Created by Steve Lilien and Bryan Wyndbrandt, God Friended me stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, a computer-security-company employee and podcaster who received a friend request from a Facebook account called “God.” That began a series of coincidences (?) and friend suggestions from the “God account,” that have sent him and his pals — co-worker Rakesh (Suraj Sharma) and journalist Cara (Violett Beane) — on an adventure of helping others, self-discovery and attempts to uncover the mystery of who’s behind the account.
Along the way, Finer has moved from militant atheism to turning his podcast into an open conversation on faith. Joe Morton also stars as Finer’s father, a widowed Episcopalian minister; with Javicia Leslie as his lesbian sister, a bartender.
I was skeptical of the show at first — but I did rate it as “Possibly Not Awful,” because it came from Everwood producer Greg Berlanti — but I liked the pilot (and so did a lot of other Catholics), I was still charmed four episodes in, and now, fully caught up, I still like it. There are some things in it I could do without, but it does manage to be warm, uplifting, celebratory of kindness and charity, and able to discuss faith (and no faith) without demonizing anyone.
Among the announcements made at the Winter 2019 edition of the biannual TV Critics Association Press Tour was the casting of Adam Goldberg to play Simon Hayes, a fabulously wealthy tech mogul who may be connected to the “God account.”
Here’s more of what was said (lightly edited for space and clarity) …
Wyndbrandt on Miles’ loss of faith after he prayed for his mother’s recovery from cancer, only to lose her in an auto accident:
I think everybody has their own way to faith or a lack thereof … I don’t think anyone’s journey to finding God or finding their own path is specific or singular. So you can’t really generalize it. I definitely hear that. And as somebody who is a nonbeliever, I don’t feel that Miles’s journey of turning away from God because of the trauma that happened to him is in any way inauthentic. I think it is authentic to his character, and it is his journey, and that, obviously, you hear the criticism, but I think it’s very true that some people do find their way to atheism through trauma.
Hall on his own spiritual journey:
For me, once again, it has to go back to my childhood. So, growing up in the church and growing up around the church and growing in the Word, that was my basis and my foundation. Right? And so, to take on a role now, where that was being tested, where you have to see the world in a completely different light … absolutely, my views have changed.
Not to say that I don’t believe, but I am in a spiritual place where I’m able to have a conversation with more people about spirituality, that I’m not seeing it from a closed‑minded point of view, but I’m actually taking the time out to see what other people believe and how that’s gotten them to their place.
How it’s been able to help me is manifested right here on the stage. You know, the family and the company that I’ve been able to be around to be able to work on the show is something that I think is ‑‑ in the words of God Friended Me, I think it is very ‑‑ what is it ‑‑ would the word be? … It would be divine intervention! … It’s very much a divine intervention. I couldn’t have proclaimed this years ago. And so those are the little golden moments in my life, the stones that are getting me closer and closer to wherever I’m supposed to be.
Wyndbrandt and Lilien on how the show brings people together:
Wyndbrandt: Just the humanity in it. We are all human beings. Whether you are a nonbeliever, whether you are a believer, I think the true north of goodness in people is wanting to help one another. So, I think people can relate to that.
Lilien: What’s important with our show is we don’t really take sides. We look at religion, especially all different points of view, and try to represent that. So in the writers’ room, we always talk about if someone makes a great argument on one side, we have to see the other side of it. And I think that’s represented on our show in the stories that we are telling.
Lilien on whether other religious figures (beyond Miles’ father, and a female rabbi that’s been on his podcast) will be featured. My question was about the show at large, but Lilian focused just on potential podcast guests:
It’s honestly an episode‑by‑episode basis. I think we started with the rabbi, who was also a close friend of Miles. So it wasn’t just a random person. And then we brought her back in in the midseason point so we could check in on where Miles started in the first episode and see how he’s progressed. And so, as we go on, there’s a couple of people we definitely would love to have on Miles’s podcast, including his father, which would be an exciting thing for us and something we are shooting for. But, yeah, I really think it depends on the episode, the story we are telling. And we are not afraid to put anyone across from Miles, because I think he would welcome that argument, you know, to have that conversation.
Beane on her own spiritual journey:
It would be kind of hard to not ever think about faith and religion with a show like this. And, personally, I was raised Quaker, and I went to meetings every Sunday for most of my childhood. And I kind of stopped going when I left the house, but since moving to New York, I actually live reasonably close to a Quaker meeting. And I’m, like, thinking about going again, which I don’t think I ever maybe would have paid attention to until later in my life.
So I do think that it’s something that comes up and something that you are constantly thinking about. And I think Cara’s perspective of really caring for people and their stories and wanting to hear them has definitely impacted me when I speak to people that I don’t know.
Hall (whose previous show was a short-lived ABC comedy called The Mayor) on the reactions he gets to the show on social media:
It’s mind‑blowing, the reactions that I’ve received, especially because I’m more so on Instagram. And so the messages that I get back and forth, like what Violett was saying, someone is, like, “I’m watching the show with my entire family. My son, my daughter, and my wife, we get to sit down and watch this show every Sunday.”
That means a lot to me because families are sitting down and they are actually communicating through something that we are able to give to them. Or a little kid will say, “Hey, I wanted to be the mayor, but now I want to get friended by God.” You know, it’s, like, those little diamonds, they just resonate so much. So it happens every other day. For every episode, someone is being touched, or someone has a connection to the stories that we are telling. So it’s beautiful.