An Almighty Friend Request

 The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture held a preview of the “God Friended Me” pilot episode on Sept. 26, 2018. || Photo Credit to Lauren Bannister

The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture held a preview of the “God Friended Me” pilot episode on Sept. 26, 2018. || Photo Credit to Lauren Bannister

 

In the early days of Instagram and Facebook, similar images circulated especially among Christian friends and followers. One in particular was usually grainy, usually depicting an iPhone 3 screen with an incoming call from none other than the Creator Himself, and a message meant to resonate with smartphone users at the time: “If God called, would you answer?”

Social media trends such as these reveal a fascination within Christian communities of the link between God and technology. Many Christians believe that when “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” after the crucifixion of Christ in Matthew 27, the divide between God and men is removed. It shouldn’t be beyond God’s ability to call an iPhone, or friend someone on Facebook. So what would happen if he did?

The new CBS drama “God Friended Me” explores just that, following the life of atheist podcaster Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) after he receives a friend request on Facebook from God. When Miles accepts the friend request—after God requests a handful of times—he immediately receives friend suggestions. The first is a John Dove, whose life he saves. Next is Cara Bloom (Violett Beane), a journalist, who decides to help Miles in his search for the owner of the God account.

 

“The first question we’re asking is, ‘Is God real?’ in the show. But that’s the question you’re asking in real life sometimes, too. You have to find this balance where you can be asking yourself these questions, and then immerse yourself in them.”

-Suraj Sharma

 

Of course, it contains blunders typical of network TV shows.

Most of the 20-somethings in the show either don’t have jobs or have menial ones, and they have ridiculously large apartments and cool, modern workspaces. This isn’t really a sore spot for people that don’t live in New York, but it’s something residents here can’t help but notice.

The plot of the pilot is dense as it tackles a slew of difficult subjects: suicidal ideation, injury, cancer and the loss of family members. A main character is severely injured, and minutes later she’s in a hospital bed with no bruises or blood.

As Miles reveals the reason for his atheism—his mom was killed in a car crash after finding out her breast cancer was in remission—and Cara struggles to build a relationship with her absentee mom, the show runs head-on into a handful of clichés. This takes away the chance for full empathy with the characters and leaves behind a more simple curiosity about what their stories will look like.

But the clichés don’t manage to ruin the show. That’s thanks to an underlying message of hope that “God Friended Me” prioritizes.

“It’s realistic and hopeful, which I think is why it’s so good,” said Suraj Sharma, who plays Miles’ friend Rakesh in the show. “It definitely keeps you grounded, but at the same time I think it’s pretty spectacular for there to be hope in odd things.”

 || Photo credit to Lauren Bannister.

|| Photo credit to Lauren Bannister.

This premise, one not necessarily based on but common within modern Christian circles, is one that can easily be exploited or over-evangelized. But it works in “God Friended Me” because the intention is noble, and the show doesn’t rely heavily on Sunday school messages to carry it through.

The focus isn’t to evangelize or force some specific version of Christianity—compared to older shows like “Touched By an Angel” and “Joan of Arcadia”—which works in the show’s favor. Instead, the religious idea of a God Facebook account is used as a springboard for humanity between strangers.

Rather than providing clear cut answers like this in the plot, the purpose of the show is to ask questions. Sharma said each episode will contain a major theme or question for audiences to consider until the next episode.

“The first question we’re asking is, ‘Is God real?’ in the show,” Sharma said. “But that’s the question you’re asking in real life sometimes, too. You have to find this balance where you can be asking yourself these questions, and then immerse yourself in them.”

 || Photo credit to Lauren Bannister

|| Photo credit to Lauren Bannister

The religious premise is an important aspect of the show, of course, and challenges Christians to explore the presence of God in social media and their role in the world. As believers navigate daily life, it’s important to consider how best to help others and how to interpret God’s grand design. The show is just as important for people who aren’t practicing Christians, because it’s always a good thing to learn how to better live in communities and help other people.

“We don’t have any angels that will appear, God won’t appear,” said Joe Morton, who plays Miles’ dad. “And it’s really more about the human connection, as you see that everyone’s connected. Part of the show is, I think, a call to action for people to help other people and realize that we all are in fact connected.”

The owner of the Facebook account isn’t revealed, and the cast members said there was no rush to define it. They believe there’s a beauty in the vagueness of it, and don’t believe it’s necessary to identify the source of the account because it opens up more room for thought.

“God Friended Me” premiered Sunday on CBS at 8:30 p.m.