TODAY'S PAPER
42° Good Evening
42° Good Evening
EntertainmentTV

'God Friended Me' review: Best of the 'This Is Us' wannabes

Brandon Micheal Hall, left, and Joe Morton

 Brandon Micheal Hall, left, and Joe Morton star in "God Friended Me" on CBS. Photo Credit: CBS/Jonathan Wenk

THE SERIES "God Friended Me"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) is an atheist who makes no secret of his obsession over a godless universe in a podcast — which is ironic, or perplexing, because his estranged father, the Rev. Arthur Finer (Joe Morton), is preacher at Trinity Church in Harlem. Then one day Miles gets a series of "friend" requests from God on his social media account (presumably Facebook, but never exactly stated). He eventually accepts the request, and then is prompted to friend one Cara Bloom (Violett Beane). But why? He asks his colleague at work, Rakesh (Suraj Sharma), to hack the account of this God — no luck — and then, in a series of miraculous coincidences, Miles begins to suspect that the universe may not be godless after all. 

MY SAY God and prime time have rarely had a good working relationship because prime time — pretty much like Miles Finer himself — is an atheist. Prime time is about commercials and ratings and sweeps. It's about agents and contracts and Emmys. What's God got to do with any of this? Prime time has proffered the occasional olive branch ("Highway to Heaven," "7th Heaven," "Touched by an Angel"), but God-based shows are rare,

Now along comes "God Friended Me" to stir up questions, or maybe a hornet's nest. By title alone, viewers can infer the God of "God" is more or less tech savvy. Gender is carefully skirted. 

You can almost hear the buzzing of that hornet's nest.

For these reasons and plenty of others, God has first billing in the title, but the real star is the "Me." Hall may have a thin resume — his breakout was in "Search Party," and then he starred in ABC's forgettable "The Mayor" — but at 24, he's considered an "it" actor who's just waiting for the right vehicle to come along. "God Friended Me" could be that one.

He's appealing in "God" and so are his co-stars Beane and Sharma, also relative newcomers. They, too, have chemistry and screen presence, they, too, are likable, or "friendable." Maybe all of this, or all of them, is enough to push "God Friended Me" into the win column.

Maybe, except that Sunday's launch is standing in their way. It's the latest in a fall conga line of "This Is Us" retreads that wants — or in the pilot demands — viewer tears without earning them first. That "Friended Me" element of the title is a contemporary, if not exactly cutting-edge, twist, but the "God" one hints at what's really going on here. "Touched by An Angel" did the same thing as "God Friended Me" over 211 episodes back in the '90s, which added up to a lot of feel-good moments with happy endings, shaped by vaguely spiritual principles and rationales.

So, until Sunday's ratings arrive, who really knows (besides you-know-who)? The country and doubtless plenty of viewers are in a sour mood at the moment. Maybe they're ready for more of the same.

BOTTOM LINE Setting aside a glib and emotionally manipulative launch, of all the "This Is Us" wannabes ("Manifest," "A Million Little Things," "New Amsterdam") in the 2018 fall lineup, "God Friended Me" may stand the best chance of success.

More Entertainment