God’s Favorite Idiot might not be as divine as The Good Place, but grapples compellingly with faith

Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy in ‘God’s Favorite Idiot’ (Netflix)
Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy in ‘God’s Favorite Idiot’ (Netflix)

Weird times when you’ve gotta pray for the angels,” Amily tells her boyfriend Clark as they drive away from the apocalypse on new Netflix comedy God’s Favorite Idiot. She’s being literal. Clark, played by Ben Falcone, is a middle-aged IT worker-cum-prophet. Amily, played by Falcone’s real-life wife Melissa McCarthy, was little more to him than an eccentric, pill-popping colleague until he started glowing – again, literally – at his desk.

The eight-episode series, created by Falcone, is chiefly set at Clark’s nondescript office – a warren of cubicles teeming with zany American co-workers who never seem to produce anything tangible. His boss, Frisbee (Steve Mallory, who co-wrote 2016 comedy The Boss with Falcone and McCarthy), turns out to be one of God’s lesser angels, concealed in the body of a middle-management stooge. Here is a workplace sitcom with the ambitions of The Good Place or the 2003 Jim Carrey flick Bruce Almighty, both religious comedies that ask what it means to be good, in the God-fearing sense. However, God’s Favorite Idiot asks an ultimately less useful question: if someone was a messenger from God, how would everyone else receive him?

The rosy answer, at least around the break room, is wholeheartedly. Almost as soon as Clark’s vaguely defined powers emerge – he can glow, speak in tongues, quote scripture, see archangels on Earth – his colleagues rally to his side. They voluntarily form a “Council for Clark”, never asking for even a cheeky little celestial favour in return.

It’s the outside world that feels more predictably mixed. Clark’s dad, initially concerned that a blasphemous prank is afoot, comes around quickly. Satan – played by an exceedingly game Leslie Bibb – isn’t a fan, but generally Clark attracts a grab-bag of zealots and haters and voyeurs. Cable news vans park outside his house one day and never leave. In a cloyingly modern bid to win over nonbelievers, Clark even makes a dance video for TikTok.

The hitch is that the show’s extravagant and often very funny set-up never reaches the allegorical heights of a series as shrewd as The Good Place, in which Kristen Bell’s dirtbag character spent multiple seasons fighting her way into heaven by way of personal improvement. It’s not that sitcoms need to be morally instructive, but in raising the big questions – Which religion is right? Is there an afterlife? – the audience expects a pay-off.

At times, though, the whole religious plot can seem more like a ploy. It’s a way to get a comedian as talented as Melissa McCarthy to say the words “holy guacamole” and mean them – last time, I promise – literally. We learn that the universe is like a giant baklava, with battles for heaven and Earth happening at the same time on different layers, each beholden to the demands of paperwork in order to get anything done. Holy bureaucracy! God (Australian actor Magda Szubanski) chooses Clark as a vessel because he’s “sweet and simple like pecan pie”. But the only moral implication I could tease out is that we should be nice to sweet, simple people because maybe they’re more significant on some other plane of the flaky filo dough of human existence.

The lessons that do arise seem only to apply to nebbish Clark who, as prophet, is emboldened to ask out Amily after years of pining. He also finally stands up to his mother, who abandoned him as a kid but delivers the series’ most subversive one-liner: “No one ever talks about how difficult it is for the mom to leave.” It’s inspiring, sure, but as a takeaway from a series about the world’s thorniest theological what-ifs, a little forgettable.

The cast of ‘God’s Favorite Idiot’ (Netflix)
The cast of ‘God’s Favorite Idiot’ (Netflix)

Still, you don’t feel that crush of disappointment until you reach the end. As you watch it, the most encouraging thing about God’s Favorite Idiot is that it’s an outward-looking sitcom in the first place. Given how religious the television audience is, especially in America, it’s still rare to see the sitcom – TV’s most enduring form – engage with questions of faith. And in a moment where comedy too often makes headlines for grabbing an offensive third rail (take the controversial work of Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais), it’s refreshing to see a show look for lines to cross that are actually worth crossing.

‘God’s Favorite Idiot’ is streaming on Netflix now