God’s Favorite Idiot review – Melissa McCarthy has a divine gift for lifting the spirits

I save Melissa McCarthy for really bad times. When I need to be broken out of a deep funk, she is my non-pharmaceutical mood-elevator of choice. Funny to her marrow, however variable the material may be (Bridesmaids is terrible and this is a hill I intend to die on) she can be relied on to deliver the serotonin. Identity Thief, Tammy, Spy, The Boss, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters (why wasn’t she a Ghostbuster? Why wasn’t she all four? My second hill) have been on regular rotation since 2016. If things are really, really bad I unleash the double dose of The Heat, co-starring Sandra Bullock. I am currently watching The Heat about 72 times a week. I would swap it for Thunder Force with Octavia Spencer, but need to hold something back in case Boris gets re-elected in 2024.

Now she is back on the small screen (after last year’s dramatic role in Nine Perfect Strangers, where she was again one of the main reasons for watching) with God’s Favorite Idiot (Netflix), written by her husband and frequent collaborator Ben Falcone. He plays Clark, a mid-level tech worker, a sweet, slightly hapless, perfectly average man – until he is struck by lightning from what turns out to be a divine cloud and starts to gain powers and, intermittently, glow. Satan is running amok in heaven and God has chosen Clark as her messenger on Earth, spreading the Word and strengthening her hand against the diabolic forces gathering against her and us.

Before he gets to that, however, he plucks up the courage to ask his brash, pill-popping co-worker Amily (McCarthy) out. “You are very lovely, very bold, not ugly. In an attractiveness way … I think I can dig my way out of this.” “It’s like a quiet meteor hitting the Earth,” Amily tells him. “Death is coming.” But she agrees to the date, and their relationship blossoms. “I like that you say shit that should embarrass you but it doesn’t,” she says, and Clark beams with happiness. The actors’ chemistry is real and joyful to witness. Those who take that as a given with married performers should watch 10 minutes of Kidman and Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut or Brangelina in Mr & Mrs Smith and recalibrate.

Gradually coming to believe in Clark’s new powers (they begin with the ability to conjure up Harry Styles songs appropriate to the moment) and mission are other IT support colleagues Tom (Chris Sandiford), who cannot access YouTube unaided, Mohsin (Usman Ally) and Wendy (Ana Scotney) who form the will-they-won’t-they relationship beloved of the genre to fill the gap left once Amily and Clark get together.

Rounding out the ensemble-ish – McCarthy and Falcone being first among equals – cast are Frisbee (Steve Mallory, who executed a pratfall and concomitant exclamations in the first episode that despite my hatred of physical comedy had me properly laughing), their manager apparently obsessed with the petty details of his job, archangel Chamuel (Yanic Truesdale), Clark’s irascible dad Gene (Kevin Dunn), villainous preacher Reverend Milton Throp (Leon Ford), not-quite-ace reporter Judy Miller (Georgie Bolton) and Satan herself (Leslie Bibb). Followers accrue to Clark, as do haters (“Out of my way, sister wife,” says Amily, barging past one of those who believe Clark to be a charlatan), Satan ramps up her efforts to destroy them, Pestilence, War and Famine drop down to Earth to help – hijinks generally ensue.

Look, it’s not going to trouble any awards panels. It’s broad-brush stuff for the most part – especially when it comes to Gene and the co-workers, who are allocated about one and a half characteristics each and not given much to do with them. But Falcone and McCarthy are great to watch, and the central relationship between their alter egos gives the whole thing enough charm, warmth and heart to get by.

It’s unclear as yet whether Netflix agrees. Sixteen episodes were originally commissioned to be filmed all at once, but shooting wrapped after eight. Temporarily, we are told, but there has been no word on the second batch yet. Overall, it would be nice to see them, but I suppose it’s a marker of sorts that I suspect no one will much mind either way.