So, there’s this new TV series on CBS that features a small team of good-deed-doers who receive cryptic messages and, in following the instructions, find themselves in a position to change the lives of those they encounter.
Given the current wave of old shows becoming new again, my first thought was likely similar to what might have crossed your mind …
… they’re rebooting “Person of Interest”?
Well, we’d be wrong.
The messages in this new series aren’t coming from a mysterious computer system developed as a secret government project … at least not yet … but from an even more mysterious unseen presence.
By way of Facebook.
Not to go full-Shatner here, but to paraphrase Capt. James T. Kirk from the big reveal in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” … what does God need with a social media account?
Still, CBS hopes that viewers will gives a thumbs-up to “God Friended Me” without thinking too much about the dubious mode of deity communication.
(Parenthetically, I hope “God Friended Me” never answers the question as to where the Facebook messages actually originate. Having them come from some shadowy government type would be a letdown — in much the same way that “The Good Place” is no longer set in the afterlife ... even though it did turn out to be the Bad Place.)
I mean, Facebook’s not exactly George Burns using John Denver as a messenger — what could be? — but at least it’s not Twitter. Reducing the word of God to 280-character bursts just seems a tad inappropriate (despite the presence of numerous serious and sarcastic Facebook pages and Twitter handles).
Not to mention that it wouldn’t make for good television.
After all, that’s the bottom line, is it not? TV — at least in our suspicious age — doesn’t seem to know what to do with God. (Then again, God hasn’t figured out what to do with TV, either.)
The earnest religious-themed shows of decades past — think “Touched by an Angel” or “Highway to Heaven” — are now seen as anachronisms that have given way to series that dance around the subject by focusing on the nature of existence.
Take, for instance, “Lost” — the granddaddy of the continuing wave of shows that put a random group of strangers into a circumstance of undetermined origin (this year’s model is “Manifest” on NBC) — which ended its run with the death of just about everyone you cared about, who were led through parting doors into a bright white light by a character named Christian Shepherd.
It doesn’t get much more iconographic than that … and yet debates rage to this day about where these passengers were after their plane crashed on an undiscovered island. One that, now that you think of it, had been found by all sorts of people — including the inevitable and obligatory super-secret government agency.
Dharma and God, as it were.
Even further out on the supernatural spectrum is … well … “Supernatural,” the dark sci-fi adventure series that in its 14th season has turned one of its crusading Winchester brothers into an archangel to battle the devil.
Are you as shocked as I am? Not by the storyline ... but that the Winchesters’ 1967 Impala has lasted 14 years.
More often than not, churches and religious figures have found themselves used in one of three predominant television tropes — weddings, funerals and crime scenes. (Unless, of course, some imaginative screenwriter double-dips by putting the crime scene at a wedding or funeral.)
There have been exceptions. “Joan of Arcadia” intelligently borrowed the God visitation narrative to send a searching teenage girl off to discover herself as much as it focused on her divine tasks. The series, despite critical acclaim and a handful of awards, lasted a mere 45 episodes ... must have been the part about the show being intelligent.
A less-outwardly religious subtext ran for 13 years in the Fox procedural “Bones” — as scientist Brennan relied on what her eyes could verify through empirical evidence, while former altar boy Booth held strong to his faith to get him through what he deals with as an FBI agent.
In the coda of the episode “Aliens in a Spaceship,” the partners are in church after Booth has saved Brennan and a co-worker from being buried alive. The experience, she says, still hasn’t changed her mind about the existence of God.
Brennan: “See, if there was a God ... which there isn’t ...”
Booth: “Shhhh. Do you see where we are?”
Brennan: “And if I were someone who believed He had a plan ...
Booth: “... which I do ...”
Brennan: “Then I’d be tempted to think He wanted me to go through something like I went through because it might make me more open to the whole....concept.”
Booth: “It obviously hasn’t.”
Brennan: “I’m okay with you thanking God for saving me and Hodgins.”
But “Bones” had its run, and now there is “Lucifer,” wherein the devil becomes a suave, sexy, nightclub-owning, crimefighting consultant for the Los Angeles police while battling his own inner demons.
No one ever casts God as a crimefighter. You’d think she’d be particularly skilled at that.
Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin, who still hasn’t recovered from the sight of Sam Kinison as Al Bundy’s guardian angel in “Married ... With Children,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.