What a pity that CBS’s God Friended Me has ended its run after two seasons. As fans will have read elsewhere, the producers received word that the series would not be renewed as they were making the last episode, during a time when New York was heading into lockdown. Luckily, there was some unused footage shot for the pilot that was always intended to be where the lead character, Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) would wind up, and they brought that forward, used some narration, clips and VFX, and added it to the core story that they already had in the can.
I became a fan not because I saw any promotion of it here in New Zealand, but in a real round-about way. Violett Beane, who plays Cara Bloom on the show, was pitched to me by her agent many years ago, when she was in The Flash. But it was always tricky to shoot a North American celebrity outside of New York, where a lot of photographers, make-up artists, hairstylists and stylists are based. Some years later, I reached out and was told I was in luck: Violett was now based in New York and everything came together from there.
Of course, I had to watch the show in order to know what to ask her, and that came in handy later when I interviewed Javicia Leslie, the actress who plays Ali Finer—out of sheer coincidence the two found themselves in consecutive issues of Lucire in New Zealand, though they were over half a dozen issues apart in Lucire KSA. And I must say I was hooked, and also pleasantly surprised that it was renewed for a second season, one that started with location filming in Paris.
I had high hopes. Obviously the ratings were good enough for a second season, and the producers had enough faith to do some foreign location filming (though I spotted one ‘Paris’ exterior filmed in NYC). Here was a US show with a decent core message—a young man and his friends helping others in need—without a single gun or violent moment, and some compelling storylines.
The fact an American show I watched was renewed for a second season was a surprise to me, since most that get my attention are cancelled after one. I imagine it’s because my tastes, and the tastes of the fans these shows earn, don’t reflect the majority. Yet go back a few decades, to the 1970s and 1980s, and I was hooked on those series that wound up being massive hits.
I know US networks watch ratings like hawks these days, and with all the monitoring technology around, they know which shows are doing well out of sheer numbers. And oftentimes, they don’t get a chance when the numbers slip. Overseas sales count for nothing—even if these shows make their money back and even turn a profit, the fact that we foreigners like them doesn’t count for a thing.
That seems to be the case for God Friended Me: decent enough ratings on telly but an insufficient gain in DVR playback. Viewers in the 18–49 demographic were down 26 per cent and overall the show was down 20 per cent—enough for the axe to swing.
Sadly, too, it’s cheaper to do unscripted drama, which is what the TV is full of these days. Whenever I channel-surf, there are precious few scripted series—the old saying that there are more channels now with nothing to watch couldn’t be truer. It then becomes all too tempting to put in a DVD from US television’s heyday—Mission: Impossible is my current go-to—and forget terrestrial television altogether.
Over the years it’s British television that has caught my attention, and I’m happy to watch those dramas. They also have a natural conclusion, either because few episodes were commissioned to begin with, or they are given a chance to wrap up the storylines.
Of the American shows this side of the millennium, I think of Daybreak with Taye Diggs and Moon Bloodgood; Journeyman with Kevin McKidd and Gretchen Egolf; Flash Forward with Joseph Fiennes; even the US remake of Life on Mars with Jason O’Mara and Harvey Keitel (never mind the ending, I was a fan of the original and wanted more). None of these managed to get past a single season and I keep wondering if they are too high-concept for viewers now accustomed to the fast-food equivalent of television: reality shows.
The ones I give up on—Lost, for instance, and Manifest, which started around the same time as God Friended Me—seem to go on for a while.
I didn’t want to see any more Lost when I found out at the beginning of season 2 what was down the hatch. That was the only mystery I wanted solved. And I could see that Manifest wasn’t going to tie up its loose ends any time soon, so at the end of the 16th episode, I bid it adieu. Yet these are high concept, so something must hook viewers with different tastes to me.
The only 21st-century US series you could say hooked me, at least for a few years, and that has managed to last 10 seasons is the reboot, reimagining, remake or sequel of Hawai‘i Five-O. Officially, the producers say it’s a reimagining but from the first episode that wasn’t very clear. Steve McGarrett Jr (Alex O’Loughlin) has inherited a car from his father, Steve McGarrett Sr, that looks exactly like the one Jack Lord (the original McGarrett) drove in the original series. When Ed Asner guest-starred, there are clips from the original series, and he tells the star that it was his father, McGarrett Sr, who put him away back in the 1970s. So it’s a sequel. But if it was, then how come the younger McGarrett coincidentally has a partner with the same name (‘Danno’) and is joined by another cop with the same name as someone on the force a generation ago (Chin Ho Kelly). I can deal with Kono being played by a woman. Once I couldn’t work it all out, I gave up.
That aside, Hawai‘i Five-O is the usual cop fare that happens to have incredible locations, and since a lot of US shows are dark (something I just don’t understand—is no one paying the lighting bills?), Hawai‘ian sunshine is a wonderful relief. And it’s not terribly high-concept, either: some minor story arcs here and there but nothing that gets in the way of the crime of the week.
With hindsight, perhaps God Friended Me strayed from this slightly. There was still the friend suggestion of the week for Miles to help, sure, but season two saw the characters become accustomed to it (‘You know how the God account works’). If the characters themselves recognize the formula in their universe, what’s in it for us? You can have a formula show, yes, but don’t let the characters be aware of the formula themselves. Secondly, for me, the cancer storyline that Javicia’s character faces might cut things too close to home for those of us who have been through a family fight against the condition. For a show that offered some escape, that was a real downer. And when Miles loses interest in discovering who or what is behind the God account, then inevitably we would, too—his progress there was what kept things interesting for me.
I wish I wasn’t dissecting the second season like this and, instead, looked forward to the show returning after the break. It is, however, disappointing news, and it could again be years until I hear about another US show that I could be interested in. The fact they keep pulling the plug on them makes you want to avoid getting invested. So, anyone know what new series Bharat Nalluri has got his hooks into? I might have to see that.—Jack Yan, Publisher