by Tanner Kinney
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for this episode and previous episodes of God Friended Me.
In the introduction of last episode’s review, I talked about Pure Flix films and how God Friended Me gave off a similar vibe. This episode, titled “The Good Samaritan,” makes me re-think that comparison a little bit.
Pure Flix films tend to depict atheists or the concept of atheism as an “antagonist” of sorts. Take the movie God’s Not Dead, for example. In that film, the only character that could really be called an “antagonist” is the professor who lost his faith when his mother died. He’s hateful, spiteful, and outwardly negative against the good religious people shown in the film. They aren’t trying to create an open dialogue; Pure Flix films are quite literally preaching to the choir.
God Friended Me takes a different approach. This episode literally has Miles Finer mention that he wants his podcast to create a dialogue between people with faith and people without, and the show almost reaches that idea. It doesn’t quite achieve in creating a discussion, but it does send a message of acceptance for people on both sides of the argument. It’s admirable that a show with a premise this dumb tries to do that. It doesn’t make it any better of a show to watch, but it’s still admirable.
“The Good Samaritan” delivers a refreshing message despite stale problems
This episode is a direct continuation of episode one, following podcaster Miles Finer as he tracks down and tries to help the friend request of the week: a woman named Katie Banks. Katie is a single mom struggling to make ends meet when Miles inadvertently gets her fired from a waitress job. In an attempt to fix his mistake, Miles, possibly illegally, finds Katie’s home address and discovers that Katie’s son, Nate, has autism. Miles is then roped into helping babysit Nate while Katie interviews for a job, in which Miles accidentally does a better job parenting and ruins the whole situation. Some time later, it’s discovered that Nate wandered off, and our cast of characters finds him playing his mother’s favorite song on a stray piano in Central Park. Katie and her son connect through music, and a bunch of C and D plots resolve themselves quietly in the background. It’s all a part of some hack writer’s plan.
This episode shares a lot of the same issues that the first episode had. The writing isn’t much better, though there were some better bits of humor in this episode than the first one. The acting is as good as it can be with this script, with a lot of bad line reads once again coming from Rakesh. The lack of any real establishing shots make it hard to get a good judge of the scope of the show. It takes place in New York City, obviously, but there’s no real connective tissue so we can get an idea of where everyone is in relation to each other. And finally, once again, the ridiculous amount of in-your-face symbolism and ridiculous coincidences make the show a bit of a joke, but it’s still kind of funny to see it all come together.
A new issue is that there’s no real sense of time within the show; things just happen and resolve within what feels and looks like minutes worth of time. The pacing of conflict within this episode is bizarre as well. A character would show up, exchange one or two lines of dialogue with another character, and then they would be mad at each other almost instantly. Then, when the plot demands the characters patch things up, they do it just as quickly. It’s particularly noticeable in the scene in the music shop where Cara speaks with Miles about helping Katie. In mere moments, they are sour towards each other for pretty much no reason. Pacing was a problem in the first episode as well, but this one escalates the problem as quickly as problems do in the episode itself.
There’s also a point that I’d like to talk about here: the depiction of autism within the show. Hollywood has this problem where it likes to depict what can be described as something akin to “romanticized autism.” An example of this would be The Good Doctor on ABC, a show where the main character is an extraordinary doctor but also has autism and struggles to communicate. In situations like this, autism is treated like magic that makes someone really good at something. There’s a huge spectrum of autism disorders, and a lot of shows don’t do a very good job a depicting autism accurately. So, color me surprised when I say that God Friended Me has one of the most accurate depictions of non-verbal autism I think I’ve seen in any piece of media.
Nate is non-verbal, meaning he isn’t able to communicate his thoughts and interests verbally. He sort of just operates independently of what’s happening around him, although it’s evident that he’s listening to what people are saying and is aware of his surroundings. While Miles is babysitting him, something catches his eye and he follows it. The attention to detail with Miles actually respecting the kid’s space and not touching him was nice to see. Plus, credit given to the child actor playing Nate, he did a phenomenal job playing the role. Although the resolution had him magically learning to play the piano flawlessly despite no actual training or preparation, aside from that it was pretty much pinpoint accurate. As someone who has a little brother with non-verbal autism, I’m glad to see a show depicting it properly, even if it is God Friended Me.
Aside from that shining element of the episode, the idea of the show trying to create a discussion between those who are religious and those who aren’t is an unexpected twist on the typical Pure Flix fare. As mentioned in the introduction, the show puts in effort to try to bridge the gap between millennials who are questioning faith and older religious folks (read: baby boomers watching primetime CBS on Sundays). Does it succeed in sending the message? It tries, but it misses the landing just a little bit. The show doesn’t really depict the point of view of an atheist, or even a religious person for that matter. There is conflict between characters but, aside from the podcast producer being cartoonishly anti-religion, it paints them all in a positive light. It just shows that there are signs and odd coincidences that are evidence of a higher power working in mysterious ways.
Except, this show writes God as incredibly predictable and, again, surprisingly petty. Plus, coincidences in real life may seem like evidence of a higher power, but coincidences in a TV show are signs of lazy writers. At the very least, it treats everyone (and the audience) with at least a little respect, which is definitely admirable for both Christian programming AND a primetime CBS show.
Featured Image: CBS
‘God Friended Me’ Season 1, Episode 2: “The Good Samaritan”
‘God Friended Me’ continues to have interesting ideas and brings in a refreshing message with “A Good Samaritan”, but it’s all tied to an average TV show. Respecting others is the message of this episode, and it actually listens to its own message and shows respect for all parties involved. Its depiction of autism deserves major props as well. However, bad writing, bad pacing, and some odd cinematography make the show a struggle to sit through. If those issues continue to plague the show, its sermons will stay left unheard.
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.