(RNS) — A lot of the time, watching Christianity as it’s portrayed in Western media feels like attending a particularly somber funeral. Dramas are the standard genre for religious media, usually tackling the heavy topics of deconstruction, abuse, indoctrination, discrimination, sin or generally anything else that explores hurt and asks really difficult questions.
There’s not anything wrong with this, by and large. Art is one of the best ways to explore life’s difficult questions.
It’s just a shame that the number of heavy, heart-wrenching religious shows and movies overwhelmingly outnumbers the religious comedies. As contradictory as it may seem, Christian comedies often aren’t popular with Christian audiences because many harbor a fear of not being taken seriously.
“God’s Favorite Idiot,” a new Netflix comedy, is a breath of fresh air.
The show was written and created by Ben Falcone, a longtime director and collaborator with wife Melissa McCarthy. Falcone and McCarthy star as Clark and Amily, co-workers at a tech support company who are also in a budding relationship.
In the opening sequence, as Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times” plays, a heavenly cloud unleashes a bolt of lightning that strikes Clark down. It’s a very flashy way to start.
Soon after, he begins glowing — and queueing “Sign of the Times” everywhere, sometimes against his will. He can quote the Bible offhand and adopts the personal favorite scent of everyone around him. In a visit from an angel named Chamuel, Clark learns he’s been chosen as a messenger of God. His mission is to share a message, create believers and, in doing so, help God win a heavenly war against Satan.
These details probably make clear that “God’s Favorite Idiot” isn’t a biblical retelling by any exact means but rather based on more vague concepts and stories. The Bible is referenced a couple of times explicitly, but that’s about it.
The modern prophet narrative is familiar to religious storytelling, used in movies like “Bruce Almighty,” novels like “The First Phone Call From Heaven” or shows like “God Friended Me.”
Usually, a key message of the story hinges on why God has chosen said messenger: Selfishness, a need of hope and a lack of belief are some reasons in the aforementioned shows.
So why has Clark been chosen?
According to God, he’s “sweet and simple as pecan pie.”
It’s a good way to describe him. Clark loves his dad and his two cats. His relationship with Amily is full of affection and respect (likely because Falcone and McCarthy have been married for more than 15 years, so that kind of thing comes naturally). His co-workers support him unequivocally in his mission and have friendly interpersonal relationships. It’s all very heartwarming.
This is maybe the show’s titular idea — anyone can be a messenger for God. Even “idiots.”
What makes Clark God’s first pick speaks a lot to the message of the show, which is rooted in love and acceptance.
“I need you to let people know that God is real and God is good, and everybody, meaning all religions, are actually quite right about God,” God tells Clark in the men’s room at work. “I’m OK with all flavors, unless you’re full crazy train, or use my name to hurt people.”
It’s a nice interfaith touch and objectively wholesome, which can maybe be marked as the greatest success for a show that isn’t overly concerned with the various facts and figures of theology. Evaluating it alongside other religious narratives reveals it’s not exactly spiritually rich.
And as a comedy? Frankly, it’s only OK. Pacing is at times strange, some things overexplained and some not explained well enough.
It’s not as theologically rich as “The Good Place,” and it’s not as funny as “The Righteous Gemstones,” but it is a pleasant middle-road comedy with a handful of laughs and several great moments with a well-used cast of characters.
The clincher here is that “God’s Favorite Idiot” isn’t just a comedy, and it isn’t just religious. It’s a rare combination of the two that isn’t too preachy or too boring. It’s worth a watch, if not just because its rarity brings something new to the table.
It’s also a reminder that not all stories with a religious message have to be somber or existential. Sometimes they can — and should be — as sweet and simple as pecan pie.