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Brandon Micheal Hall (left) as Miles Finer and Violett Beane as Cara Bloom
Jonathan Wenk/CBS

Television

Questioning his Maker

In CBS series God Friended Me, an atheist doubts the divine, with unexpected results

If God sent you a Facebook friend request, what would you do? That’s the unlikely scenario at the beginning of the new CBS series God Friended Me.

Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) is an outspoken atheist eager to share his unbelief with the world through his new podcast. He toils absentmindedly during the day in a call center: His real passion is his podcast. Miles lights up with enthusiasm as he debates the existence of God with guests. “There is no proof of God anywhere in the universe,” he states.

Although convinced there is no God, Miles is strangely angry at this nonexistent being. He and his sister Ali (Javicia Leslie) were raised in a religious home, and their father Arthur (Joe Morton) is a pastor. When their mother became seriously ill, 10-year-old Miles prayed fervently for her healing, and his prayers seemed to be answered. Tragically, on the way home from the hospital, Miles’ mom died in a car accident. How could a righteous and perfect God allow that to happen?

With no easy answers to that question, the young man turns away from church to find his own solutions. As he reminds his father, “I tried to make sense of it, but the only way I could was that there was no God, because if there was it means that He is cruel, and I don’t want to live in a world governed by someone like that.”

A Facebook friend request from an account identified as “God” rocks Miles’ world. After declining the friend request numerous times, Miles finally accepts it, and a series of strange events begins. In the first episode, Miles meets Cara Bloom (Violett Beane), a reporter struggling with writer’s block. His story intrigues Cara, and the two investigate who could be behind the God account. Meanwhile, every friend suggestion from the mysterious source brings together people in need of help, and Miles finds himself the instrument of aid for these former strangers.

The show is surprisingly respectful of Christianity, at least in its first episode. When Miles visits his father, the Rev. Finer is reading from the book of James as he practices his sermon. When was the last time a whole portion of Scripture was read aloud on prime-time TV without criticism or mockery?

Miles’ questions about the divine reflect themes common to humanity. In the right context, these questions can be helpful for Christian viewers: How do we address the existence of misery and evil in the world as we talk to our nonbelieving friends and neighbors?

So far, the show has not offered easy answers. But as the miracles and amazing events unfold, Miles seems open to the idea that there is indeed a higher power at work.

If the entire series proves so respectful and intriguing, God Friended Me may be welcome viewing for Christians.

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Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum
Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Television

Modern Magnum

Lighthearted Magnum P.I. reboot avoids sexism, showcases diversity

CBS’ newly remade Magnum P.I., which premiered Monday, sticks roughly to the premise of the original 1980s hit show starring Tom Selleck: a light, funny, mystery storyline about a former Navy SEAL “repurposing his military skills to become a private investigator.”

But now, we’ve updated to 2018. The original Magnum was a Vietnam war vet. Now he’s a POW from Afghanistan. “Jonathan” Higgins, the annoying property manager at the lavish estate where Magnum works security, is now “Juliet” Higgins (Perdita Weeks), a poised Brit and former MI6 agent. (I think we all know how that story ends.)

The writing is mediocre, but most standard network fluff doesn’t showcase a fabulous Hawaiian island the way this show does. Happily, the new Magnum replaces most of the blatant sexism of the original series (in which female characters frequently showed up in bath towels, swimsuits, or less) with the strong, smart Juliet—who can hold her own just fine in a fight. 

The newer Magnum P.I. boasts more racial diversity, too. The casting director’s boldest move was in choosing a nonmustachioed Hispanic, Jay Hernandez (World Trade CenterScandal), to play lead character Thomas Magnum.

“No one is going to replace Tom Selleck,” Hernandez told TV Guide in May. “You can’t do that. You gotta sorta reinvent it, take what works from the original show and sort of make it new, so that’s what we did.”

So far, they’ve succeeded: Hernandez is as charming now as Selleck was in 1980. Anyone tired of seeing Hispanic men playing drug dealers will find Hernandez’s Magnum refreshing and worthy of applause, such as when he comforts his best friend’s grieving child.

One thing won’t be the same—the Hawaii estate used for filming. The chair of the library search committee for former President Barack Obama purchased the original “Robin’s Nest” property in 2015 for $8.7 million, but let it fall into disrepair. It was demolished in April.

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Jan Thijs/Potomac River Productions Inc./Amazon Studios

John Krasinski
Jan Thijs/Potomac River Productions Inc./Amazon Studios

Television

A new and different Jack

PC signaling and bad language mar Amazon’s interesting take on Jack Ryan

These days, when nearly every film or scripted series wears its political affiliation on its sleeve, it’s fascinating to come across one that seems to defy immediate categorization.

Amazon’s reboot of Jack Ryan would have made headlines even if it hadn’t become the latest partisan Rorschach test. Along with Tom Clancy’s gold-plated name, the online retailer spent massive sums to create a small-screen reboot that puts the production value of 24 and Homeland to shame. But the authentic locations and stunning set design aren’t grabbing attention nearly as much as its muddled political messaging.

In the conservative journal National Review, Kyle Smith says this new Jack Ryan sounds more like “a Bernie Sanders volunteer who majored in Peace Studies at Hampshire College” than a secret agent. Pointing out scenes that suggest the French are to blame for terrorist attacks within their country, he asserts the showrunners do everything to make this Jack Ryan more palatable to left-leaning millennials except “give [him] a hankering for avocado toast.”

On the other side of the aisle, Vanity Fair calls the show a “patriotic nightmare” and chides the plot for being based on the “unquestioned notion that American-military might—the best-funded killing infrastructure in human history—is helping to save the world.” And that’s even before the review gets to the part about Jack Ryan’s “white male entitlement” presenting a “case study in toxic narratives.”

What’s that verse about being neither hot nor cold?

The funny thing is, both critics have a point. Jack Ryan is Tom Clancy’s most famed creation, and no author was ever a greater champion of American interventionism. If Amazon wasn’t comfortable with that, best not pick him up at all. Because, as National Review observes, the tacked-in PC-signaling, like making Ryan’s superior Muslim and having a character voice a stereotypically racist argument against immigration, feels cheap rather than organic. And it isn’t enough to disguise the worldview of the original source material.

To their complaints I’d add that the show works overtime to prove it’s part of the edgy new club of prestige cable and streaming dramas, giving Ryan a far fouler mouth than he ever had in the movies and digressing to a couple of ridiculously unnecessary sex scenes.

It’s a bit of a shame, because whenever the show stops running around half-apologizing for its existence and trying to prove it’s cool kid cred with F-bombs, it actually works. Particularly effective is the family drama that plays out in the terrorist leader’s home and the flashbacks that trace his rise to power.

Also surprisingly effective: John Krasinski’s beta male approach to the character. It’s a markedly different Jack Ryan from the ones that Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, and Chris Pine gave us, and that’s a good thing. It truly is as if Jim Halpert from The Office suddenly ended up behind a desk at the CIA instead of Dunder Mifflin.

No other Jack Ryan has made us smile so much. It almost makes you wish that in the already commissioned Season 2, Dwight Shrute would get a job as a CIA analyst too. Because when the plot finally starts firing around Episode 4, we fully believe good ol’ Jim could rise to the occasion to save the world and still have time for a practical joke or two.

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