Great for Mankind
Most of the boycott and attacking emails came before we were even on the air.
—Harvey Myman, producer, God, the Devil and Bob
In the final episode of God, the Devil and Bob, titled “Bob Gets Involved”, Bob (voiced by French Stewart) goes on a rampage against rap music and a school production of Arsenic and Old Lace. A working class father—of Megan (Nancy Cartwright) and Andy (Kath Soucie)—he runs into problems with the play, because his wife Donna (Laurie Metcalf) is one of its stars.
Bob’s misguided sense of morality ironically mirrors the crusade that had his show cancelled after three episodes. The difference between Bob and others sharing his opinions is that he is literally at the center of a contest between God (James Garner) and the Devil (Alan Cumming). Fed up with Earth, God considers “chucking the whole thing and starting over.” Instead, He goes looking for one soul to prove that all humans all worth saving. In a recreation of the story of Job, the Devil, who’d love nothing more than to see God’s test fail, elects Bob, his shoulders slumped over a beer in a dead-end Detroit dive, to be that savior.
But Bob is not the loser he initially appears to be. He’s actually a top father and husband who only needs a little help proving it. All-knowing God is aware that Bob needs this help, and so He guides him. In the first episode, Donna doesn’t know how to handle feisty Megan, so Bob tries to help out, taking his daughter to her favorite place—the mall—for a chat. Here, she reveals the source of her agitation:
Megan: I lied about getting my period last year. All my friends had theirs and I felt like a little girl . . . Pretty lame, huh?
Bob: Well, girls mature at different ages, there’s no right age. There’s a whole range from, uh, well…
Bob: From 10, all the way to…
Bob: Sixteen! Okay?
Megan: No, I wanna be like all my friends.
Bob: Yeah. Well, I guess we all do.
What a good dad. Yet, when God congratulates Bob on a job well done, he’s unsure he’s actually done anything right: “You mean, you want us to try with our families?” But, God, ever mysterious, replies, “This is good beer. Did you know the caps twist right off?”
So, apart from showing God’s fondness for light beer, what was so bad about this program that it didn’t last a season? Apparently, NBC suffered a storm of protest regarding its religious tone. In interviews on the new DVD (featuring all 13 episodes, commentary, a making-of doc, and interviews), creator and former seminarian Matthew Carlson hints at a protesters’ victory. “It was meant to be gently satirical, sometimes not so gently, but never really sacrilegious. We weren’t trying to shove it in anybody’s face, we were trying to have fun, to challenge an audience, but not devastate them.” Looking back, he says he was living in a “fool’s paradise”: “We thought a little controversy would be helpful,” he says. “We didn’t think it was gonna completely shut us down.”
A closer examination reveals just how ridiculous the protests were. The show doesn’t even attempt to challenge Christian theology or ideology; it only follows one man’s quest to do right by his family. The Devil tries to trick him at times, but Bob’s preexisting faith in himself and his God always wins out. What could be more acceptable, or more Christian?
In the commentary for the premiere episode, show consultant David Sacks notes, “There is no greater message than doing something decent with your family is the way to save the world.” This is exactly why God resists obliterating the universe. Everyman Bob makes an effort to be a better dad and a better husband at every opportunity. At the same time, he drinks with buddies after work and occasionally indulges in pornography. Carlson depicts the Almighty as accepting of Bob’s peccadilloes, not because He doesn’t care or thinks they’re right, but because He refuses to judge, which is, after all, a foundation of Christian acceptance, no?
This isn’t to say God doesn’t have some explaining to do. Bob demands, “You’re supposed to be a benevolent God, [but] let’s look at the record: you’re vain, you’re unknowable, you’re unreliable, you let good people suffer and lousy people prosper. You call yourself a father, you’re more like a deadbeat dad!” Carlson doesn’t even attempt to put words of explanation in God’s mouth. God, as always, lets the guy figure stuff out for himself. After all, what other people do and don’t do isn’t Bob’s concern. As God says when asked why He allowed Bob’s own abusive father into Heaven, “It’s not your job to forgive him. It’s mine.”
Besides, God has His own issues. In “God’s Girlfriend,” Bob helps his new buddy when He falls for a mortal woman, Sarah, voiced by Elizabeth Taylor. This episode, Carlson says, was the only time he attempted to explore God in a “human” way. Conflicted over His feelings for Sarah and His job (he misses a Parisian fling with Sarah in order to answer His nine million prayer-phone messages), God ends up having to choose the good of mankind over His own happiness. “The poignancy that he really couldn’t have this kind of relationship,” Carlson says, “that he’d created something that was great for mankind, one of the best parts of being human is something that was denied him.” It’s rare that God does anything here that contradicts modern Christian beliefs, and it’s never in doubt that God will choose correctly.
This God is just a little cheeky sometimes (“Let’s take a walk,” He says to the Devil at one point, “I’ll show you where the Leakeys found those bones I buried”). He’s playful, fun-loving, everything you could want in a leader, quite frankly. He ends up learning as much from Bob as Bob learns from Him—that humans are mostly decent.