Who said real-life partners make good screen partners? God’s Favourite Idiot is the latest comedy to pair Melissa McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone—and again their collaboration doesn’t really click, says Clarisse Lougrey.
You’d have to be a monster to ask Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy to stop working together. Their real-life romance—first sparked in LA improv group the Groundlings, and further kindled through a nearly two-decade marriage—has been full of creative offshoots. Falcone, most recognisably, played the air marshal that McCarthy’s sexually forthright Megan pursued in 2011’s Bridesmaids (“you feel that steam heat? That’s from my undercarriage”). He’s directed her in several projects, too, including Tammy, Life of the Party and Thunder Force.
On screen, together, the pair feel at ease and gentle with each other—there’s a warmth there that invites the viewer in on their jokes, and their perpetual sense of play. But, as a whole, the projects McCarthy’s made with Falcone have largely failed to click. New Netflix workplace comedy God’s Favourite Idiot—created by and starring Falcone as an inoffensive, largely ineffectual tech worker chosen by God to be a messenger to the people—is, unfortunately, the latest in that trend.
After getting struck by a divine thunderbolt, Clark (Falcone) gains the ability to radiate light like a human glowworm. But he’s all heart, eyes and wistful sighs when it comes to his co-worker Amily (McCarthy), who borrowed the “A” from Audrey Tautou’s Amélie—but don’t actually ask her about the movie, though, because she’s never seen it. Amily’s brash, but not particularly abrasive, telling rambling anecdotes about her extracurricular drug use (she accidentally roofied herself once) and taking micro-sips from a flask at her desk. But there’s no real edge to her, and she softens quickly, her eccentricities feeling tacked on and forced.
That’s the core issue of McCarthy and Falcone’s work together. The former can play downtrodden people with grace and beauty; she poured bitterness into author-turned-forger Lee Israel in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? without allowing the audience to lose their sympathy. Even Bridesmaids’s Megan had her hard edges. So, when a director is unwilling to push her into that world of the jagged and imperfect, it feels like they’re only allowing McCarthy to use half of her talent.
That’s bad news for God’s Favourite Idiot because, without the pull of its biggest star, there’s not all that much else there to drive things forward. The show’s pool of cheery, clean-cut office workers—Tom (Chris Sandiford), Mohsin (Usman Ally), Wendy (Ana Scotney) and Frisbee (Steve Mallory)—are fairly fun to watch but rooted entirely in broad sitcom tropes. It feels almost, at times, like God’s Favourite Idiot would have benefited from a live studio audience, so that laughter and applause could at least have lent a sense of structure to a show that feels loose and directionless.
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Partially, that comes down to the vagueness within its central premise. God’s Favourite Idiot is a show about a man called upon to spread the Word and, in turn, help to subdue a rising tide of demonic forces waging a war in heaven. The only gospel he needs to spread is this: “God is real, and God is good, and everybody is actually quite right about God. Meaning Jewish people or Christians or Hindus or Muslims or the other organised religions or even the disorganised ones. Or people that are just spiritual.”
Fair enough, but Falcone’s series argues for the simplicity of faith without ever acknowledging how much easier it might be for a white, straight guy to be so unquestioning of organised religion as a whole—or why everybody else’s cynicism might be totally justified. Instead, we have an angel named Chamuel (Yanic Tuesdale) “Harry Potter-ing” people’s houses with protection spells, a girlboss Satan in motorcycle leathers (Leslie Bibb), and a bunch of unconvincing looking CGI fireballs.
Sixteen episodes of God’s Favourite Idiot were originally commissioned by Netflix, with only eight filmed so far. It’s not that this show lacks enough promise to continue—I just can’t help but wonder what it would look like if someone else were to step in and take the reins for a little while.