Though this may seem like the set up for a joke, it’s in fact a description of the working relationship dear friends/producing partners Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien have shared for several years now, dating back to 2012’s “Alcatraz” and including successful stints along the way with shows like the “Hawaii Five-O” reboot and “Gotham.”
And now, Wynbrandt and Lilien have teamed up to create a show that tackles their opposing religious beliefs head on in the new CBS dramedy “God Friended Me” (debuting September 30th), a series set in New York City that features the Lord working in mysterious ways—on social media.
Wynbrandt and Lilien were joined by lead cast members Brandon Micheal Hall, Violet Beane, Joe Morton, Suraj Sharma and Javica Leslie the annual The Critics Association panels at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to discuss their new series, the idea for which, ironically, was conceived by non-believer Wynbrandt. SCENES was invited to join in on the conversation.
“You can’t predict where inspiration is going to come from,” Wynbrandt stated. “And a few years ago, I was driving over to Steven’s house, and I got a push notification on my phone for a friend suggestion, and a thought occurred to me in that moment: what if someone claiming to be God sent me a friend suggestion on Facebook? And as a non-believer, that struck me as an interesting conflict. I called Steven, and he added ‘what if the main character received new friend suggestions from God every week about people he could help?’”
This discussion led to the creation of the character of Miles (Hall), a staunch atheist who, despite the objections of his preacher father Arthur (Morton) and his faith-filled sister Ali (Leslie), hosts a weekly podcast that aims to debunk the existence of God.
Miles begins to question his firm anti-religious stance, however, when he receives a Facebook friend request from “God,” a request that Miles initially denies but ultimately accepts due to “God’s” persistence. A friend suggestion from Miles’ mysterious new Facebook friend leads him to Cara (Beane), a columnist for a viral content website in a creative rut.
And when an additional friend suggestion from God ends up impacting both Miles’ and Cara’s lives in miraculous ways, Miles, with Cara and his computer genius friend Rakesh (Sharma) in tow, embarks on a pursuit to find out who is behind the God account, setting the stage for “God Friended Me” to unfold as a unique “spiritual procedural,” a weekly mystery with “God” dishing out the clues.
The role of Miles feels like a tailor made fit for leading man Hall, whose mother was a preacher. In fact, Hall credits growing up in the Church as the root of his fascination with theater. “Church is the ultimate theater,” Hall mused. “You have the stage, you have the text, you have the people, and you have the message. And for this role, I had such a deep connection to what I thought ‘Church’ and ‘God’ was to me, that the script did exactly what Brian and Steven set out to do, which was to raise a conversation about religion and spirituality within each individual, and each individual finding his or her own path to God.”
Though that conversation is sure to pique the interests of believers in God, Lilien asserts that his new series will be one that all audiences will enjoy regardless of regardless of religion. “It’s incredibly important to us to be a show that isn’t preachy or judgmental,” states Lilien. “We’re not here to take sides. We’re an inclusive show. Regardless of what you believe, our show is more about who we are to each other.”
“This is a show that we wanted to reflect 2018,” Lilien continued. “In these crazy times that we live in, we wanted to make something that was hopeful, inspiring, and reminds us that we’re all in it together and that there are these human connections we have and there are people out there doing really good things.”
As the veteran Morton added in what may very well end up being the show’s logline, “you don’t have to believe in God to believe in good.”