What would become the United States of America was colonized by weird, puritanical nuts about four hundred years ago. I'm talking about the kind of people who when they passed by, the other illiterate peasants of the late Middle Ages looked at each other and whispered, "Those guys are a little too churchy."
It's hard to get past that. As much as we've advanced in four centuries, compared to Europeans we're still a little bit...too churchy. Here in Pennsylvania you can't buy liquor on Sundays and you can only buy it from the state the rest of the week. Our laws about sex and marriage are...well, let's just say weird and leave it at that. Things in 2016 are certainly better tan they were in 2000 (yay, gay marriage!) but it's hard to say we've changed that much. Mocking religion doesn't really get big play in the public sphere. It doesn't play in Peoria, as they say, but what it really doesn't play in is the Bible Belt, which is both the metaphorical and the physical center of our country.
What has changed since 2000 is the way we consume our entertainment. Entertainment has balkanized so that if I'm not finding a TV show I want to watch on the networks, I can probably find a cable channel to suit my needs, that is, if I don't prefer Netflix or, hell, even just YouTube. In 2000, not so much. A nascent version of how we understand cable today existed, but original programming was pretty much bargain basement. "The Sopranos" had only started the year before, even "South Park" was only three, and we were still a solid decade and a half away from "Preacher."
It's strange, then, from a business standpoint, that ABC took the risk of putting a show like "God, The Devil, and Bob" on the air. I was excited when it first came on, because yay adult cartoons, but I also knew, even as an inexperienced teenager, that it was only a few weeks away from cancellation. I don't know if ABC was gambling that this would be their version of "South Park" and that the controversial nature of the show would at least generate some ratings.
It did not. I have to say, all things considered, the actual content of "GTDAB" was not nearly as controversial as the religious groups that immediately jumped to condemn it imagined it to be. It was fine as a sitcom, but the only real reason it had to be a cartoon was because of the expense that would have gone into making all the Heaven and Hell special effects. It had some funny moments, but otherwise it was a bit subdued. "South Park" it certainly was not.
If anything, "GTDAB" was more respectful of religion than most shows even by default are. Basically it posited a world where God and The Devil were real and were real characters, playing their Biblical roles, but well aware that it was the turn of the millennium and not the Bronze Age anymore. Played by an avuncular James Garner, God was a bit wistful, perhaps more Jerry Garcia than vengeful demiurge, but loving and genial. The Devil was less of an existential enemy to all that is good and right and more of an old friend of God's who finds himself disagreeing with him. In their many scenes together they act more like an old bickering married couple than true antagonists, or perhaps a better comparison is the coyote and the sheepdog clocking in in the old Warner Brothers cartoons: they're aware of their jobs, but feel no special animus towards each other.
Bob Allman, as you can probably already guess from his surname, is the everyman who strangely becomes a sounding board for both God and The Devil. The plot of the show, mostly a Maguffin except for ensuring that the main characters have a reason to interact, is that God is considering destroying the universe unless a human being can prove to him that they're worthy of existence, and having agreed upon Bob as our exemplar, The Devil constantly works to seduce him to the dark side in some way.
As I had predicted, the Bible Belt actively shunned "GTDAB" and the rest of America pretty much just shrugged. Probably the show suffered from the problem of being neither fish nor fowl: religious types instantly thought it was mocking religion, and the sort of sarcastic types who might have enjoyed that found it entirely too prosaic and, if anything, pro-religious.
Fortunately for posterity, those three episodes ABC aired in early 2000 were not the last we would ever see of the show, thanks to both the magic of DVDs and...you guessed it, my friends, the largesse of adult swim. Overall, GTDAB is pretty good, though I couldn't tell you if it's survived the test of time, having not watched it in a solid five or six years. But if you're looking for something for something that's pretty funny and mostly straightforward despite its pretensions to being groundbreaking, give it a shot.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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