A partnership with Melissa McCarthy — one of the defining comic talents of the past 10-plus years — might seem like the sort of thing a streamer would want to spotlight and celebrate. So it’s surprising that “God’s Favorite Idiot,” a new comedy series on Netflix, dropped without ever been having made available to critics in advance.
Surprising, that is, to those without familiarity with the breadth of McCarthy’s oeuvre. In addition to highs like “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” the performer has made an escalatingly disastrous series of movies directed by her husband Ben Falcone, including “The Boss,” “Life of the Party,” and “Superintelligence.” Falcone and McCarthy’s creative partnership makes a crystalline case for allowing someone from outside the family into the making of art; together, their work is slackly paced and meagerly plotted. “God’s Favorite Idiot,” created by Falcone (with both spouses credited as executive producers), is a low point, and, somehow, a shock. Even after years worth of Falcone-led content, one still believes there are better ways McCarthy could be put to use onscreen, that she might find her way to collaborators who see her as an actor and not just a pratfall machine.
Here, she plays Amily, an office drone in the thrall of various addictions, all of which are played for laughs in exposition only. (She’s constantly pulling on minibar-sized liquor bottles, though her behavior and demeanor never changes.) Amily doesn’t quite feel like a character — we’re told that she named herself for the Audrey Tatou movie, but that doesn’t fit with her demeanor, and her brashness and substance issues basically disappear once the plot gets going. We meet Amily, inasmuch as there’s someone there to meet, as she gives a stem-winding, flaccidly paced monologue to her colleagues about “accidentally roofie-ing” herself — the upshot of which, eventually, is that although she’s often altered, she’s certain that she saw co-worker Clark (Falcone) literally glowing.
So he was: Clark, we learn, has been chosen by God to spread a message of peace and unity in the face of increasing demonic encroachment. Times are hard all over, a sense to which the show gestures vaguely, even as all we see of the world is a somewhat quirky workplace where everyone more or less gets along. (We also glancingly meet Clark’s father, played by Kevin Dunn, who relates to his son mainly through the sauna, about which Dunn’s character is perpetually dropping unintentional and unfunny single entendres implying parental incest.) The show seems afraid to be about what it’s putatively about: Satan is depicted as a sexy temptress (Leslie Bibb) who offers Amily mortadella and tequila — her favorites — but who wants to destroy the world just because she does.
And as for God? What’s the deal there? Well, Clark explains to his colleagues that pretty much every religious tradition in human history has interpreted the divine correctly: “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 organized religions, or even the disorganized ones. Or people that are just spiritual.” Clark asserting that life’s really just about love and avoiding wrongdoing puts a bow on it, but it’s hard not to feel as though the plainly stated claim that any potential viewer is in the right is what happens when a streamer inclined to maximize its audience meets a writer disinclined to think things through.
So many moments in “God’s Favorite Idiot” feel brutally underconsidered: Early on, an episode ends with someone fainting and Amily remarking “Timber!” before the cut to black. An angel (Yanic Truesdale) tells Satan that she can’t enter Clark’s home because “I used my powers to make it so you can’t open it,” like a young child improvising a story. After Amily kicks one of the Four Horsemen in the genitals, he remarks “I’m gonna need a minute, fellas!” to the other three.
This is what Netflix is willing to settle for from McCarthy, or what McCarthy is willing to settle for from Netflix: Brought together under a Falcone-led project, a major streamer and a generationally defining star made eight episodes of content that the former was rightly embarrassed to put before critics. It’s tempting to try to find the humor in a project like this by outright roasting those involved, but really, just a few years after a wrenching career high like “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and considered in light of carefully detailed character work McCarthy has done even in broad comedies, “God’s Favorite Idiot” is just sad. What a waste of precious time in the career of a talented performer, one whose fans will follow her anywhere, and who rewards them with so little of what she can do.