God is taking time off social media as CBS’ God Friended Me ends after a two-season run.
Produced by Warner Bros Television and CBS Television Studios in association with Berlanti Productions and I Have An Idea! Entertainment, the drama follows Miles, played by Brandon Michael Hall, an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside-down when he receives a friend request on social media from “God” and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him.
Miles, at odds with his father Rev. Arthur Finer, played by Joe Morton, feels he’s found his purpose in life hosting a podcast where he’s free to speak his mind, but that changes when he receives the ultimate friend request. After repeated pokes by “God,” Miles’ curiosity takes over, and he accepts the request and follows the signs to journalist Cara Bloom, played by Violette Beane. Brought together by the God Account, the two find themselves investigating “God’s” friend suggestions and inadvertently helping others in need.
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Joining them on their journey are Miles’s sister, Ali, played by Javicia Leslie, a doctoral psych student by day and bartender by night; and his best friend, Rakesh, played by Suraj Sharma, a sometimes hacker who joins Miles and Cara’s search for the source behind the enigmatic account. Miles is set on getting to the bottom of what he believes is an elaborate hoax, but in the meantime he plays along and, in the process, change his life forever.
The show, which has run for 42 episodes, came to a conclusion with Miles climbing to the top of a mountain to find his answer.
In the finale, he is forced to examine his lack of faith more than ever before when the God Account sends him his sister, Ali, as a friend suggestion on the eve of her cancer surgery.
Creators Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt tell Deadline how they put together the two-hour finale before the coronavirus pandemic shutdown production and they discovered their drama was not returning.
DEADLINE: How do you feel now that God Friended Me has ended?
BRYAN WYNBRANDT: I feel relieved that we have an ending that we feel is satisfactory. We were in New York directing this episode and had to pull the plug and we had no real idea if we were going to get to finish. Then a couple of weeks ago, conversations with Warner Bros and CBS started to lean towards us not getting a renewal, so Steven and I crafted a plan to finish the finale. We’d only filmed five days so we had to get crafty and pull footage from previous episodes. The fact that we were able to pull it off was a pretty monumental thing, and we’re pretty proud of it.
STEVEN LILIEN: When we were in New York we didn’t know at the time that the show was going to be over, all we knew what was going on in the world with the virus so once it became clear that we were going to have to shut down, we still had a few days left to shoot. It wasn’t until we were looking at the footage and knew we weren’t going to go back anytime soon, that we started to hear that the show might not come back. That’s when we started to look and ask, “how much material do we have?” so that we could end it satisfactorily on an emotional level. Thankfully, the stuff at the end with the mountaintop, we filmed that for the pilot but we never used. We were toying with it being a flash forward. The idea was always to get Miles on the mountaintop, and we had that footage sitting there for two years after we went to Utah to film at 11,000 feet. We had that great footage, we were just hoping that we weren’t going to have to use it for another couple of years. Then we crafted a montage leading into it with all of our characters and all of the friend suggestions that had left a mark as a love letter to the fans.
WYNBRANDT: It was Friday the 13th [March] when we finally pulled the plug, and we were planning on filming in a church. Miles does go to a church in the final episode but what we were able to do was to build scenes from previous episodes where he had gone to church in practically the same wardrobe and a little bit of color timing and we were able to remove characters and through guiding the footage with our editor Ben, we were able to find all of these great moments that really spoke to what was supposed to happen in the episode and we used voice-over to get it there. It was really a mad dash to find all of the footage and rewrite it a little better so we could present it to CBS and Warner Bros. It was a big leap of faith, pun intended, and we were able to pull it off.
DEADLINE: Javicia Leslie’s character Ali undergoes surgery in the final episode and it’s touch and go for a moment before she pulls through. Did you always plan to resolve her story at the end of this season?
LILIEN: Her arc, we launched it in episode 11, and we knew it would be the back half of the season, it was always going to be the conclusion of that story. We were then going to continue with the story of how that character changes through that experience. It’s funny, we were going to have her make the decision to join the seminary, follow in [her dad] Arthur’s footsteps in Season 3.
DEADLINE: You also nicely wrapped up the romantic story between Miles and Cara.
WYNBRANDT: It was important to go the direction that we had planned as if we had had multiple seasons. It comes together in the finale and quickly through voice-over, we wanted to see Cara and Miles through in an epic love story; those characters were always meant to be together and it was important for us to give the fans as much closure as we could and be as open and honest with them about our plans would have been moving forward.
DEADLINE: We never actually find out who created the God account. I was expecting a Gossip Girl-style reveal there at the end.
WYNBRANDT: In the spirit of the show, searching for one’s own place in the world, for Miles, his journey was less about him getting the answer and more about him being ready to receive it. Whether it’s God or not God, it was about getting him to a place where he’s open-minded and unencumbered by the tragedies of the past and he was fully open to the answer. That was ultimately the journey and that’s what the mountaintop represents. Who it was is less important.
DEADLINE: God Friended Me mixes religion and social media in a unique way on television. Can you talk about bringing together those into the show?
LILIEN: We saw that there was a void for this type of show. We thought it was cool opportunity to make a commentary on what religion and faith means to people in modern day and examine it through this family and explore how someone can change and evolve. We never wanted to be preachy or force religion on people, we just wanted to explore it from both sides, and I think that was exciting for us and our writers.
WYNBRANDT: We were definitely aware it was missing on TV and the sad thing is that it will be missing again. We are a unique show; I definitely feel like there’s not a show like God Friended Me out there, that isn’t afraid to be earnest and to touch people emotionally but at the same time do it in a way that isn’t preachy or too maudlin. I think we found a nice way to explore the subject matter and we will definitely miss doing this show and working with this cast, which was just wonderful.
LILIEN: It is bittersweet, particularly because of this unique moment in history that we’re living in right now and just how much the act of kindness can land on someone and help someone, it does help that it’s such a perfect show for the now because it reaffirms all the things that we’re all going through.
DEADLINE: You also brought it together with a story of the week.
WYNBRANDT: The shape of the friends of the week was so fun and difficult to crack in the writers’ room. You almost are making a movie of the week of these people that you’re helping. It was a real challenge, but we were going for the uplifting ending. Those cases of the week, if you will, provided a lot of fun storytelling for us.
DEADLINE: Was there anything else that you would have liked to have explored if you’d been picked up for another season?
WYNBRANDT: We would have loved to explored Rakesh and Jaya’s ongoing story, we wanted her to get pregnant and see how they would deal with it and what becoming a father would mean for Rakesh. That was a big story we wanted to explore. We also wanted to explore Miles’ relationship with the atheist podcaster that we mention in the finale, we wanted Miles to be lured over to work at his company to start a podcast, to see that relationship and how that would change Miles’ perspective on being someone who is a voice piece for atheism and young millennials.
DEADLINE: Given that Miles is a podcaster, have you considered moving the story to that medium?
WYNBRANDT: Brandon Michael Hall has talked to us about that on occasion. Currently we are just winding down out of the editorial phase of the finale, so no plans currently, but you may want to keep your ears open for it.
DEADLINE: The show was incredible diverse, particularly for broadcast television. How important was that?
LILIEN: We always conceived Miles and his family as an African American family and to present the world as it is now, diverse and beautiful and not just in religion but in all aspects of life. That was important to us, to reflect that on screen and off. Our writers’ room, our directors, our crew was incredibly diverse; overall that’s what we’re going to miss the most, these people and the message that we’re putting out there, it really was a one-of-a-kind experience. There was genuine love to come to work and do this show.
DEADLINE: Did you ever find out why the show was canceled? Was it purely down to ratings or were there other factors?
WYNBRANDT: At the end of the day, we never really got into the specifics of why [it was canceled]. The decision was made and what we ultimately took from it was that we wanted to end it properly. Steven and I created a show many years ago called Alcatraz, which ended abruptly, and people to this day ask us what happened and what was the plan and we didn’t want it to happen again. There’s a billion reasons why, but it is what it is and what was more important to us was to control the ending and end it the way we had always intended.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you guys?
WYNBRANDT: The mind is always moving forward so we’re cracking on with some new ideas. We’ll take some time to get through it and process it and move forward.
LILIEN: Alcatraz went 13 episodes and this went 42, so I feel we’ve got 80 or 90 in that trajectory for our next show. You’ll be seeing us sooner rather than later if I had to guess.
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