August 25, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “On Becoming A God In Central Florida”



There’s an overlap between two of cable’s more high-profile new shows, which also happen to air against each other in the linear world.  Both HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones and Showtime’s ON BECOMING A GOD IN CENTRAL FLORIDA are dark comedies about pernicious American cults, although Gemstones revolves around evangelical Christianity, and On Becoming A God is strictly speaking concerned with a commercial pyramid scheme.  The shows are both set in the red Deep South, and the groups at their center are headed by charismatic, opportunistic, greedy individuals who are intent on milking their (mostly low-income) members of all their worldly goods.  Insert current events commentary to taste.

The shows also differ, of course.  Gemstones is a Danny McBride product, so it’s laden with the aggressively macho insecurity that’s his default whether he’s playing a martial arts instructor, a public school educator, a minor-league baseball player, or a preacher.  On Becoming A God, created by Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky, is built around the powerhouse but more naturalistic performance of Kirsten Dunst.  She plays Krystal, who when the story begins is merely the wife of an obsessive Founders American Merchandise (FAM) products sub-distributor, Travis (Alexander Skarsgard, enjoying his character actor swing that recently included the indie The Hummingbird Project).  Travis has sunk the family’s future into FAM as he follows the teachings of the group’s leader Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine), and the encouragement of direct supervisor Cody (Theodore Pellerin).

Things get markedly worse for Krystal before the pilot (written by Funke and Lutsky and directed by Charlie McDowell) is over, by virtue of a Coen Brothers-like darkly comic twist, and by the end of the second episode (written by Funke and directed by Jeremy Podeswa) is done, Krystal has embraced FAM as her only chance to get back to solvency, no matter how many people she has to climb over to do it.

While Righteous Gemstones centers on the super-rich false icons who reap the benefits of the gullible, On Becoming A God is more grounded with its focus on Krystal, who understands that FAM is bunk and is using its mantras to pay her mortgage.  That gives it more emotional weight, and Dunst is a fully believable embodiment of someone who’s shrewder and more determined than she may at first appear.  Pellerin is also notable, conveying the desperation that underlies his chipper parroting of the scheme’s scripted pitches.  Levine’s character is the one who would most fit in on Righteous Gemstones, and it remains to be seen whether Garbeau will have more to offer than unctuous ruthlessness.

On Becoming A God In Central Florida doesn’t introduce us to new territory, and Funke and Lutsky, whose first show this is (it was originally developed at AMC and YouTube before landing at Showtime), may or may not have the skills to balance its exaggerated comedy with meaningful satire and with characters and plot that cohere.  There’s potential here for a show that can stick, and even if it doesn’t, Dunst will be worth the watch.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."