Melissa McCarthy is undeniably one of the funniest people on the planet, and we’ve been fans of hers since Gilmore Girls. We also like her husband, Ben Falcone, who has played all manner of nice guys over the years. They’ve collaborated on a lot of projects in recent years, many of which have been less than stellar. It was always hard to figure out why. Then we saw the first couple of episodes of their new Netflix series God’s Favorite Idiot, and we finally understood.
Opening Shot: A suburban neighborhood; a tiny storm cloud makes its way over a single house. In that house, “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles is playing.
The Gist: Clark Thompson (Ben Falcone) is the definition of a “nice guy.” He lives a pretty simple life, doesn’t drink, and owns a couple of cats. When he goes outside his house to see where one of his cats went, the tiny rain cloud lets out a lightning bolt, which hits Clark. Remarkably, he gets right up and isn’t even singed.
The next day, Amily Luck (Melissa McCarthy), one of his co-workers at an IT support company, rolls into the office on her enhanced scooter and tells colleagues Moshin (Usman Ally), Wendy (Ana Scotney) and Tom (Chris Sandiford) that she was in the office the night before and saw Clark glowing. Oh, and she may have roofied herself beforehand. Of course, they don’t believe her.
They set out to get proof; Tom even goes so far as to directly ask Clark as he’s pooping in the bathroom. Clark, in the meantime, has been crushing hard on Amily, and he feels he blew his chance to ask her out. But he tries again in the break room, despite his general awkwardness, “Sign of the Times” randomly playing on an Alexa unit and their ineffective boss Frisbee (Steve Mallory) trying to calm one of the many disputes between Amily and Tom. Curious to see Clark glow again (and because “he has a nice can”), Amily says yes.
Their date starts awkwardly, of course, with Clark saying that he has no game; Amily likes that fact about him. Suddenly, as he’s explaining to the waitress why he wants the chicken, he starts glowing again, “Sign of the Times” playing in the background. Let’s just say there’s no need for Amily to prove it anymore.
Our Take: One of the hallmarks of the McCarthy-Falcone collaborations is that Falcone generally gives his wife lots of room to do her “Melissa McCarthy thing,” which is being physical, improvising lines, and generally being her funny self. That’s always been hit and miss, because as funny as McCarthy is, Falcone doesn’t seem to be able to resist the temptation to let her loose before anything about her character can even be established. That’s the problem we see with God’s Favorite Idiot, which Falcone created and wrote (MADtv’s Michael McDonald directed the episodes).
In her first scene, McCarthy bursts into her office to talk about Clark glowing, about the fact that she snorted blow this week but not that night, about the fact she roofied herself, and also the fact that she hates Tom. That was all in the first three minutes of the scene, and none of it was funny. At this point, Amily (who changed her name from “Emily” because of the film Amélie, which she never saw) is a series of gags, not a character. It’s only as we see her getting close to Clark in the second episode that we get an idea of who she is, and it seems that Clark’s sweet nature slows her down into becoming an actual character.
On the other hand, the nature of Falcone’s character Clark has been established since the beginning, and in the second episode it’s emphasized when he takes a schvitz with his father Gene (Kevin Dunn), which he counts as one of his “hobbies.” His character is pretty well established by the point in the second episode where an angel named Chamuel (Yanic Truesdale) visits him and Amily to tell him that he’s been chosen to defend the planet against the Devil (Leslie Bibb).
Everyone else seems to be there to be Clark and Amily’s Greek chorus, and that’s fine with us. What we hope happens is that the story will take over as the two of them get more involved in battling the forces of evil, and that the funny will come out of how they each react, as opposed to McCarthy riffing.
Sex and Skin: None in the first couple of episodes.
Parting Shot: After Clark stops glowing, Amily takes a shot of one of her “tiny tequila drinks” and says, “I knew it!”
Sleeper Star: Costume designer Damir Peranovic puts McCarthy in some fun outfits, with lots of colors, wide ties, high-waisted patterned slacks and big, trendy glasses. It obviously speaks to Amily’s bold personality, but they give McCarthy a look that stands out from most of her recent roles.
Most Pilot-y Line: “Frisbee! Look directly at Tom and tell him to fuck off!” Man, if we said that to our boss, we’d be packing our cubicles right afterwards.
Our Call: STREAM IT, at least for a few episodes. We’re still not sure of God’s Favorite Idiot will right itself or just become a train wreck. The second episode definitely gave us signs that it will try to make McCarthy’s character more than an ad-lib machine. We just hope that the laughs start coming after the characters get deeper.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.