God, The Devil And Bob - The Complete Series Review
Struck down with a mighty vengeance by fearful NBC executives just four episodes into its first season run, God, The Devil And Bob is one of those shows that just wasn’t meant for success. Suffering primarily from being a product of American minds and conceived on American soil it was inevitably the overzealous scare tactics of unnamed religious parties which led to the shows early demise. In a similar manner to the unjust controversy brought upon Kevin Smith’s Dogma where those slinging the mud had not even seen the film, as is the case here, God, The Devil And Bob was made into a mockery by the very same people who would go on to ensure The Passion of the Christ became a symbol of faith to the masses (and one of the biggest money makers in the history of film).
Fortunately we do not have the same level of hysterical religious devotees here in the UK and the BBC broadcast all 13 episodes of the animated sitcom sometime after the millennium. I myself caught several episodes that were, as memory serves me, dealt with the usual innocuous timeslot. Despite this I enjoyed what I saw enough to spark my interest in this DVD release from Fox. But I digress, just what is the show about? God (James Garner) has grown tired of the world he created, we’re just not living up to his expectations so the thought of wiping the slate clean and starting over again has risen to the forefront of his “to do” list. Discussing his concerns with a close personal friend, the Devil (Alan Cumming) – who is delighted by the way – God becomes concerned that he is rushing into things and should give us one last chance to prove there is something left in humanity. If one soul can prove the world is worth saving, God will spare it, but as the sporting deity he is God allows the Devil to choose our last hope. Enter Bob Alman (French Stewart), a guy at the bar God and the Devil are frequenting, a beer-drinking, porn-watching, “what’s in-it-for-me?” kind of guy who you wouldn’t put money on to make it home without throwing up, let alone save the world. Oh dear...
An original setup if there ever was one, rather than drag the initial storyline out across the entire season a reluctant Bob saves the day in episode one and is then befriended by both the God and the Devil who use his life as a playground for their millennia old struggles. As with all good sitcoms this one’s strengths lie in well defined characters who share bonds you can identify and celebrate. The most unlikely duo to make it to the screen and share a close bond is God and the Devil, yet here they do and it makes for immensely satisfying viewing as the stance taken is that just because God’s favourite angel left him to become the source of all evil, doesn’t necessarily mean their friendship was also left behind. The first episode is a wonderful example of their relationship, strolling through a car show discussing their work the devil causes disruption while God gives rise to harmony; they work well together even if their interests are not one and the same. There can be no good without evil, no satisfaction without challenge; these are facts of life and one that the writers draw upon here by understanding the purpose of both beings.
My grandiose assumptions aside, both characters are wonderfully drawn (pun intended) and easy to like. With his soft, understanding and most importantly reassuring voice James Garner is the heart to the soul written and illustrated on the screen. All knowing, all powerful, yet somehow willing to allow suffering into the world, through the character of God the writers ask some important questions over the course of the series and in most situations, they answer them. To do so was a bold move but the answers given are rounded and well researched, with creator Matthew Carlson’s lapsed Catholicism doing more than just forming the basis for the shows satirical look on religion and the modern world we live in. On the other side of the coin is the Devil, featuring a sarcastic, witty tone it is Cumming’s diverse voice talents that allow for the characters playful, devious mind to shine while the hip fashion sense and groomed appearance play to the deceitfully smooth operation the Devil runs. Another aspect of the Devil’s character is a figure always hanging on his side, that of Smeck (Jeff Doucette), a physically repugnant hell demon with a heart of gold, albeit one that revels in the evil and often abusive methods his master adopts. A wonderful comedic sidekick Smeck is the butt of many jokes but a fine young demon all the same.
Bob is the muse through which these central figures work is done. His persona is quite fitting really, he’s your average Joe, has a wife and kids who form part of his dysfunctional family, holds down a boring job and enjoys spending time at the bar with those he loves most (the barflies). Remind you of anyone? Yes Bob and his family are a little too close to those seen in The Simpsons and Family Guy but when they reflect an exaggerated version of the average American family there’s not much to complain about. Bob’s wife Donna (Laurie Metcalf) is the pillar which supports their dysfunction, holding things together between herself and teenage daughter Megan (Nancy Cartwright) with whom she fights constantly, while six year old Andy (Kath Soucie) is a happy kid with whom Bob shows an unusual level of fatherly skills toward. Donna is probably far too good a woman for Bob as is the case with Marge and Lois and their respective husbands, as she not only constantly struggles to find her own purpose in life beyond that of being a mother and wife, but she also puts up with Bob’s newfound belief that he has an audience with not only God, but also the Devil, figures which if you hadn’t worked out, are only visible to Bob. Still, at least Bob hasn’t let himself go in the way Homer and Peter did for their wives.
Beyond the scope of the central plotlines and characters featured the series is full of visual jokes, citing affiliations God and the Devil have with the former bowling on the team of numerous churches with different religious beliefs and the latter playing on behalf of Microsoft. This is just one such example of many gags and literary references seen throughout but the show is best explained through its characters and the situations they are presented with, and to do this I have adopted a more thorough episode summary than usual which you can find below. Spoilers are inevitable though I have kept the descriptions vague, while on a show like this there is little in the way to spoil as it features no running plot developments.
However, if you will oblige before we move onto the synopsis I’d like to say a few words on the animation first. The style adopted is somewhat familiar yet at the same time quite unique, with designs not that far removed from Beavis and Butthead only with more refinement. In particular the exceptionally thin necks, arms and legs combined with slightly oversized heads makes for an interesting look while also allowing more facial detail. This is essential to the shows natural approach to the characters, something explained in the commentary tracks, with characters using subtle movements as opposed to big gestures to display their feelings. Given the shows subject matter the directors and animators take full advantage of the medium, taking our characters to many locations both real and imagined, with Bob’s trips to Hell and the Devil’s time spent in Heaven particularly daring and showing great imagination. Giving the show a very modern look are the backgrounds which use photographic textures to depict carpets, wallpaper and the like, which really helps to improve the visual allure. Another welcome feature are the varied screen wipes used to cut between scenes, which not only give the show a more cinematic feel but also work with the tone of the scene that has just played out (for example fire will burn away the screen after a scene in Hell). The consistency of the animation is surprisingly good for a series that was in its infancy, with the title characters especially maintaining a solid design throughout the 13 episode run, in fact only the character of Donna appears to cause the animation team any real trouble with her face and body dimensions changing frequently with the camera angle and movements causing them no end of trouble.
Episode 1: In The Beginning - An excellent first episode in which Bob meets God, begrudgingly accepts the task of saving the world and goes about doing it in a way only Bob can. From inciting a riot through the streets of Detroit to buying his way out of the deal by giving some wino a donation, Bob eventually stumbles upon the answer as he bails Donna out of the first of many problematic times with Megan. Once again Bob says and does all the wrong things, but his heart is in the right place and his daughter - no matter how unreasonable she often appears - realises this and accepts what little wisdom her father has. Very much the outline for all future episodes, the Devil and Smeck get ample screen time in which to establish their double-act while the relationship between God and the Devil is also setup, but its the potency of the answer Bob discovers that is most valid. God is not looking for the big gesture, instead it’s the small things in life that matter...shame that Bob forgets this on a daily basis!
Episode 2: Andy Runs Away - As the youngest family member at six Andy is innocent enough to not only believe his Dad's somewhat incoherent ramblings on his escapades with God and the Devil, but he is also capable of physically seeing and talking to God. This results in Andy relaying his Dad's story to his school friends who inevitably make fun of the poor boy, leaving him with only one choice, to get his Dad to arrange a meeting with God. The benevolent one does not accept requests however which leaves Bob to quite imaginatively simulate our creator only to be foiled, embarrassing Andy to the point where he runs away, crossing the border to Canada in search of a new life. This lends the writers a chance to make fun of Canadians, or at least the American perception of their northern friends and just like South Park, makes for some of the most laugh-out-loud humour in the show up to this point. While Bob makes his excuses to go track Andy down Donna and Megan clash over the young hunk Donna has brought home as a study partner, while God suggests the Devil adopt a new work ethic by treating his minions (i.e. Smeck) nicely. Though he enjoys their time at the funfair Smeck comes to the conclusion that "nice" just isn't right for his master, and with the help of a torture victim works up the courage to request the Devil beat and hurt him as he once did.
Episode 3: Date From Hell - Megan becomes infatuated with a boy in school named Jordan but is dismayed when Bob reaches the logical conclusion any father protective of his little girl would, that Jordan is the devil himself. Of course in this situation Bob has good reason and is absolutely correct, because Satan is rather pissed at the fact Bob no longer fears him since his work for God began. What this means for the audience is an oft hilarious episode filled with jokes that play off Bob's reaction to Jordan, ones that could be considered a little over the top but completely understandable for a father, yet we the audience know the full truth and so his antics and those of Donna and Megan's to get around his ramblings make for keen comedic viewing. The Devil gets a good inning this episode, showing his needy nature and that even he is no match for the whining of adolescence in full bloom, while God is looking to instil some hope in the people of Detroit following the opening of the very definition of evil - the Mega Mall!
Episode 4: The Devil's Birthday - When God forgets the Devil's birthday Lucifer begins to sulk, after all its not like they haven't known each other since the dawn of time yet God suffers from this oversight every year. Further highlighting their give and take relationship the Devil decides this is the last time, withdraws evil from the world and returns to concentrate on making a go of Hell. Bob isn't too bothered at first; a world without evil is surely a better place to live, isn't it? Not if it only means clean, healthy love-making with the wife as you stare deeply into each other’s eyes thankful for the gift of procreation, or a bachelor party with no alcohol or strippers. God too has had enough and not willing to face up to the Devil himself, sends Bob on another mission, this time to the very depths of hell where we learn the 4th circle is a luxury golf course and Martha Stewart has taken over leaving the Devil to wallow in his hobby room. Bob concocts a plan to sort things out, where he becomes a facilitator between God and his once most favoured angel Lucifer, exploring one of the most interesting relationships of the show that boils down to two friends working against each other because of their roles in life. Bob also learns what Omniscient means.
Episode 5: Neighbor's Keeper - The adulterous ways of Bob's neighbour Stacey provides entertainment for Megan and Andy as her slanging matches spill out onto the street. God is not so impressed however and gives Bob the task of patching up her marriage; one that he's reluctant to fulfil given the wrath of Donna is greater than that of God's. But try as the Devil might to ensure Bob breaks commandment number six himself - even going so far as to embark upon the series first song and dance routine and truly becoming the gay dance instructor his demeanour often stereotypes - Bob stumbles through his second psychotherapy routine and does some good to his own marriage along the way. Noteworthy aspects of this episode are the adult overtones, with numerous references to sex from Bob's attempts at turning Donna on and Stacey's attempts to seduce Bob, this is an episode that probably relies a little too heavily on said aspects and loses part of the animated shows charm.
Episode 6: God's Favorite - Everything seems to be going Bobs way, his luck is up and he makes the connection that things have turned around ever since he saved the world. God is tinkering with the idea of creating a new universe, one that has kept him so busy that he misses a social appointment with the Devil who gets wind that something is up, but God is keeping it under wraps from his evil hands. When God asks for his 'special guy' Bob's opinion on his new plans Bob becomes convinced that God has his back, while the Devil solidifies his status as attention seeker by sulking in Hell where he begins planning an assault on Heaven. Somewhat of an animation showcase this episode sees Bob throw himself in the way of all manner of danger, until he eventually throws himself out of a plane and needs God to remind him that doing so will inevitably result in death. Before all this takes place however we also see Donna at her wits end with Megan, the daughter who puts the angst in teenage angst and her suffering mother through hell along the way. At the heart of every episode of the series however is a message, and the one on display here solidifying family values and that each and every one of us is special, is one of the most poignant and heartfelt in the series thus far.
Episode 7: Bob Gets Committed - Another day, another task handed down by God to his new emissary Bob. Once again God is looking to cheer up the good people of Detroit but this time is keeping things simple, merely asking Bob to deface public property and ask the people of Detroit to "Smile" via a billboard sign along the freeway. Not one to shy away from a challenge Bob sets about his task only to be stopped by a highway patrol officer, and with the Devil seizing his opportunity to get one over on Bob he ensures that Bob is in the local crazy house before the night is out. With Bob surrounded by every crazy movie stereotype the Devil settles down with Donna under the physical guise of Bob, leaving the real excuse for a husband desperately attempting to escape from his keepers to rescue his family. Most interesting here is some well placed physical comedy, with Bob taking on the highway patrol officer and attempting to pole-vault the asylum walls being worthy of a belly-laugh or two. Also worthy of note is one of the few occasions we see the Devil show his true colours as he rises up against Bob to claim Donna for his own, the animation is particularly good and even verges on the scary for a brief moment.
Episode 8: Lonely At The Top - An expression generally reserved for world leaders and mega celebrities, but in this episode God puts it into context by asking "how do you think I feel?" After accusing God of not being in touch with how it feels to be human, the almighty one dons some overalls, assumes a new identity and comes to work at the auto plant with Bob. If that wasn't bad enough he also imposes on Bob's family and finally takes things one step too far for Bob when he signs up for the softball team Bob manages. The best comedy on display here is the wonderfully ironic with the shifty looking union guys who keep insisting Arthur - God's assumed identity - will fall foul of a nasty accident should he keep up his antics, and the constant reminders of how unsuitable Bob really is for the role assigned to him. This can be summed up with Bob's affinity for numbers, from quoting the "7 commandments" to reminding us that "90% of the time I'm an idiot, and the other 30% I'm drunk". Once again the Devil misconstrues God's decisions and sets about working on both sides of the fence; only his first 'good' deed results in a particularly effective breed of killer flowers.
Episode 9: Bob Gets Greedy - While Bob is nailing his neighbour's garage door shut God asks him to undertake some charity work and do some good in the community. Competing for his time however is the Devil, who carefully leaves his palm pilot in Bob's possession complete with scores for every future sporting event. A $3 bet soon becomes a $300 bet and days later Bob is literally rolling in money, with Donna even more taken with his new found gambling luck as the riches get the better of her. It takes God to raise Bob's alert, and even then he ponders..."So what you're saying is accepting gambling tips from the Devil could have a down side? Hmm...Food for thought". The action packed finale is a lot of fun, as is the Devil's underhanded tactics and the pride he takes in them, but it's Donna who gets the best material in this episode while the animators have a bit of fun with her as well.
Episode 10: There's Too Much Sex On TV - God's no prude, after all sex was his idea but the level to which its being used on TV disappoints our maker who asks Bob to do something about it. This is the one task handed down to him that Bob isn't too thrilled about completing, Lucifer feels the same and after manipulating Donna into arousing and then eschewing Bob's desire he employs the help of Sarah Michelle Gellar to finish the task and convince Bob that sex should stay. In a well written guest star role Gellar raises the quality of this episode several notches which also sees the best of Smeck and the Devil as they get carried away on their jaunt to Hollywood, forgetting the task at hand and enjoying all the fun of the rather big fairs at their disposal. Bob eventually gets the job done, albeit completely be accident and through a method that I suspect would cause a few problems at home but the jovial nature in which sex is referred to throughout is one of the show's strong points and another example of why this is very much for an adult audience.
Episode 11: Bob's Father - As the title suggests we meet Bob's father in this episode, but the circumstances in which we do so are dire as he is taken critically ill and dies in hospital where Bob goes to meet him. This is by far the most emotional episode of the series, as Bob never got along with his overbearing father, someone who disapproved of everything Bob ever did with his life right through to his deathbed upon which Bob attempted to reconcile their past. Looking to make amends by using his contacts with God and the Devil, Bob naturally assumes someone who never said a good word to his son would end up down below. After doing the Devil a favour and making some fun of the first of two ex-presidents in this episode, Bob takes a sightseeing tour around Hell with Smeck as his guide in search for his father. Che Guevara has a few things to say in Hell but other than that, there is no sign of Bob's father, can it really be true such a man has gone to heaven? As he works his way toward understanding and reconciling his guilt over not patching things up with his father, the audience is given many lessons on what it is to forgive and what it is to do some good. At its most basic this episode is packed with some of the more risqué jokes, taking stabs at the army and numerous icons both past and present, some more valid today than they were at the time of production, along with plenty of jokes that hit the mark through the always impeccable timing and wonderful performances by the cast. At its most complex the episode makes some valid points on issues many of us have to a certain degree, and yes it makes them with a gag standing by but they hit home all the same. Moving away from the themes evident in the writing, its worth noting that once again the relationship between Donna and Megan continues to play out in the background of Bob's attempts to do the greater good, while another strong guest star makes an appearance with Troy Evans playing the voice of Bob's father.
Episode 12: God's Girlfriend - Bob and family are enjoying sun, sand and more of Megan's whining at a quaint resort when God shows up hiding from Sarah, an old girlfriend. This episode is one of several which takes a different approach as rather than directly receiving a task, Bob takes it upon himself to do some good for the world. In this case he must ensure God and Sarah do not get back together, for he fears God will neglect his duties as creator. This makes for plenty of great moments as Bob tries to put the moves on God's girlfriend, while the far superior strand to the storyline is that of the Devil returning to heaven to see a few old friends. He has an ulterior motive of course, that of stealing a few souls and taking them back down to hell, but it's the jokes along the way which really sparkle including a wonderful line reading by St. Pete as he shuts an impatient soul up, and the introduction of Nixon who somehow made his way into heaven. The interplay between Lucifer and Smeck is first rate as always, and really helps save an episode that otherwise flounders with a main plot thread that doesn't really bare much on the viewpoint taken thus far, that of the problems we face here on earth rather than the problems God faces in his personal life. Elizabeth Taylor guest stars, but is only notable for another in a string of relatively high-profile voices to appear on the show.
Episode 13: Bob Gets Involved - Once again the writers eschew the “task handed down” approach that worked so well in earlier episodes and instead focus on the problems of one of the central characters. Fortunately they choose Bob, allowing the series to go out on a high as full of good intentions he goes about improving society in all the wrong ways. Arriving home one day he finds that Donna has signed up for a local production of Arsenic and Old Lace, while young Andy has been subjected to vandalism in the form of an expletive painted on his new lunchbox. Enraged Bob decides something must be done, possibly involving parents, teachers and some form of association, before allowing himself to be tricked by the Devil into forming a committee (something we learn is another of the Devil's creations) with all the angry people of Detroit. In the same way that Homer's vigilante justice in his attempts to capture the Cat Burglar in The Simpsons allowed for many hilarious setups, Bobs antics do the same while the Devil and Smeck take their relationship to a new level and precede over events with an ominous and brilliantly written eye. The finale really is the icing on the cake, with another high-profile guest star making an appearance. Kevin Bacon as himself saves the day, encouraging the good folk of Detroit to simply dance their woes away with an inspired send up of Footloose accompanied by Kenny Loggins unforgettable tune.
All 13 episodes are presented as part of a two-disc set that features striking yet simple artwork, easy to navigate menu systems and the all important ‘Play All’ feature so you can sit back, relax and laugh an evening away.
Picture and Sound
Presented in the original Full Frame aspect ratio the show looks wonderful on DVD. Created recently the show almost certainly adopted digital techniques and this helps no end when porting the results to disc, with untouched masters showing no signs of print damage or dirt the bold and colourful animation is reproduced with barely a hint of trouble. Some minor aliasing was present in one or two scenes while edge enhancement is sometimes apparent. Beyond that however the series really does look superb and receives no complaints from me.
The English Dolby Surround mix is the only language track featured, offering superb audio clarity with dialogue filtered through the centre channel and music and directional effects appropriately dispersed. Again there are no problems here amounting to a fine audio/video presentation.
Over the two-discs you will find commentary tracks for six episodes. In the recording booth we have creator/executive producer Matt Carlson and Harvey Myman on God's Favorite, who are then joined by co-executive producers Neil Thompson and Gary Murphy for The Devil's Birthday, who are then joined by consulting producer David Sacks on In The Beginning, Bob Gets Greedy, Bob's Father and Bob's Girlfriend.
The flow of conversation is nearly always screen-specific and for the first episode In The Beginning we learn about the creation process, casting choices and some general musings on the setup for the show. Following episodes however feature rather sporadic contributions from all involved, with several moments of prolonged silence only interrupted by laughter and the occasional anecdote. So these could have been a darn sight more interesting but what's present shouldn't be sniffed at, and fans will get something out of them including a sense of genuine adoration for the creator’s product.
Beyond the commentary tracks you will find two video-based extras. The first and most significant is a 23-minute making-of featurette that sees creator Matthew Carlson and executive producer Harvey Myman take us through the concept, creation, casting and finally the controversy that led to the show's cancellation. Though interesting there is a definite lack of depth and overuse of clips, but the duo speak passionately about what could have been and hold their audience for the duration. The second of these additional extras is a 4-minute faux interview session with God, the Devil and Bob answering questions on the making of the series. This is a welcome extra and certainly amusing despite its short running time.
Carlson’s creation started on a high with good production values, solid writing and plenty of scope for future development but alas, it was never to be. Fans of animated shows like those juggernauts already mentioned should do there best to see this DVD as despite a few shortcomings on one or two episodes, the entertainment on offer is always to a high standard with plenty of laughs to be had and guaranteed repeat viewing appeal.
8 out of 10
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:33:57