James Garner….. God
Alan Cumming….. The Devil
French Stewart….. Bob Alman
Laurie Metcalf….. Deb Alman
Nancy Cartwright….. Megan Alman
Kath Soucie….. Andy Alman
If you needed another sign of the approaching apocalypse, NBC will be unveiling its animated series chronicling the ongoing battle between the Lord Almighty and Beelzebub, and it’s a warm and fuzzy number, packed with witty ideas, sight gags and clever theological asides. A heavenly voice cast, and a hip, relaxed animation style certainly work in “God, the Devil and Bob’s” favor, but the Peacock web should handle the toon with care, given the uniqueness of the premise and the possible backlash against animation in primetime.
Created by Matthew Carlson (“Men Behaving Badly”) and co-exec produced by Linwood Boomer (“Malcolm in the Middle”), the toon centers on the ongoing battle between God, a mellow white-haired fellow with a strong resemblance to the late Jerry Garcia, and Satan, a suave, English-accented horn-headed chap, for the soul of average everydude Bob (voiced by French Stewart). Series gets a lot of mileage out of fleshing out the eternal duel between good and evil in a contempo Detroit setting, but it’s questionable whether it can keep its devilish spark after the initial 13 episodes.
The pilot establishes Bob’s dilemma, and introduces viewers to his sensible wife, Donna (Laurie Metcalf), his brooding teenage daughter Megan (Nancy Cartwright) and his sweet young son Andy, a dead ringer for little Bobby on “King of the Hill.”
There are plenty of jokes about life in Hell (“Tonight and every night: Guy Lombardo in concert”), and second-rate celebs like David Caruso and Tony Orlando. Hollywood observers may also get a kick out of how much the spoiled, ill-tempered Devil resembles the movers and shakers in the entertainment industry.
Things are kicked into high comic gear in the third episode, in which the Devil disguises himself as Bob’s daughter’s perfect boyfriend. Once Bob realizes the implications of Satan’s little trick, his reactions are the stuff of classic sitcom material.
The Carsey-Werner series owes much of its shimmer to the perfectly assembled voice cast. One can’t imagine a better choice for God than James Garner, or a slyer vocal rep for the Devil than Alan Cumming. Stewart and Metcalf are also quite good in their roles as the befuddled husband and wife.
Whatever the future holds for this smart little toon, the creators can be proud of this distinction: Their baby is probably the only animated sitcom that has both a rabbi and a priest working on it as theological consultants.
It’s also the only place where we can hear God say, “The trick is to inspire wonder without being heavyhanded, so that the atheists won’t feel left out.” Divine, indeed.