“The Story of God With Morgan Freeman” is a very good title, marketing-wise, for a series that could have been called “Introduction to Religion” or “Belief” (as it was when OWN recently covered similar territory) or, less charitably, “Morgan Freeman Travels the World Asking the Big Questions on National Geographic Channel’s Dime.” Earnest but unlikely to change many hearts or minds, the project rather blandly leverages its celebrity quotient to milk six episodes out of the great mysteries.
“What is beyond death? How can any of us know?” Freeman asks in the opening hour, which deals with conceptions of what happens after we die. “I want to know how the afterlife first became part of religion,” he asks, and whoosh, it’s off to Egypt, to speak with religious experts.
And so it goes. Subsequent chapters are subtitled “End of Days,” “Creation,” “Who Is God?,” “Evil” and “Miracles.” Throughout the hours previewed, the actor exhibits an inquisitive mind and openness, doing more than just lending his voice (and the fact he played God in “Bruce Almighty”) to the exercise, as he visits 20 cities in seven countries.
At its core, though, the dutiful nature of “Story of God,” much like the Oprah Winfrey-produced-and-narrated “Belief,” makes Freeman’s journey a rather hollow one – or at least, not especially enlightening. Yes, we share a hunger for spirituality and for answers that lie beyond the grasp of science, but the mere fact a celebrity shares those questions doesn’t really advance the ball, other than to remind us that there are many different manifestations of faith – including, it should be noted, the absence of it.
In that respect, this is less an “event series,” as advertised, than a non-event series – another well-intentioned attempt to demonstrate what people share, despite their cultural differences, and designed to play across the globe.
Yet while that’s noble enough in theory, there’s also a bit of cynicism – or at the very least pragmatism – in channels like NatGeo (which is now more firmly under the stewardship of Fox) both getting religion and relying on star power to repackage great imponderables that have puzzled poets and pastors for millennia. From that perspective, “The Story of God” offers more insight into the earthbound business of television, frankly, than it does any higher power.