“If Jesus wrote a sitdotcom,” as Maria Bamford might ask her mom, “What sitdotcom would it be?”  Well lately–with an influx of theocentric web shows hitting the digital market–that answer is becoming slightly more obvious. It’d probably be based in some sort of white-collar work environment with a God-like authority figure who’s none-too business savvy.

It’s news in itself that three web shows have arrived at relatively the same time, all of which feature God and/or heavenly beings in office-like workspaces, yet the bigger news might be that they’re all well made made and actually pretty funny.

Let’s start with Good God, which was first released on Comedy Central’s Motherload (Tilzy.TV page) in October 2006 . Episodes are about 3 minutes long, and feature God as the CEO of the universe, who, with the help of his archangel, associate archangel, Death and others, works behind the scenes to keep our world spinning. Here’s one of my favorite episodes:

Read more about sitcoms about God after the jump. ###

Our second heavenly-oriented show, God Inc., was released in December 2006.  Plot-wise it’s almost identical to Good God – the inner workings of heaven are juxtaposed with the corporate office environment. Episodes are longer by about five minutes each, and therefore are able to include a wider variety of clever God-office jokes.

In one episode, a member of heaven’s population control department, which invents new diseases to keep earth’s numbers in check, solicits sponsors for a pro-breast cancer walk. “Breast cancer claims the lives of 40,000 women a year,” a co-worker quips to a response of, “I know that’s how I come up with female over 30 quota…what’s wrong with cancer?”  Chancy material, for sure, but clever nonetheless.

The office is run by a tough Asian woman named Piper, as the character of God is notably absent, one major difference between Inc. and Good God. Yet God’s presence is still clearly felt, as Piper cowers when she gets a call on “the green line,” which presumably connects directly to the Big Man.

And that leaves Mr. Deity (Tilzy.TV page), also released December 2006. Deity might be my favorite of the three, mostly because it’s so simple and that Brian Keith Dalton, who created the series and  the God figure, makes me laugh…a lot. He plays Mr. Deity as an aloof, Jewish uncle-type with fluffy gray hair.  Someone clearly so not cool that he’s cool. Picture George Lucas but with a bit more class.

Most episodes feature just two people – God and Jesus or Lucifer or Mr Deity’s assistant, Larry – simply talking in front of a bright white void, arguing about how best to construct our universe.  In the first episode, Larry goes through the checklist of what evils God would like to include in the world, and understandably, down-syndrome comes up.  Mr. Deity responds sympathetically, “Oh that’s awful. So sad…. Yeah, let’s leave it in.”

The important second half of this story is that the 2 best of these series, God Inc. and Mr. Deity, are each getting new homes for their next seasons.   Two very different homes. Mr. Deity will stay on the web, as its second 10-episode season is financed by Sony and will be featured on Sony’s new studio-centered web portal, Crackle.

However, as God Inc.’s creator/writer Francis Stokes recently announced, his show has been bought by the Sci Fi Channel and is being optioned as a thirty-minute, one camera television sitcom.

Even though Stokes is not shy about how the the Internet was his stepping stool into the world of television and Hollywood, as a web-user, I still can’t help but feel slightly used.  I know, that sounds silly.  Yes, television is where the money is (momentarily), yet there’s a reason that this high-concept, niche show was born on the Internet (three versions of it in fact) rather than TV.

The web is not as beholden to advertisers or corporate interests, and allows producers the creative space to experiment with taboo.  God. Inc. in particular has proven that when handled correctly, real poignancy can come from concepts that might, at first, appear vulgar and offensive.  Portraying a character fighting to keep breast cancer incurable allows viewers to step back and look through a comedic lens to gain  new perspectives on the world.  Disease and death are a necessary stage in life’s business cycle.

What hurts about the Stokes’ deal is the knowledge that God Inc. was born on the Internet and it was successful because it used the medium well.  It nurtured a clever, racy idea into a niche show while maintaining creative control and experimenting all along the way.  In making the transfer to the new realm of TV, I’m almost certain that a lot of what I love about the show will change.  But that’s just part of the business cycle too, right? 
Perhaps the most important questions is, will GE allow Stokes the freedom to blaspheme to his heart’s content? God I hope so!

 

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