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Kirsten Dunst Shiningly Stars in Showtime's Madcap 'On Becoming a God in Central Florida'
August 25, 2019  | By Ed Bark  | 1 comment
 


The title is a mouthful – one of the longest in TV history. The basic premise is easier to swallow, particularly during these trying times.

In Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Sunday 10 p.m. ET), a crooked purveyor of products ranging from toilet paper to apple cider (Amway won’t like this series) sucks the lifeblood out of acolytes desperately pursuing an “American Dream” of quick wealth and prosperity. The preachments of Founders American Merchandise (FAM) are a match for the greed-fueled evangelism on display in HBO’s new The Righteous Gemstones. Both playbooks rely on the surefire propositions of suckers being born every minute. Principal among them, in Episode 1 of Becoming a God, is erstwhile insurance salesman Travis Stubbs (guest star Alexander Skarsgard), whose skeptical wife, Krystal (series star Kirsten Dunst, top), has a menial job at Rebel Rapids waterpark.

All ten Season 1 episodes were made available for review, and it’s a wild ride with some excesses down the stretch. But Dunst, whose character initially wears braces, is fiercely committed to both her performance and her character’s determination to dig out of one hole after another following her husband’s untimely demise near the close of Sunday’s premiere. What a whirlwind she is, alternately seething, scheming and cracking wise while also tending to her baby daughter, Destiny.

Krystal’s best friends are fellow water park worker Ernie Gomes (Mel Rodriguez) and his devoted wife, Bets (Beth Ditto). She otherwise forms a pitfall-pocked alliance with Travis’s enabler, Cody Bonar (Theodore Pellerin), a baby-faced, fully immersed FAM hustler who not only has drunk the Kool-Aid but poured the rest of it over his head. Pellerin’s portrayal would be the standout attraction if Dunst wasn’t topping him in scene after scene. It’s all set in 1992. 

The big boogeyman is Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine, right), God-like leader of pyramid-scheming FAM. Levine has never met a crazed role he won’t throw himself into. In his latest, he sports a mustache the size of a croissant accented by an off-and-on platinum blonde toupee. Garbeau’s series of cassette tapes (“Don’t be a stinker thinker”) are biblical in the eyes and ears of FAM disciples.


The promised prosperity always seems just within reach. But profit margins for FAM products are smallish at best. And the recruitment demands are never-ending for those who aspire to be a “Washington” and get invited to the palatial Paradise Cay, where Garbeau resides with his wife, Louise (Sharon Lawrence), and their wealth of underlings. Don’t expect a royal dinner, though. Instead Hamburger Helper is served. It makes for a funny sight gag, but not for all that much sense if Garbeau really wants to further imbed his hooks.

All that Krystal wants is a chance to expand FAM beyond its rigid system. But her new Splashercize class, eagerly attended by a big group of FAM salespeople in return for their products being stocked at Rebel Rapids, is deemed a “perversion of the Garbeau system.” Not that Krystal won’t keep swimming against the current.  

Mary Steenburgen also drops in, primarily during the sixth episode, as Cody’s wealthy, imperious mother, Ellen Joy. The scene is a well-heeled fundraiser for Vice President Quayle (Joe Knezevich), who’s shown with a bandage on his nose. “Someone has to keep the Democrats from turning the government into an all-you-can-eat buffet,” Ellen Joy tells Cody. She mostly sniffs at Krystal and her Southern twang.  

Becoming a God, billed as a “darkly comedic story” in Showtime publicity materials, includes a notably violent scene that sends poor Ernie over the edge. There also are some highly surreal moments, most of them at Paradise Cay. It all leads to a climactic FAM telethon on behalf of orphaned children, during which the entertainment is impossibly low-rent and cornball -- but nonetheless a hoot.

All of this sets up a second season, even if there already are some signs that Becoming a God might be stretching itself thin. Still, Dunst is the saving grace throughout a rollicking Season One that keeps delivering whenever she’s on screen. It may well turn out to be the TV performance of the year, with some very able assists from Pellerin, Rodriguez, Ditto and Levine.

So in that respect, there’s no need to be “the Pope of nope” – as Cody puts it – regarding whether a Season 2 can keep this story rolling. Bring it on, and let’s see if they can somehow pull it off.
 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Zeke
I almost didn't stick with it-- the sloganeering was so thick..
She certainly had patience!
When she found herself on her own, the show opened up. Hang in!
Aug 31, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
 
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