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'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' is Worthy of Praise
August 25, 2019  | By David Hinckley

The miniseries has thrived on television because it can become the perfect hybrid, accommodating stories that are too complex for a two-hour movie, but don’t require continuing multi-year exploration. 

A miniseries still requires judgments, however, like whether it’s worth four hours or 10 – or, in cases like The Killing or Big Little Lies, whether the original game plan can change and it can be credibly stretched past its “mini” origins.  

On Becoming a God in Central Florida, a mouthful of a title that premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime, raises those questions quickly. And then, like many good shows, answers them slowly. 

Kirsten Dunst stars and drives the show as Krystal Stubbs, a deceptively complex woman who works in a water park outside Orlando. 

Krystal has a young daughter and a husband she loves, Travis (Alexander Skarsgard, left). Krystal grew up in poverty and thinks she’s hit the lottery because the family has a modest roof over its head and Travis has a decent if boring job that pays the bills. 

Travis has more ambition. He has become enchanted with Founders American Merchandise (FAM), a pyramid scheme that promises untold riches to folks who buy in and are willing to hawk FAM to their friends and neighbors. 

Travis is the specific mark of Cody (Théodore Pellerin), who climbed onto the pyramid just ahead of him and pushes him relentlessly to quit his J-O-B and go for the jackpot with FAM – which, not surprisingly, also exudes the uneasy trappings of a cult.

Krystal has her doubts, which take a whole different shape and urgency when something happens to Travis and she has to decide how she is going to keep that roof and feed her daughter. All she knows for starters is that it will require more than her minimum-wage water park paycheck.

She meets FAM founder Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine), a marketing genius who’s slicker than a river of olive oil, and makes her decision. 

She signs up and immediately starts going way beyond all-in. She wants to board this jet plane and take the full ride. 

It’s a story that, honestly, could fit into a movie. That’s not the plan here. Krystal’s adventure will be running for 10 hour-long episodes, meaning we will take the proverbial deep dive into all the details and subplots along the way. 

The good news is that Dunst takes a role much closer to her Fargo incarnation than to Spider-man and nails it. She starts off looking like a not very bright young woman fresh out of the trailer park and morphs credibly into someone who threatens to be a match for Obie Garbeau his ownself. 

They both make the dance interesting, with Cody as the supporting caricature. On Becoming a God in Central Florida is billed as dark comedy and it clearly feels a responsibility to both those words.

Viewers may still at times wonder how the story might have looked if it were more compact. In fact, that may be part of the reason the project has bounced over the last three years from AMC to YouTube Premium to Showtime. 

Whatever the what-ifs, what we’ve got is nicely watchable. Just don’t look for quick satisfaction. 

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