On Becoming A God in Central Florida Review
Kirsten Dunst has always been the most unusual of child actresses: unlike so many of who started young, she has always been the most capable of transitioning into inner darkness. This was true in one of her earliest roles in Interview with a Vampire, and has remained true into adulthood, most brilliantly in her work with Sofia Coppola. There have also been hints of it in her work in television, demonstrating in her work as a teenage runaway in ER, and most memorably in Season 2 of Fargo, where her work as Peggy Bloomquist showed a woman who was determined to not let anything stand in the way of her dreams — not even hitting a gangster and leaving him to die in her windshield.
Now she brings all of these talents to her best use in Showtime’s newest comedy-drama On Becoming A God in Central Florida. In a sense, Showtime is the perfect network for her: it has been bringing child stars as leads of very dark series for much of the 2010s: Emmy Rossum was by far the lead of Shameless and no one will forget Claire Danes’ work on Homeland for a very long time. Dunst plays Krystal Stubbs, a housewife just a notch above white trash in ‘Orlando Adjacent 1992’ as we learn in the introduction. Krystal is struggling to survive at a job in a piss-poor water park, but her biggest problem is her husband. His main job is working for FAM, an Amway like system headed by a self-help guru named Obie Garbeau II(Ted Levine, who we hear more than we see).
It is clear very early on that this is a pyramid scheme — the guru talks in the clichés of making money without working, ones which everybody who works talks in, no matter what. Krystal is the only one who seems to see just how flawed this is, but no one listens to her, especially not her husband Travis, who promises that he will not quit his job, and then does so in an elaborate ceremony the next day. But the exhaustion of being a ‘Garbeau Man’ wears him down: lack of sleep causes him to drive into a lake, where he is promptly eaten by an alligator. With no real options on how to move forward (even her braces are paid for on layaway, so it seems) she finds herself reluctantly being drawn back into the Garbeau System.
Dunst is quite brilliant, demonstrating yet another engage personality (and accent) to her already impressive regime. What Becoming A God does just as well is show an atmosphere that falls around these get-rich-quick schemes. It makes it very clear that these organizations bordered on being something resembling cults, with people, especially those trying to deal with a recession, embracing the most ludicrous clichés and pulp. This becomes particularly clear in the case of Ernie, someone who works at the water park Krystal does, and is incredibly resistant to selling stuff at the park. However, the obvious depression he suffers from leads him to buy in. It’s also clear of Cole, Travis’ superior at FAM, who is constantly struggling to remain at the ‘Jefferson Level’ despite not having any skills for salesmanship himself. And standing throughout this is Garbeau, who seems to have all the answers but offers nothing in return. Why should he? He’s at the top of the pyramid.
This is a dark series that crackles with some very wry humor, and doesn’t have the grunginess that so many of Showtime’s series (Ray Donavan in particular) have. Showtime has been going through a time of transition with series like Homeland and The Affair coming to an end in the next year. With series like this and City on a Hill and comedies like Kidding, Showtime may be entering a new era, one where it might be able to have a better handle on looking the natural darkness with a bit more humor. On Becoming A God in Central Florida was originally made for Youtube, but it was bought by Showtime, and there is no doubt it belongs on this network.
My score: 4.25 stars.