Review: Kevin (Probably) Saves The World 1×1 (US: ABC)

The God formula again

Kevin Saves The World

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC

Faith-based television has a bad reputation. That is, it has a reputation for being bad. To be fair, that’s largely because not only is it preaching to the converted, it typically airs on networks with small budgets and few creatives. The result is dogmatic, hectoring TV that has the subtlety of Pat Robertson.

But when it airs on mainstream networks, it can often rise above the banal. Sure, you can still end up with the likes of Of Kings and Prophets (cancelled so quickly I didn’t even have time to review it) and the just horrific Saving Grace, but you can still end up with jaunty little shows like Joan of Arcadia, Highway to Heaven or even Quantum LeapTouched by an Angel? Well, let’s not speak about that…

Trouble is the good ones are all much of a muchness and new kid on the block Kevin (Probably) Saves the World doesn’t exactly deviate from the standard formula. It sees Jason Ritter (The Class, The Event, Another Period, Goliath) playing the titular Kevin, a somewhat aimless complete nobody and failure as a human being, who tried to commit suicide – and failed at that, too. Sister JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Privileged, Animal Practice) is so worried about him trying again that she gets him to move in with her, back in the small town in which they grew up but which he left a decade ago. That’s despite the fact Ritter wasn’t there for her when her husband died, something Ritter’s niece (Chloe East) still hates him for.

One night, a meteorite – one of more than 30 – strikes the Earth nearby and Ritter being somewhat dumb, only goes and touches it. When he wakes up, he can suddenly hear and see Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Vice Principals), who claims to be a ‘warrior of God’ – what we call an angel. She tells him that he’s one of the 36 righteous souls who keep the world going. In fact, he’s the only one left and he now has to find 35 others whom he can anoint as the new righteous souls. At least, once he’s becoming properly righteous himself.

Trouble is, no one else can see or hear Gregory, although they can at least see the results of her actions, and he can’t tell anyone that he’s one of the righteous ones. Ritter’s also not even emotionally equipped to make himself, his sister or his niece happier or better. So can Kevin save the world?

This again?

So there you go. It’s Joan of Arcadia again. It’s also Quantum Leap again. It’s even Highway to Heaven again. It’s the “God moves in mysterious ways to go and help the little guy to help other little guys, usually with the help of some kind of angel that can only be seen by said little guy” formula that we’ve seen so many times before. Gregory is precisely the kind of older black woman that Community satirised as inevitably being a TV ‘cosmic mentor’. Ritter eventually sees the light and starts becoming a better person. There are no surprises other than JoAnna Garcia Swisher being a professor of engineering.

But beyond that slavish following of the template, Kevin (Probably) Saves The World is actually okay. It can be quite heart-warming, doesn’t tell you you’re a sinner and doesn’t quote scripture at you. It takes itself a lot less seriously than you might expect, with Ritter being a complete idiot and most of Gregory’s life lessons for Ritter involving her hitting him or something bad happening to him like his car being run over. Ritter’s funny and appealing, and not a loathsome, godless atheist as you might have expected, either.

There’s a good supporting cast as well, with India de Beaufort (Kröd Mändoon, Blood and Oil) as Ritter’s ex, who’s now one of East’s teachers and holds a slight torch for him still; J August Richards (Angel, Raising the Bar, Agents of SHIELD, Notorious) is a local cop and possible romantic interest for Garcia Swisher.

There’s also ample room for the series to expand. Those other meteorites all brought angels to Earth as well, so there’s the possibility for them to show up. Garcia Swisher is working with the US government to find out the significance of so many of them all hitting the Earth at the same time.

Probably not

Of course, for Kevin to save the world, if the show lasts the maximum of seven seasons, Kevin has to find an average of five righteous souls a season, so we’ll quickly know if it this is the kind of show that’s planning on treading water and moping around town for its run, or whether there’ll be some actual pace to it. Somehow, I doubt it’ll be the latter but you never know.

Would I watch seven seasons to find out? Almost certainly not.The comedy, dialogue and plotting are pretty weak. It’s unremarkable stuff at every level, although it’s not bad and does have potential.

All the same, it’s good to know that reasonably good faith-based TV can still be made.




  • JustStark

    The result is dogmatic, hectoring TV that has the subtlety of Pat Robertson

    Of course you could say the same about much pro-secular-liberalism TV [ie, almost all TV] too…

    Isn’t the ’36 righteous souls’ thing a Jewish idea? Do they make anything of that or is it Christianised (which would be weird as it doesn’t really fit, theologically or tonally, with Christianity)?

    • “Of course you could say the same about much pro-secular-liberalism TV [ie, almost all TV] too…”

      Probably. I can’t think of many foreign TV shows (particularly US TV shows) that are pro-secular. Liberal and generally prone to saying “All religions are valid” but very few that actually say “There’s no God or gods.”

      “Isn’t the ’36 righteous souls’ thing a Jewish idea? Do they make anything of that or is it Christianised (which would be weird as it doesn’t really fit, theologically or tonally, with Christianity)?”

      It is. In the Talmud, although I don’t think it’s widely embraced. And no, the show doesn’t make anything of it, which was a bit disappointing since I was hoping they would. The “warrior of God” bit also feels a bit more Old Testament than New Testament, too.

      But I’ve noticed that of late, US TV shows tend to focus more on the Old Testament than the New Testament. There’s a thoroughly amusing episode of The Unit in which one of them goes to the Corps vicar to talk about his ethical problems concerning killing people. Lots of “Well, the 10 Commandments say ‘thou shalt not murder’, not ‘thou shalt not kill’, so actually what you’re doing is fine” but not a lot of “Actually, Jesus said to turn the other cheek so you’ve got a point actually.” That might have been the wrong moment to bring that up, mind.

      • Mark Carroll

        Oh, it’s nice to hear that the 36 righteous souls thing might be in the Talmud, as just out of thin air it sounds like a ridiculous premise.

      • JustStark

        Probably. I can’t think of many foreign TV shows (particularly US TV shows) that are pro-secular

        Well, almost all British TV, then. US TV tends to assume a secular liberal point of view — unsurprising given who makes it — but yes, you’re right, is less hectoring about it than British TV, presumably because they have a proportionally larger demographic that that would annoy so they can’t afford for all of them to turn off. There’s a chance of a US TV programme having a religious character be sympathetic or even heroic, which there isn’t over here.

        There’s a thoroughly amusing episode of The Unit in which one of them
        goes to the Corps vicar to talk about his ethical problems concerning
        killing people

        Wow, you managed to find a worse padre than the one in Bluestone 42 who had an affair with one of her flock!

        • Lots of current US TV shows, where if it’s ever made a point of, typically have an episode where it’s revealed that actually the atheist is wrong/unhappy because of some tragic incident and that their rejection of God is emotional, rather than rational, and/or wrong.

          Also true of episodes with psychics.

          “Wow, you managed to find a worse padre than the one in Bluestone 42 who had an affair with one of her flock!”

          That’s pretty bad.

          • JustStark

            I just watched the episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where Kimmy Goes to Church! and it was shockingly pro-church, to British eyes. However it does then go to great pains to point out this is a liberal church and that’s the only kind that is approved of. So that’s a halfer, I think.

            On the other hand, without knowing what examples you’re thinking of I can’t be sure, but when these atheist characters have their tragic incidents revealed is it really religion that it’s being suggested they should embrace, or more some form of ‘more things in Heaven and Earth’ West-Coast liberal-hippy SBNRism?

            That’s pretty bad

            Especially considering that up to that point she’s one of the most realistic religious characters to appear recently on UK TV (possibly due to the writer, James Cary, actually being a Christian). I don’t know what happened. Perhaps the morphic resonance of Cheers is just that strong and sexual tension must always result in the womaniser and the girl getting it on. It’s a pity.

            Still, ignore that and Bluestone 42 is still pretty good.

          • TV Tropes has the entire list of ‘Hollywood atheist’ tropes:

            http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodAtheist

            ” Perhaps the morphic resonance of Cheers is just that strong and sexual tension must always result in the womaniser and the girl getting it on”

            I think there’s probably an essay somewhere to be written about today’s increasingly individualised society and breakdown in community, coupled with taboos about emotional weakness, leading to an emphasis on and greater need for sexual intimacy. But I’m not writing it.

          • JustStark

            I’ve just found that somebody’s coined a term for the ‘religion’ that Hollywood Atheists disbelieve in: Moralistic Theraputic Deism.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism

            So yes, it seems that British TV pushes secular liberalism, while US TV tends to push MTD.

          • I think the universe has become a bit harsher and more vindictive since 2005, but that sounds about right. And that’s what annoyed me about episode two of KPSTW – it’s that after setting something up to be potentially genuinely Judaeo-Christian, it bottled it and reverted back to MTD, even though that made no sense.

  • fred

    ‘Cosmic Mentor’, or does the angel fit Spike Lee’s definition of a “Magical Negro”.
    “Hey, this is the Magical Negro. Like in the movies, where the black character is just there to help the white guy on his journey. And he mainly speaks in folksy sayings. ‘I don’t know much about blah blah. But a man’s gotta have his blah.” Kenneth from Speechless (tvtropes.org)
    I was hoping for a hint of some sort of darker, Good Place-y, type twist at the end, maybe the meteors are fallen angels, but it looks like it’s just going to be weekly soul saving!

    • It’s not quite the folksy sayings Magical Negro but that’s probably more accurate in terms of plot function.

      No twist yet. But then again, it took until the end of the first season for The Good Place to reveal its secrets, so you never know. However, I think the intention is for it to be plain old soul saving (it was originally called The Gospel of Kevin, which suggests a far clearer mandate than the current title!)

      • fred

        To be fair the angel cast in the pilot was Latina. I’m not sure I can make it through 10+ episodes hoping for a twist!

        • That almost makes it worse IMO! Sure, pilots get recast for all kinds of reasons but “Let’s hire a Latina to play our Cosmic Mentor. Hmm. Not sure that works. Okay, let’s try someone black… Ah. Much better. That fits the idea we had…”

          • fred

            I know I’m probably wrong, but I really hope not all TV casting is that cynical. I liked her in Vice Principals and maybe she was just the best person for the job. Could it be that simple.

          • Oh, there are plenty of shows that recast based on actors not gelling with others, changing their minds or even simply becoming unavailable because they’re supposed to appear in another show as well. And it might be that she was a better choice.

            Even if not, I’m not suggesting it’s a conscious decision to cast black rather than Latina – if it is for this reason, it’s more that they had in their minds the idea of a Cosmic Mentor and that a Latina didn’t fit that idea mentally, whereas somehow subconsciously a black woman fit the role of Mystic Negro better.