TV Rewind: How On Becoming a God in Central Florida Dismantled the American DreamPhoto Courtesy of Showtime TV Features On Beocming a God in Central Florida
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This time last year, a string of television cancellations occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Netflix, for example, was cutting shows left and right, even previously renewed and fan-favorite series like The Society and I Am Not Okay With This. However, the most disappointing casualty of this cancellation spree was by far Showtime’s reversal of On Becoming a God in Central Florida’s Season 2 renewal. It’s still painful to even think about, especially since complex, female-driven television shows (such as Netflix’s GLOW and ABC’s Stumptown) took massive hits while tired franchises (like Dexter, which Showtime announced a revival of just a mere week after On Becoming a God’s axing) were being rebooted and brought back to life each day.
I was angry about On Becoming a God’s cancellation then, and I’m still furious about it now, over a year later. I vividly recall seeing the announcement, and was devastated by the fact that we were being robbed of such a uniquely bonkers show, and the chance to have more Kirsten Dunst on our screens. Not to exaggerate, but I have seriously been grieving for over a year.
Set in an Orlando-adjacent suburb circa 1992, the show follows brace-faced Krystal Stubbs (played by the always awesome Dunst, who began her excellent TV run in the second season of Fargo), a struggling mom and former beauty pageant queen working a minimum wage job at a waterpark. Her gullible mullet-sporting husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgård), who is determined to quit his dead-end job as an insurance salesman, is brainwashed into thinking he can make his family rich by following the tenets of Founders American Merchandise, a.k.a. FAM, a pyramid scheme á la Amway and LulaRoe run by the Colonel Sanders-esque millionaire Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine). Travis is a devout follower of the cultish company, eagerly eating up every piece of information fed to him by his lanky young “mentor” Cody Bonar (Théodore Pellerin) as well as Garbeau’s cassette tapes, which deliver false promises of wealth as long as members adhere to his orders. To the Stubbs family, FAM is their one-way golden ticket to living a wealthy and prosperous life, but despite these promises, they continue to struggle financially—which pretty much describes the American Dream in a nutshell.
Travis’ false faith in FAM could have easily been the show’s central plot, following the traditional route of sidelining the TV wife in favor of centering on his absurd antics. And although On Becoming a God hints at this in the pilot, an unfortunate and shocking incident that occurs in the episode’s final moments—Travis (in very typical Florida fashion) is eaten by an alligator—places him on the bench and makes it clear that On Becoming a God is very much Krystal’s story. Left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of her husband’s death, Krystal is left with nothing but an inheritance of debt and a backyard full of FAM products. Thus, she sets out to get out of the financial hole her husband dug and take down the fraudulent system that destroyed her home life. In the process of enacting her revenge plan, Krystal winds up involving her manager, Ernie (Mel Rodriguez), in the world of FAM, which proves to be destructive for him and his wife Bets (Beth Ditto, of rock band Gossip fame) as their marriage begins to slowly unravel throughout the season, further highlighting the damaging nature of the company and MLMs overall.
Despite her outward appearance, Krystal exudes a dominant power, is skilled in the art of coercion, and quickly realizes she has the ability to influence people, which helps her rise through the ranks of FAM without suspicion. Dunst, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance but was snubbed of a much-deserved Emmy, gives a fiery performance that once again proves she’s one of the greatest actors of her generation. Never letting Krystal become a one-dimensional caricature—which could have easily happened in the wrong hands—Dunst imbues her with so much depth, humor, and charm it’s impossible to imagine anyone else filling those shoes; the role was simply made for her.
Examining the underbelly of the American Dream, On Becoming a God was a clever satire that had a keen understanding of the absurdity of capitalism. It succeeded at exploring how poisonous and detrimental the false gospel of the American Dream can be, and by extension the idea that anyone can be rich if they simply put in the hard work. What I appreciated most about the show is how it portrayed the working class as people just trying to live simple lives, trying to survive under the shadow of capitalism. The great big American lie sold to us is that if you’re not rich, it’s because you are not dedicated enough to put in what it takes to be successful. On Becoming a God does a fantastic job of dissecting and exposing the horrors of that sentiment, and how the system and pyramid schemes take advantage of those willing to sacrifice the little they have in the hopes that it will end up benefiting them in the long run.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida is a brilliantly strange work of art that will live on in its own way, despite having only one season of 10 episodes to its name. Joining the ranks of one-season wonders like Freaks and Geeks, Sweet/Vicious, and My So-Called Life, it’s a short-lived gem of a show that we took for granted when it was on. It’s a tragedy that we will never get to see Krystal’s journey continue to unravel on our screens, but who knows, maybe one day Showtime will take a page from HBO’s book (reviving The Comeback almost a decade after it was canceled) and come to its senses and revive it.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida is currently streaming via Showtime, or on Amazon and Hulu with the Showtime add-on.
Jihane Bousfiha is an entertainment writer based in Florida. When she’s not watching or writing about TV and films, you can find her tweeting about all-things pop culture on Twitter @jihanebousfiha__.
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