‘God, the Devil and Bob’ Was a Misunderstood Animated Sitcom

Matthew Carlson's short-lived series was the subject of much controversy before anyone had seen a single episode. The fury was uncalled for.
God The Devil Bob

Welcome to Petition Worthy, a biweekly column that revisits canceled TV shows that we wish had a longer lifespan. In some cases, we’ll also make a plea for them to be given another chance. This time, we consider God, the Devil and Bob.

Most of the shows covered in this column were canceled because of low ratings. But most of them received enough time to at least try and gain a strong viewership. God, the Devil and Bob didn’t enjoy that luxury. It was doomed before any episodes had even aired. Why? Because of religion.

The animated series faced protests from Christian groups as soon as NBC decided to show it back in the year 2000. According to the BBC, the American Family Association led the boycott against the cartoon. They pressured networks not to air it, which led to seventeen stations affiliated with NBC to buck to their demands. In the United States, God, the Devil and Bob was canned by the network after just four episodes.

The naysayers objected to its content before they even understood the context. People assumed that God, the Devil and Bob was a sacrilegious show after learning about the premise. That’s because the Almighty was given a fun makeover that didn’t align with his Biblical image.

In the show, God (voiced by James Garner) is a laidback hippie who resembles the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. He wears sunglasses, drinks beer, and dates women. It’s lighthearted stuff and not offensive in the slightest. Religion always causes controversy to an extent, but God, the Devil and Bob does not criticize the Holy Father, Christianity, or any type of theology.

If anything, the show leans more toward Christian values than against them. The story follows Bob (French Stewart), a regular guy who just wants to do right by his family. But he finds himself at the center of a bet between God and the Devil (Alan Cummings). God wants to end the world and start over, but he gives humanity one last chance through Bob. If the family man can prove that humans are worth saving, the Almighty won’t wipe them out. Naturally, the Devil tries to make Bob fail.

Bob isn’t exactly perfect. He drinks beer, downloads naughty films from the internet, and has his vices. But he’s fundamentally decent, and he resists the Devil’s attempts to sway him in the wrong direction. Bob turns to God for advice and the pair of them work together to make the world a better place. What’s so blasphemous about that? Nothing.

It’s worth pointing out that these criticisms were only common in the United States at the time. As The Guardian pointed out in 2001, some British religious leaders actually supported the series. They claimed that the show could deliver a positive religious message to those who aren’t interested in the subject matter. That’s because the series promotes good values without being heavy-handed when it comes to any particular ideology.

God, the Devil and Bob mainly explores family issues, albeit with a twist. Episodes center around stories about Bob trying to support his wife, daughter, and son. The central idea is that doing right by one’s family is the best way to make the world a better place. Some viewers probably went into this expecting an edgy sitcom at the time. But it’s no edgier than The Simpsons or King of the Hill.

The inclusion of God and the Devil does make for some entertaining scenarios, though. In one episode, the Devil tries to mess with Bob by way of dating his teenage daughter. It’s a fun spin on traditional sitcom storylines about fathers hating their daughters’ boyfriends. This is also about as evil as the Devil gets. He’s more of an inconvenience than a malicious entity.

God and the Devil aren’t enemies either. While the latter always tries to undermine the Almighty, they’ve come an understanding with each other. For example, God gets to guide people during their childhood years. The Devil gets them between the ages of twelve through twenty. After that, it’s up to people to make their own decisions that will lead to their salvation or damnation.

God is also available to give his Hellish counterpart some advice whenever he needs it. In one episode, He encourages the Devil to be nicer to his demonic imp lackey to make him a better employee. Unfortunately, the Devil doesn’t have it in him to be nice for too long, but he tries. It’s nice seeing a show where the theological beings have a sort of buddy relationship. The fact that the show doesn’t outright condemn Satan probably upset a few folks back in the day as well.

This strange bedfellows relationship provides many moments of hilarity. In the episode “The Devil’s Birthday,” the evil one throws a hissy fit because God forgets about his birthday. This is a great episode as it also shows that God isn’t always the omniscient being he’s thought to be. It also sums up the show’s message in a nutshell: no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you respond to them that matters.

Maybe God, the Devil and Bob would have fared better if it did push the envelope more. The network had cold feet from the get-go, but the pilot drew an impressive fourteen-million viewers. Over half of those viewers stopped watching afterward, which didn’t help the show’s survival chances. People went in expecting shocking content that lived up to the furor, only to get a pretty regular sitcom instead. It also didn’t help that the show aired at the same time as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

The thing is, God, the Devil and Bob had already been given a full-season order of thirteen episodes. So, following its cancelation by NBC, the remaining episodes were eventually broadcast by Adult Swim in 2001. The series was also shown in its entirety in overseas territories, including the UK, Brazil, and the Philippines, where the series was better received from the outset.

God, the Devil and Bob was canceled too soon, but it did end on a prophetic note. The final episode, “Bob Gets Involved,” sees the titular character go on a crusade against entertainment that’s “destroying the moral fabric of America’s youth.” It’s essentially a commentary on censorship and cancel culture. The creators couldn’t have predicted that the show would be cut for similar reasons when they made the episode. However, it’s the perfect closing statement considering how it all came to an end.

Over the years, the show has developed a cult fan base, and that single season is now available to watch in its entirety on DVD. Creator Matthew Carlson hasn’t expressed any desire to revive the series, so it’s very unlikely that we’ll see more episodes in the future. It wouldn’t be the same without Garner anyway. But God, the Devil and Bob never got to realize its full potential, and that makes it Petition Worthy.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.