Hand of God: Amazon's hands-off approach creates an unholy mess

Drugs, sex and murder don’t make the edgy show Amazon are banking on: instead it’s muddled, maudlin and completely over the top

What’s the name of the show? Hand of God

Is this the Broadway play with the puppets? No, that’s Hand to God.

When does it premiere? All episodes start streaming on Friday 4 September

What is this show? Judge Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) is found one morning naked in a fountain speaking in tongues. Apparently a charismatic but dastardly minister (Julian Morris), a former soap star who now runs a New Age congregation out of a church with taxidermy doves hanging from the ceiling, saved him. Oh, and his son is in a coma after a botched suicide attempt because he witnesses his wife Jocelyn (Alona Tal) get raped in front of him.

So now this guy is walking the righteous path? No, he’s an absolute monomaniacal monster. He uses his power on the bench to advance his own cause rather than justice, he’s not afraid to murder or lie to get his way, and he curses a lot. God comes in because he’s having “visions” that he thinks are from heaven, and they’re leading him to the man who raped Jocelyn. He thinks that once he can solve the rape, his son will come out of the coma.

Do these visions work? They really seem to. Every time he has one, it leads him to a clue that gets him a bit closer.

Everyone around him thinks he’s crazy, right? Sure, but they’re trying to cover it up. His wife Crystal (Dana Delany) and his best friend Bobo (Andre Royo), the mayor of San Vicente, need him to appear sane so that a tech firm will open an office in San Vicente.

The mayor is named Bobo and the plot hinges on a tech company opening an office? Yes and yes.

Since when do judges matter if tech companies open offices? They don’t. It’s like having a police chief concerned about a factory closing.

This show sounds completely ludicrous. Oh, it is. And we didn’t even get to the judge’s crazy henchman (Garret Dillahunt) who is killing people to help out. This might be the worst show I’ve ever seen.

Wow. Those are bold words. What’s so bad about it? It’s trying so incredibly hard to be edgy and dramatic that it fails miserably at it. It’s baroque in its darkness, but not in a really interesting or original way, sort of like a teen with an unlimited credit limit at Hot Topic. The judge is an antihero who sleeps with a hooker once a week, but also wants to be close to God. His wife has a conversation with the mayor where he’s taking a dump while she smokes a joint. The judge forces his daughter-in-law to look at the penis of a man who might be her rapist and she gets so angry she spits in his face. Shortly thereafter there is a scene where Jocelyn tells her comatose husband he hates her while his mother stands by and sings a lullaby. Then there is the time when Crystal utters the line: “I’d suck your dick so hard you would pay rent to let it live in my mouth.”

Dana Delany deserves better! She certainly does. That is what is so baffling about this show. The cast is top-notch and they do their best with some seriously groan-worthy material. And the show looks phenomenal. It finds a way to turn the California sunshine gritty without making it look like a silly noir or relying too much on aerial drone shots (I’m looking at you True Detective, season two). But then all the characters are placed in these unbelievable scenarios with stakes that are absolutely impossible to care about. The result is something that is almost as campy as a troupe of drag queens doing a revival of Showgirls.

The stakes are really that low? Mayor Bobo goes around and in several episodes tells people: “Don’t mess with my concrete pour.” I don’t know what that is or why I should care about it. I guess it has something to do with an office building, but who the hell cares about an office building?

No one. Exactly. No one.

Who is responsible for this? Ben Watkins, formerly of Burn Notice, created it.

Wait, wasn’t this part of one of Amazon’s “pilot seasons”? Yes, last year the pilot aired and supposedly people voted on this show to get made. I don’t know who these people are or what sort of crazy world they live in, but this show is laughably bad. It is even worse than Amazon’s other drama, the seriously mediocre Bosch.

But Amazon has Transparent. Aren’t they one of the good guys? Their slate is seriously uneven. As Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan wrote in a very insightful essay, places like Amazon try to be hands-off with creators, but that isn’t necessarily making better television. In fact, there are a lot of the right pieces in place here. If the dialogue were cleaned up and the craziness toned down like, three notches, this might actually be a compelling show. With a guiding hand and a bit of development, it could have hit the jackpot.

Like the way the hand of God is leading the judge to the rapist? I see what you did there.

Should I watch this show? No, you should not. In fact, you shouldn’t order anything from Amazon for a month in protest.


Brian Moylan

The GuardianTramp

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