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On Becoming A God In Central Florida IMDB description: “In 1992 Central Florida, a minimum-wage water park employee lies, schemes, and cons her way up the ranks of the cultish, multibillion-dollar pyramid scheme that drove her family to ruin.”
Why I Took It Off the List: I remember seeing the poster for this Showtime-produced series and being intrigued by both the title of the show and the promise of seeing Kirsten Dunst in a wild, comedic role.
I’ve been a fan of the actress back to her Virgin Suicides early days and been impressed by some of her ventures into challenging roles in offbeat films and series, such as her excellent depiction of a deeply depressed bride in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.
Nevertheless, I somewhat forgot about the show until I saw that the series is now on Netflix. And, impressed by Dunst’s recent Oscar-nominated supporting turn in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog opposite Benedict Cumberbatch, I decided to give it a go.
Review of On Becoming A God In Central Florida
Billed as a dark comedy, On Becoming a God in Central Florida is certainly filled with larger-than-life characters and wacky situations, and a heavily satirical vibe permeates the proceedings. The heightened vibe is set from the beginning with a gaudy color palette, questionable 90’s fashion choices, and a gonzo performance from Alexander Skarsgard as Dunst’s deluded husband, who runs head-first into a sketchy pyramid scheme in an effort to get rich quick.
The series also has a weird, but intriguing, obsession with strange animal imagery, perhaps a leftover from Yorgos-The Lobster-Lanthimos’ early involvement in the show’s development. Visions of a ghostly moose appear early on, there are frenetic mentions of animals attacking people, and the leader of the shady organization has a bizarre obsession with pelicans. These elements further suggests that the players are not as in control of the situation as they believe and add to the off-kilter vibe.
However, there is also a thick undercurrent of very real tragedy and malaise running beneath the comic antics of the characters as they try to pursue the so-called ‘American Dream’ using this dubious system of pushing branded products to those around them. There are plenty of dark laughs (including one surprising, absurd death early on). But as the characters’ desperation grows and they get deeper into the scheme, you feel more pity and anxiety than the urge to chuckle.
Kirsten Dunst Impressively Plays Against Type
Most of the laughs come from Dunst’s protagonist, Krystal Stubbs. Usually associated with somewhat prim, reserved characters (apart from her Peggy Blomkvist from Fargo season 2), Dunst dives headfirst into the brash, stubborn Krystal and embraces the full-on white-trash excesses of her persona.
It’s incredibly amusing to watch her enthusiastically lead an aquatics class while shouting advice about how to get ahead in business or speeding down the road in a bright pink quad bike with a baby in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It’s also pretty impressive that Dunst makes to keep the character sympathetic even as she becomes more conniving and cutthroat.
Aside from Dunst, the series’ supporting roles are also exceptionally well-cast. Veteran character actors Ted Levine and Mary Steenburgen stand out as a couple of intimidating adversaries that Krystal clashes with, and Mel Rodriguez is quietly heartbreaking as her good-natured boss Ernie who tragically gets sucked into her schemes.
Feels Unnecessarily Drawn Out, A Shame
The first few episodes of On Becoming a God in Central Florida whip past at an agreeable speed and nicely set up the central story, of Krystal wanting to get revenge on the scam that brought ruin to her family while still needing to play the game to get ahead. And the subplots, such as Ernie and his supportive wife getting sucked into the scam, complement the main narrative nicely.
However, the show seriously loses steam about halfway through its run of episodes and seems to constantly be striving to create new mini-conflicts and draw out subplots to breaking point to keep things going. Key beats, such as Krystal deciding to turn whistle-blower against the company, are reversed and then played out again several times, and the narrative goals of the series get a bit lost.
Although it was initially renewed for a second series due to premiere in 2021, the show has since been canceled due to COVID restrictions. But after watching this first batch of episodes, it’s hard to see why the series ever needed a second run in the first place. It feels like the whole thing could have been condensed into a 6 or 8-episode mini-series and packed a much harder punch.
Final Score: 6/10
Worth Checking Out?
It depends, On Becoming a God in Central Florida starts out as an entertaining and inventive satire but becomes less novel and engaging as it nears the end of its drawn-out batch of episodes. Still, it’s worth a watch if you are willing to stick with it due to Kristen Dunst’s deeply committed, hilarious performance and some fantastic supporting turns.
On Becoming A God In Central Florida (2019)
Created by Robert Funke, Matt Lutsky
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