John Safran vs. God is an Ali G inflected show with the only difference being that John Safran plays himself as he examines the other religions of the world. However, he does this in an offhand, comedic-type way to highlight the idea that nobody should really take a belief system that seriously. This is essentially his gambit and it might seem like a trick pony, if Safran didn't find new ways to poke fun at his subjects and even himself. Like, Ali G he certainly doesn't let them get in on the joke, but he isn't as fastidious as Sascha Baron Cohen.
For example, Safran wants to find out why a certain radical Muslim Cleric hands out fatwas so easily. So, Safran takes somebody that he has a problem with, and he goes to the Muslim Cleric and explains that this person has said ill things of Islam. This person that Safran is throwing under the bus obviously hasn't, but it doesn't take the Cleric long to throw down a fatwa on this vicious offender. At one point, Safran tries out the Peyote religion. He goes out to a field, smokes some peyote and as he's waiting for enlightenment he proceeds to get sick throw up. I am not sure what this is supposed to prove, as Safran seems the type that would be skeptical of any mind expanding religion, but he sure is fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed when Safran looked into the Zen religion. He goes to a monastery and quickly finds out just how difficult it is to be at one with the universe. On top of that, these monks don't mess around and they waste no time in hitting their new arrival with a stick.
It is his ability to show the duality of religion and religious beliefs that makes John Safran vs. God so enjoyable. Safran also puts in a little bit of Stephen Colbert into his schtick. In calling the "Right... Evil" and the "Left... Good," he is clearly poking fun at close minded people on both sides of the spectrum. He never comes out and specifically laughs at these religions, in fact there are times when if you didn't know any better you might think he was seriously trying to understand them. When this show is at it's best is when Safran is putting himself in harm's way. When he's the one who is the biggest butt of the joke. Its self deprecation like that separates him from the other performers that I mentioned in this review, and ultimately that could be what gives him a comparable following.
John Safran vs. God airs on the Sundance Channel on May 24 at 9PM.
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