God, devil drawn together in cartoon; Review: The deities wager on the future of mankind in 'God, the Devil and Bob,' but this comedy has no bite.


Sure, it's irreverent. But is it funny?

Sadly, when the question concerns "God, the Devil and Bob," the answer is not particularly.

"God, the Devil and Bob" is an animated half-hour from executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, the same folks who brought you that other one-joke wonder, "3rd Rock From the Sun." (That's wonder as in, I wonder how it's managed to hang on this long?) "God" stars God and the Devil as two bored deities whose main sport is making small wagers with each other and Bob as the put-upon human who's usually the one they're betting on.

In tonight's premiere, a despairing God (voice of James Garner) hints to the devil (Alan Cumming) that evil may have finally carried the day. "Sometimes, I think about chucking the whole thing and starting over," he says with a sigh. Naturally, old Beelzebub is delighted, but God's not quite ready to throw in the towel; a self-proclaimed "sporting deity," he wants to give us one more chance.

So he lets the devil pick one human to prove mankind's worthiness, and the lucky guy is Bob, a Detroit auto worker with a wife who doesn't pay him any attention, a daughter who thinks he's an utter moron and a son who really doesn't care all that much.

There's the set-up: God and the devil make small talk with each other and wager on the fate of mankind, and Bob is forced to take time out from his beer swilling to save the world.

Predictably, "God, the Devil and Bob" already has some parts of the country bent all out shape. William Donohue, head of the ultra-conservative Catholic League, has warned NBC he'll be watching the show closely, and network affiliates in Salt Lake City and Pocatello, Idaho, are refusing to air the show.

To be fair, however, getting banned in Salt Lake City isn't exactly headline news; the Mormon church-owned NBC station there, KSL-TV, has never aired "Saturday Night Live."

Beyond the question of religion, however -- and the show, while certainly irreverent, is hardly blasphemous -- is the more important question of comedy. And while "God, the Devil and Bob" offers a few laughs (its hell, for example, is a place where Guy Lombardo is forever playing "Auld Lang Syne") there's not nearly enough to sustain a weekly series.

One thing the show does very well is cast its voices. Garner, with his laconic, world-weary drawl, makes for a fine deity -- he's drawn as something of a Jerry Garcia type. And Cumming, best known for playing the emcee in the Broadway revival of "Cabaret," is one indignant devil. French Stewart, the most clueless alien on "3rd Rock," doesn't bring much to the role of Bob, but then he doesn't have to.

"God, the Devil and Bob" is another in a long line of network comedies that equate questionable taste with humor; remember last year's execrable "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer?" This one isn't nearly as bad, but that hardly qualifies as a recommendation.

Tonight's TV

What: 'God, the Devil and Bob'

When: 8: 30 p.m.-9 p.m.

Where: WBAL, Channel 11

In a nutshell: God as a sitcom star?

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