The basic premise of the upcoming Kirsten Dunst-starring Showtime series On Becoming a God in Central Florida seems somewhat self-explanatory. Someone (or perhaps something) ascends to deity status somewhere in the Orlando metro area. Yet that doesn't really clarify much, and the first 30-second teaser released by the network yesterday only deepens the mystery. Full of Choco Tacos, cassette tapes, and one spooky pelican, the show sort of looks like Twin Peaks, Florida (never mind that Florida doesn't even have one peak, let alone twins). Given Dunst's recent work on FX's Fargo, and with film auteurs Sofia Coppola and Lars Von Trier, such weirdness seems right up her alley (and we'd probably follow her down any Florida back alley she led us). Still, we'd like a few more clues as to what's going on.
In fact, even the show's development has been a bit mysterious and confusing. It was originally announced as an in-development project at AMC, with The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos on board to direct and George Clooney attached as a producer (Lanthimos has long since moved on, but Clooney is still involved). The show's creators, Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky, don't have any previous television credits. And the project eventually made its way from AMC to YouTube Premium, where it was ordered direct to series and signified a bold entrance into the prestige TV landscape by the Google subsidy. YouTube's original programming experiment, however, has been shaky, and for reasons that aren't entirely clear, Showtime made the surprising announcement yesterday that it has picked the show up.
So here's what we know, and what we can guess, about this show for now.
Dunst plays a waterpark employee who gets involved in an MLM.
The year is 1992. The setting is some for-now-unnamed suburb of Orlando. Dunst is our heroine, Krystal Gill, who has a minimum wage job at a rundown waterpark (this is before Disney and Universal's mega-expansions, so we're assuming just your standard, no-frills waterslide and lazy river joint). To better her life, she seeks salvation in a multi-level marketing pyramid scheme called Founders American Merchandise (or FAM for short).
You know how you lurk on some random high school classmate's Facebook to discover that they've got completely caught up in some shady direct-sales company that sells tacky leggings or questionable mascaras? Yeah, it's like that. Except this was before Facebook, and the merchandising offered was more general.
“In Krystal Gill, Funke and Lutsky have created a truly delicious, sometimes diabolical female character—a dirt poor, very fierce young woman who is relentless in her pursuit of the American dream inside of an Amway-like company,” the late TV exec Suzanne Patmore Gibbs told Deadline back in 2018. “There is something incredibly compelling, heartbreaking, and absurd about both she and the lost souls these multi-level marketing companies prey on, who look to find community, respect and a sense of self in all the wrong places.”
Apparently Gill will stop at nothing to climb up the ladder at FAM. Some descriptions of the show mentions that FAM had previously led her family to ruin, so whether she's out to embrace the company or get revenge remains to be seen.
The 22-year-old rising French Canadian actor Théodore Pellerin plays the antagonist.
At just 22, Théodore Pellerin has already made a name for himself in French-language cinema. He was named a Rising Star at the Toronto International Film Festival and has already won the Canadian equivalent of the Best Actor Oscars (The Canadian Screen Award) for his work in last year's Family First, but if American audiences know him at all, it's probably from a few episodes of The OA and his brief part in Boy Erased as Lucas Hedge's college paramour.
In a coleading role on Becoming, he'll play Cody, one of the truest believers in FAM.
Beth Ditto heads up the rest of the cast.
Yes, Ditto, the lead singer of the Gossip and a fashion icon, has been moonlighting as an actor as of late. She made her film debut last year in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, and has joined the main cast of Becoming. She plays the wife of Dunst's waterpark manager, and one of the few people in town who seem to be skeptical of FAM. Mel Rodriguez takes the role of her husband, while Ted Levine plays the leader of FAM. Veep's Usman Ally plays the owner of the waterpark.
The show will also feature Melissa de Sousa as, according to Deadline, "a pill-popping, cantankerous journalist pigeonholed into doing human interest stories," who, of course, ends up investigating FAM. Julie Benz will also recur as a character named Carole, who is described as "big haired" and "buxom" and sees herself as the ideal FAM wife.
What's the deal with the pelican?
Oh, the giant, scary pelican that feeds its babies in front of a FAM logo at the very end of the teaser? We have no idea! Is there a touch of magical realism to the show? Is this the God of Central Florida of which the title speaks?
All we do know, though, is that the vast majority of pelicans in Florida are brown pelicans, who live in the state year-round. White pelicans only spend part of the winter in Florida, and even then are a relatively rare sight.