I had a girlfriend once who got involved with a pyramid scheme. She signed up with Melaleuca which prompted me to tease her:
“When you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst, Melaleuca, Melaleuca…When you’re sliding into third and you lay a greasy turd, Melaleuca, Melaleuca…”
Needless to say, her foray with both me and the pyramid scheme had a shelf life. So that is part of what makes the premise of “On Becoming A God In Central Florida” somewhat interesting…Pyramid schemes have been around for a long time and one wonders what type of person would fall for, in Krystal’s (Kirsten Dunst) words, “a bag of bull crap.” These companies do prey upon the vulnerable and naive…throw in some dissatisfaction with their status quo and you got yourself a lead. In an interview with Collider, Dunst likens pyramid schemes to Instagram.
“It’s almost like Instagram,” Dunst said. “Where you get all of these followers, and the more followers you get, the more money you make because you get paid advertisements, and the more paid advertisements, the more money the top is making. And your followers are buying the products that you’re advertising. That’s basically all it is. It’s just roping people in to buy things, while the top is making the most money off the whole thing. With this situation, a lot of it is based on these motivational tapes and the hope to have a better life. That’s what’s really getting people.”
But the show is not working in part for the same reason why pyramid schemes don’t work. The premise is a try-hard take-down of American capitalism. But pyramid schemes are not models of American capitalism, i.e., products are not brought to market by people in your downline…You can’t conflate a scheme with the many nuances of the American commercial dollar.
Krystal is determined to meet the reclusive Obie Garbeau (Ted Levine) and spies on him through his McMansion window as he burns his Hot Pockets for dinner. Garbeau is the Wizard of Oz figure in the story and he communicates with his Melaleuca…oops, I mean FAM devotees via audio cassette tapes. He performs like a lounge act version of Tony Robbins, trying to motivate his followers with motivational tropes. “Oftentimes at night, I dream about America. I dream about a land so rich in opportunity it geysers up from the ground like oil bursting to touch the heavens.”
It is all a con game, of course, as no one is having success with the “Garbeau system” aside from Garbeau himself. He brings a group of “Washingtons” (high-level devotees) to his compound and each couple is encouraged to give their testimony…Once there, each couple exaggerates their success…They brag about owning mansions, fast cars, and hot tubs but in reality, they’re drowning in debt or worse…
Krystal begins to realize how the game is played and tries her hand at manipulating others. She recruits her fat depressed neighbor to join her downline while tricking the brainwashed Cody into proposing marriage to her on stage to curry favor with the almighty Garbeau. She no longer cares so much about providing for her young baby as much as she wants to win at the game of Garbeau.
But the show has pretty much jumped the shark. This episode focused a lot on the mind of Garbeau, delving into surrealism as both he and his brainwashed acolyte Cody imagine seeing giant Pelicans. I realize that the writing and imagery are supposed to be symbolic of the haves versus the have nots but using surrealism isn’t effective.
The only comedic moment is when one of Garbeau’s followers takes the microphone and talks about his life of poverty before he encountered the “System”…”I ate cat food,” he begins. “Then dog food. Then bird food. Only sometimes I ate human food.”