The show opens as God (James Garner) decides that Humans Are Bastards and he's going to end the world; The Devil (Alan Cumming), of course, is delighted with His decision. God eventually has second thoughts about the idea, though — saying that He's "not that kind of God" — and He decides to give the world one last chance: if a single person can somehow prove that humanity as a whole is worth saving, God will put off smiting the entire world. The Devil is none too happy about this, so God decides to make things fair by letting The Devil choose the person.
Enter the third titular character: Detroit's own Bob Alman (French Stewart), an under-educated, beer-drinking, swearing, selfish person who — by his own admission — downloads a lot of porn from the Internet. In the first episode, Bob manages to redeem humanity, and for the rest of the series, he becomes God's "go-to guy" for new ideas on how to help humanity further redeem itself — all while The Devil tries to interfere with God's plans.
Side characters include Bob's wife Donna, their kids Megan (a teenager) and Andy (a six-year-old), Bob's work buddies (a white pervert and a black guy/occasional Deadpan Snarker), and Smeck (The Devil's demon henchman/Chew Toy).
The show touched on many family issues, including death, puberty, and bullying, among others. The show caused a good deal of controversy due to its presumed mocking of the Christian faith, a largely inaccurate accusation leveled. Ironically, the show's creator was an ordained clergyman with a favorable attitude towards the faith.
It eventually made it to DVD in the US, several overseas markets did air the full series, and in 2011, the show's full run made its way into the [adult swim] lineup.
- Abusive Parents: Bobís father was abusive to him, and his own father was even worse. The episode about their relationship delves into the cycle of abuse and how to stop The Chain of Harm.
- An Aesop: Bob's Father has several Aesops:
- Just because someone suffered in the past, it doesn't make it alright for them to inflict suffering onto someone else. Bob's father was an asshole to Bob for his entire life, the end result of his own father (Bob's grandfather) being a horrible monster to him. They make a point even if that's true and he really is good enough to get into Heaven, what happened to Bob still wasn't OK, and Bob is not in the wrong to be angry at him for it.
- A person's past trauma can completely change and warp what they view as right and wrong, even if they genuinely make the effort to be better than than those who came before them. Bob's father's abusive behavior, while treated as genuinely bad, is portrayed as being the end result of his own father's abuse, and that despite genuinely making the effort to not be as monstrous, he was still negatively affected by his past trauma in a way that manifested in harming his family, especially his son.
- It's important despite your own pain and trauma to, if not completely avoid causing harm, then at the least to reduce the harm you cause to your loved ones and do better than what happened to you. For all of Bob's father's failings, the one thing that does stand is that he DID make a genuine effort to be better than his own father, to the point of actively avoiding talking about his own father. And despite the abuse, Bob did turn out to be a better man than his father or even his grandfather in spite of his own problems, something that is shown when he apologizes to Andy for snapping at him while in the middle of his own conflict.
- Affably Evil: Everybody in Hell is blase about their surroundings and treat their torments as a 9-to-5 job.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: God's real form is the traditional "magnificent gestalt" you see in most media, but He usually appears as a human with a white beard and sunglasses.
- All-Loving Hero: Everyone is "God's special guy". However that doesn't stop his plans to destroy the world if Bob can't convince him to do otherwise.
- An Aesop: Delivered at the end of every episode. It was surprisingly good at showing a message without getting overly Anvilicious.
- All Girls Like Ponies: When Bob mentions how he can't deal with the idea of Megan dating, God suggests getting her a pony. Bob asks what that would do. "I dunno, I thought girls liked ponies..."
- All Men Are Perverts: Especially Bob and his friends. One episode has God interrupt Bob's weekly strip club visit for one of his missions, only for Bob to complain that his favorite stripper's music just came on.
- Appeal to Obscurity: "I feel like that guy in Wham! after George Michael went solo." "What guy?" "Exactly."
- Ambiguously Bi: The Devil is rather flamboyant, incredibly prissy, and prone to occasional crossdressing and singing showtunes, as well as being very physical when talking to Bob. On the other hand, he also dated Megan and tried to sleep with Donna (both in disguise, of course).
- "Anger Is Healthy" Aesop: Bob's Father talks about domestic violence as Bob's father dies in the hospital and Bob is upset that his father got into heaven despite being abusive for all of Bob's life. This causes Bob to have a crisis of faith because if Bob's abusive dad can get into heaven, then why should Bob be a good person and this eventually leads to a conversation between God and Bob. Rather than tell Bob to forgive his father for all the crap he put him through, God tells him that Bob is right to be mad at him and explains that Bob's father did, in fact, love him and his harshness was simply passing on a "softer punch" because his father (Bob's grandfather) was worse than him. God ultimately tells Bob that it's not Bob's decision to forgive him for his abuse, that's God's choice, Bob just needs to understand his father's side of the story and make up his own mind.God: Look, I know your father was a jerk to you, but you don't know what was in his heart.
Bob: Oh, don't do this. Don't give me that crap. I don't care what was in his heart. He never shared it with me.
God: You're right, and you're right to be mad at him, but it's not your job to forgive him; it's mine.
Bob: Yeah, well.
God: Did you know your grandfather?
Bob: What? No, he never talked about him.
God: Now he was a scary guy.
Bob: Oh, so that makes it ok for my dad to treat me bad? Hah, liberals.
God: No, that's not what I'm saying. Look, bob. Ok, picture this long line of fathers and sons stretching from Adam all the way down to Andy. Now they're all passing down this punch. From one generation to the next, father to son, and the trick is to pass on a softer punch.
[God pulls down his glasses revealing a small portion of his eyes]
God: Your father passed on a softer punch.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
"What should we do? Flay his skin, boil him alive or maybe make his skin really dry and itchy?"
- The title.
- What Smeck suggests doing to Bob in the first episodes:
- Artistic License Ė Chemistry: The episode "Bob Gets Committed" shows Bob acting high or stoned while on thorazine; for the record, thorazine is a chemical cudgel and should NEVER be mistaken for a recreational drug.
- Big "NO!": The Devil is fond of these. First when God decides not to destroy the universe and then again when he fails to get a strike in bowling.
- Bittersweet Ending: "Bob Gets Greedy". Bob is able to sabotage the hockey game and prevent the Devil from getting Donna's soul but doing so earns him the wrath of everyone in Detroit.
- Black Cloak: The Devil wears one in his true form as the source of all evil. When he's pretending to be someone else, he doesn't.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Every episode shows Megan whining about something.
- Bumbling Dad: 90 percent of the time, Bob has no idea what to do with his family. In one episode, Bob worries that God, who has temporarily made himself human, is taking over his life; he's mildly concerned about God taking over his role in his workplace and home, but is far more angry about God taking over his baseball team. As Bob puts it, his team is the only thing Bob cares about and is good at.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Crossed with Parting-Words Regret in "Bob's Father", as Bob's father was an unrepentant Jerkass.
- Card-Carrying Villain: The Devil, obviously. His very first scene has him delighting in petty evil and later he declares himself to be "the source of all evil in the universe".
- Cheerful Child: Andy is usually in good spirits.
- Children Are Innocent: One line justifies both this trope and Teens Are Monsters. It involves a deal God and The Devil struck long ago; "I (God) get 'em until they're 12, then he (The Devil) gets 'em until they're 20." This is the reason why Andy can see God and Megan can't.
- The Chosen One: Played with; Bob was chosen to prove humanity's worth to God, but he was chosen by the Devil specifically because it was assumed that he would fail miserably.
- Comically Missing the PointBob: Okay, you've got some explaining to do. Right now, my daughter is ice-skating with the Devil!
God: He can skate? With those weak ankles?
- Cool Shades: God has a pair and so does the Devil, occasionally.
- Cross Dresser: The Devil and Smeck in a couple episodes, and God's pep-talk to a group of infants in a hospital nursery mentions that one "will love wearing your wife's clothes".
- Deal with the Devil: Bob (and inadvertently his wife) makes one of these involving a PalmPilot they unwittingly received from the Devil, using it to cheat at gambling to win money (and almost losing their souls in the process).
- Defiant to the End: Despite Bob telling him to go to hell being the last words he would hear from him, his father simply decides to pull one last joke on him by pretending to flatline and ask if it was what he was waiting for.
- Despair Event Horizon: Bob crosses it in the episode where his dad dies. Not because his dad died, but by learning that, despite what an incredible asshole he was in life, he was allowed into Heaven. Bob is unable to comprehend how such an awful person wouldn't get sent to hell and basically decides nothing he does matters if morality is a joke. It's so bad Donna and even Megan can both tell something is really wrong. Bob then steals a fancy sports car, gets in a high speed police chase, and moons a couple of nuns. He gets better when God explains that, while Bob has a right to be angry at the way he was treated, it's GOD'S job to forgive people, and that Bob's father was actually trying to be a better father to Bob than his own father was to him.
- The Devil Is a Loser: In this show, the Devil is a campy Manchild with creator issues who is pushed aside by the likes of Martha Stewart.Bob: Get out! There must be somebody else that you can annoy.
The Devil: That's all I am to you? Is annoying? I am the source of all evil in the universe, and I'm annoying?
- Dissonant Serenity: An example occurs in "The Devil's Birthday" when Bob goes to Hell to try to perk up the Devil (who's having a hard time). When he arrives, he speaks to a man who demonstrates this while being roasted over a fire.Bob: Excuse me, is this Hell?
Roasting Man: (nonchalantly) You know, I never really asked. But you have to assume.
- Drunken Montage: Subverted - "I never knew neon signs were so interesting."
- Easily Forgiven: No matter how much destruction he causes, the Devil is always on friendly terms with God by the end of the episode. Most of the time it's God who ends up apologizing to him. He's an unusual example as he's the main villain of the show. It's justified with the fact that God could easily reshape everything the Devil destroys in a matter of seconds if he wanted to, and it is basically the Devil's job to be evil.
- Epic Fail: The fourth circle of Hell has been neglected for a while. The result? It's a golf course. Until the Devil gets back "in the groove".Smeck: That one got away from me, sir.
- Everyone Has Standards: In "Bob Gets Involved" one of Bob's friends says they should shut down the schools and make kids do all the stuff adults don't want to (mow lawns, wash cars, take care of the elderly). Bob calls him an idiot.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: While trying to tempt Bob into cheating on Donna, Lucifer transforms an old homeless woman into a stunning young blonde in a hot red dress.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows: God makes a double rainbow appear over Detroit to cheer people up without making the atheists feel left out.
- Evil Brit: The Devil has an English accent and is voiced by a Scottish actor. Everyone else is American, including God.
- Evil Is Petty: Among other examples the Devil makes his debut in the first episode by popping a child's balloon, kicking an old lady's cane out from under her and keying a car.
- Evil Plan: The Devil wants to tempt Bob into sin so he'll go to hell, just to spite God and see Him recreate everything.
- Figure It Out Yourself: Inverted: God gives clear instructions most of the time, yet Bob doesn't get the point. This is why He's so frustrated in the first episode. "This is not new stuff! It's written down on scrolls, and books and stone tablets. What do you want me to do!? Scribble it on a bar napkin?"Bob: Would you? That'd really help.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: What hell looks like except for the Fourth Circle, which turned into a giant golf course when the Devil wasn't paying attention.
- Flaming Devil: The Devil is less camp than most examples, but is definitely more dapper and uptight than the laid-back Grandpa God.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Heaven is depicted with lots of clouds and blue skies.
- Flying Car: God's driving it, so Justified Trope.
- Forgotten Birthday: "The Devil's Birthday." God apparently forgets every year which hurts the devil more because God is supposed to be omniscient.
- Friendly Enemy: Bob and The Devil, to the point where they could hardly even be called enemies, only being considered as such due to the Devil's hatred of humans in general. Andy even refers to the Devil as Bob's friend in one episode.
- Friend to All Children: When God enters a nursery of newborns in "Bob's Father", he wishes them good luck.
- Go Among Mad People: "Bob Gets Committed" and does God's bidding with the residents of an insane asylum.
- God Is Flawed: Some episodes portray God as less "perfect being" and more, for lack of a better word, "human". Examples include the weariness and disappointment He feels in the first episode, having someone "accidentally" crushed under a tree in order to get onto Bob's baseball team, His relationship trouble with a human, and His estranged relationship with His fallen angel creation. And he's not above cheating at Chutes & Ladders.
- God Is Good: He wants people to get along with each other and be happy.
- Godly Sidestep: Bob asks God why He allows evil to exist. God takes a deep breath and explains to Bob, just as a train passes between them and the audience. Bob is impressed and accepts God's answer, but we only hear the very last part."...like a cork caught in whirlpool."
- God's Hands Are Tied: God keeps his interference subtle to avoid tampering with free will. Not for any moral reason, but a world without free will is just an elaborate puppet show and He already got bored with the puppet world He made earlier.
- God-Karting with Beelzebub: Many episodes begin with the two hanging out together: going for a walk, playing golf, bowling, etc.
- Go into the Light: Parodied. Turns out it's God's porch light, which He only left on once.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: God and the Devil certainly look like this at times considering how much time they spend together, just hanging out like friends, and have been doing so for literal ages.
- Honor Thy Abuser: The Troubled Abuser version pops up but, as mentioned on the YMMV page, is dealt with maturely and respecting the feelings of the person that was abused.
- Humans Are Bastards: Why God wants to destroy earth in the first place; it's hard to find any speck of decency among them. It's only when he sees Bob spending time with his daughter does he relent.
- Humanity on Trial: The first episode, with Bob as the star witness for the prosecution.
- Incredibly Inconvenient Deity: Neither God nor the Devil is above popping into Bob's bed when they want a word.
- Ink-Suit Actor: Both Bob and the Devil bear a resemblance to their respective voice actors. God, however, is more based on Jerry Garcia.
- Invisible to Adults: God can be seen by "innocents," which includes children like Andy (but not teens like Megan). However, this seems to be averted for people who have lost their adult sense of rationality and cynicism, such as the mentally ill. For what it's worth, Andy could not see through the Devil's disguise when he imitated Bob, but still realized right away that he was some sort of an impostor and God can make Himself visible to whoever He wants.
- The Internet Is for Porn: Discussed - if people had no porn on the television then they would have to find it on the internet instead.
- Jerkass God: One episode shows God casually talking about restarting the world with marsupials as the dominant species, while humans are "somewhere on the food chain". It's usually averted; see God Is Good.
- Jerkass Has a Point: In "Bob's Father", Bob has every reason to hate his father, the verbal abuse he spewed even on his death bed, even laughed in his son's face when he faked his heart monitor going flat line. Even Bob telling his father to go to hell, while extremely harsh in most circumstances, is completely understandable, and God tells him he has every right to be mad at him.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: Parodied in "The Devil's Birthday". A world without evil means the cake contains an eldery married couple who give advice ("Never go to bed angry"). Bob is horrified.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: Both God and the Devil come across as rather unimpressive but God certainly shows us that He's the All Mighty in the first episode and the Devil transforms into a real demon at one point and is capable of some real evil at times .
- Minion with an F in Evil: Smeck is a horrible devil, which means he's closer to a Nice Guy or a Salary Man.
- Mistaken for Pregnant: Very briefly occurs in the pilot, when Bob immediately assumes that Megan is pregnant upon learning that she didn't get her period. It only lasts for about a second before she reveals that she means that she never HAD her period in the first place.
- Moral Guardians: After an assload of blasphemy complaints in the United States, NBC canceled it after only four episodes, and it was not shown again in the U.S. until a decade later on [adult swim]. The whole series was aired overseas earlier. (Funnily enough, the final episode of the series has Bob start his own group of moral guardians which descends in bickering; the moral of that story was Kevin Bacon is a really good dancer.)
- Morality Pet: Andy is the one person Bob never mistreats in any way. And if he does, Bob always apologizes and does something to make up for it.
- Multi-Character Title: Three of them; "God, the Devil and Bob".
- Never My Fault: From the first episode; Bob's daughter spreads a rumor about herself that she's a slut, causing her boyfriend to dump her for being a slut, at which point she turns around and blames her mother.
- Nigh-Invulnerability: Bob thinks that as "God's special guy" he's indestructible so he decides to wrestle a robber with a gun and skydive without a parachute. God tells him he's not and it's just a fluke while the Devil encourages it. We don't find out one way or another.
- No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: The subplot in "Lonely At the Top" has this happen to the Devil, who initially tries to take full advantage of God being busy acting like a human. After a week of causing assorted problems across the globe, the Devil is left unsatisfied and bored, saying it's just no fun wreaking havoc without God around to try to put a stop to it. As he tells Smeck, "Fish in a barrel."
- Noodle Incident: Satan once comments that he "promised [Smeck]'s mother" to take care of him, though further circumstances are never explained.
- "Not So Different" Remark: "Lonely At the Top" gets started by Bob chastising God about not knowing what it's like to be human. God spends the entire episode seeing what it's like—annoying Bob to no end. In the end, God explains He just wanted to be one of the guys and created humanity in the first place to have some company.God: Yknow the expression "It's lonely at the top?" That's when you're talkin' about presidents and Streisand. Imagine what it's like for me.
Bob: So, you get lonely? Maybe you know more about being human than I thought.
- No Sympathy For Grudge Holders: Subverted. God tells Bob that he has a right to be mad about the way he was treated by his father even after he dies,
- Odd Friendship: God and the Devil, of course. It's not even a Friendly Enemy thing; they really are friends.
- Once Done, Never Forgotten: The Go into the Light trope only happened because God left his porch light on for too long and now everyone thinks it's part of the "dying and going to Heaven" deal.
- Pals with Jesus: Bob is God's Go-To Guy and pops in to talk about stuff or some plan of His.
- Parting-Words Regret: In "Bob's Father" just before Bob's father dies, Bob tells him to go to Hell. When given a chance to talk to his spirit at the end, he metaphorically tells him how he wished he could have said how much he meant to him through a hockey game. Bob's father hints to him that he gets the idea.
- Pass the Popcorn: Andy and Megan are enjoying a bowl while watching the neighbors having a lovers spat.
- Place Worse Than Death: When the Devil takes all the evil out of the world, God insists Bob visit Hell to talk sense into him. Bob is less than comfortable with this plan. God's response, "Oh, for Pete's sake, you've been to Branson, Missouri. It's not that different."
- Purgatory and Limbo: Discussed in Episode 11, when Bob's abusive father dies, Bob goes to hell to visit him but the Devil informs Bob his dad is not there. When Bob asks if he's in purgatory then, the Devil admits that the place doesn't actually exist.
- Record Needle Scratch: In the pilot, when Bob asks "What's in it for me?" the sound cuts in suddenly. God was not expecting that.
- So Proud of You: According to the Devil, one of his reasons for rebelling against God was that God never told The Devil how proud He was of him back when he was an angel.
- Sycophantic Servant: Smeck always agrees with his boss because the alternative is pain.
- Take That!: Everytime some celebrity or politician is casually mentioned as being involved with The Devil.
- When God decides to see what it's like to be human, The Devil realizes that he's now the ultimate power in the Universe, and decides that his first act will be something so diabolical even he will be disgusted by it. Smeck suggests Tony Danza on Broadway. The Devil responds that he wants "something on that level".
- Smeck tried to cheer The Devil up by showing him several of his acts of cruelty throughout the ages: The Nuns of Loudon, the Salem Witches, and who could forget, the Warren Court.
- God experimenting with possible back-up plans in case he ever decides to destroy the universe. One of them is pretty much the same as the old one, but he got rid of France, and he "also made a few other improvements".
- The pilot episode featured Bob going to a Tel-Evangelist with a pitch for a call-in show about daily miracles - upon being told that there'd be no money in it, Bob is promptly kicked out.
- This Loser Is You: Bob, a dim witted, perverted and bumbling man, is supposed to represent all of humanity. In the pilot, Satan chose him for this role to give himself the advantage.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth:
- The Devil is on the receiving end of this more than once.
- When he hires Martha Stewart to help him redecorate the fourth circle of Hell, he is completely pushed aside.
- When he pretends to be an ordinary teenager to get close to Bob's daughter, he realizes he's forgotten how depressing teenagers can be and abandons the scheme halfway through their date.
- He point blank refuses to take Richard Nixon. "I don't want him in hell! It's not fair to my other guests!"
- God spends half of an episode trying to get away from His former prophet Sarah, who He fears has a crush on Him.
- The Devil is on the receiving end of this more than once.
- Troubled Abuser: Bob's father was emotionally and verbally abusive to him up until his death. God puts things in perspective for Bob by pointing out that his grandfather was even worse. Interestingly, Bob rejects this explanation, and God agrees that Bob has every right to be angry.
- Twerp Sweating: Subverted. At first Bob is eager to do this with Megan's date but ends up having a guy crush on the guy himself ("You come around any time! Megan doesn't even have to be here!"), all because they share an interest in hockey. (Her date turns out to be the Devil in disguise.)
- The Unreveal: Right when God is about to reveal why He allows evil in the world, a train comes by and its toot censors out everything He says. Strangely enough, He gives the answer in a later episode: "without evil being good is meaningless."
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
- In the pilot when God talks to Bob and someone enters the house, God assures Bob that no one else can see or hear him. Cue Bob's young son Andy walking in and greeting them both. God then mentions He has trouble hiding from children which is implied to be because God Is Good and Made of Good meaning that Only the Pure of Heart can recognize Him even when He's trying to hide from mortal eyes.God: Don't worry. Nobody can see me or hear me but you.
Andy: Hi dad. Hi, God.
God: Darn. I always have trouble with kids.
- God Himself generally averts this, as most people who see Him don't know who He is, and He usually appears in a humanoid form or makes Himself invisible. The Devil, on the other hand, always appears in a demonic-looking form unless he's trying to pull a trick, and routinely does things like burn down buildings with his mind or give flowers sentience in full view of the public.
- In the pilot when God talks to Bob and someone enters the house, God assures Bob that no one else can see or hear him. Cue Bob's young son Andy walking in and greeting them both. God then mentions He has trouble hiding from children which is implied to be because God Is Good and Made of Good meaning that Only the Pure of Heart can recognize Him even when He's trying to hide from mortal eyes.
- Unwitting Pawn: Again in "Bob Gets Committed", the Devil thinks God's instruction for Bob are arranging at least 4 moves, so he decides for 5 (he just does one, the one that mattered). His action that puts Bob in the looney bin turns out to be part of God's plan.
- Villain Song: "Rain On My Parade" is the most extended of the Devil's temptations of Bob.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Devil does this, and to a lesser extent, so does God. As supernatural beings, changing their shape is easy.
- Wham Line: In the episode "Bob Gets Greedy", The Devil gives a pda that accurately predicts sport scores. When Bob eventually rejects it, the Devil takes it in stride. Smeck asks how he's going to get Bob's soul now.Devil: It's not his soul I'm after, dipwad.
- Weaksauce Weakness: In the episode "Bob Gets Committed" the devil is defeated by Bob singing a Tony Orlando song.
- We Want Our Jerk Back!:
- In one episode, the Devil starts being nice to Smeck, which disturbed him greatly.
- In an episode where the Devil removes all evil from the world, Bob does all he can to bring back the jerk in everyone.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: The Devil's animosity toward God stems from this. Yep, Lucifer's fall from grace and subjugation of Hell were all caused by creator issues. "Knowing you were good, but never good enough." In turn, God's estranged relationship with Satan is due to Him feeling betrayed by his fall, having considered him to have been His greatest Angel.God: He was my best angel... my bright shining light...Satan: But you never told me that!'
- What Happened to the Mouse?: "Bob's Father" has a subplot where Megan takes in a stray dog but later finds a lost poster for it and is reluctant to return it. Bob, who no longer believes in morality after learning his Jerkass father is in heaven, tells Megan to keep the dog, much to the surprise and confusion of her and Donna. Bob then leaves to commit a crime spree and the dog isn't seen again.
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Bob is eventually overwhelmed by his new responsibility in the pilot, not to mention being threatened by Satan, and calls out God for seemingly allowing him to languish in a situation he has no control over.
- God occasionally gives these to Bob when he has an especially disappointing moral failing, such as going to strip clubs whose dancers regularly "wash off the shame".
- Your Favorite: For God - Poptarts and Space Food Sticks.