On Monday, Feb. 26, at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, CBS premieres a sitcom called “Living Biblically,” about a guy who decides to live his life according to the Bible. I can hear you groaning from here. But fear not, the Lord can work small miracles — even on network TV.
The series is based on a nonfiction book called “The Year of Living Biblically,” but don’t feel like you have to go out and read it. The series takes the book’s basic premise — a New York journalist tries to live according to Bible tenets and writes about it — and then goes its own way.
Jay R. Ferguson (in a big step up from ABC’s “The Real O’Neals”) stars as Chip Curry, a newspaper movie critic (now, THAT’S a leap of faith these days), who, grieving the death of a friend and facing impending fatherhood, decides to clean up his life.
A lapsed Catholic, he chooses to dive headlong into the Bible, to the dismay of tolerant but skeptical nurse wife Leslie (Lindsey Kraft), the confused acceptance of work buddy Vince (Tony Rock), and the eternal exasperation of boss Ms. Meadows (Camryn Manheim).
But like any hard-nosed editor, Ms. Meadows sees the readership potential in Chip’s quest, and assigns him to write about it (BTW, she’s gay, but before you ask, this isn’t on the list of season-one topics).
Helping Chip navigate theological waters is his “God Squad” — priest Father Gene (Ian Gomez), and Father Gene’s pal, Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz).
I’ve seen three episodes, and in each, Chip applies biblical principles (including specifically Christian references– Jesus gets several shout-outs) to a variety of situations, only to discover that his life, and himself as a man, improves. For instance, the second episode I saw explores the power of prayer; and the third, the worship of false idols (such as Chip’s beloved smartphone).
In short, “Living Biblically” is goofy but charming and good-natured, light on suggestive humor, faith-friendly verging on faith-positive, with the Bible providing humor but not being the butt of jokes. It’s not perfect, but for a primetime sitcom on a mainstream cable network, it’s a minor revelation.
“Big Bang Theory” star Johnny Galecki is one of the executive producers; the showrunner is Patrick Walsh, a self-described lapsed Catholic. Galecki also has some Catholic background, as he explained at a press event in January:
My mother spent time, many years, in the convent, before she met my father, and before I was born, obviously. So there were a lot of elements of Catholicism in my upbringing. It kind of turned hippie Catholic, as years went on, which was just a lot of sitting Indian-style, with acoustic guitars, which was wonderful.
Galecki went on to say that they had people of faith working on the show, and Walsh explained that a priest and a rabbi reviewed all the scripts.
And, while it might be hard to believe, the show wasn’t a hard sell. Said Galecki:
When we went in a pitched it to all four networks, each of them wanted it in the room, which is absolutely unheard of. Of course, CBS has been home to Patrick and I for many years, and we felt most comfortable airing with them.
After the event, I sat down with Galecki and Walsh. The episodes for season one have all been shot, but I did clue them into the Laudate app for research purposes next year (it’s my favorite all-in-one Catholic app, available for IOS and Android), and got an invite to drop by for a taping if there is a season two.
I was honestly blown away by how little interference there was on the stories and the subject matter, because I think we are treating it with respect. Where you would have felt that blowback is if it were harshly critical or mean or nasty, and that’s not the tone of the show at all.
Here’s a bit of what they had to say.
Walsh, on their approach:
Our goal was to make it as entertaining and respectful as possible. It’s tricky to do both, but I hope we found a good balance for it, because we have a great deal of respect for religion and think it’s funny without having to step on anybody’s toes. …
It was important to me, with the show to pick a side, which to me had to be the side that I knew the most about — Catholicism. It’s how I grew up. But to also have that other point of view, have the rabbi come in and give the Jewish take on things.
Galecki, on the value of asking questions about faith:
It’s always been amazing to me, whether it’s your own spiritual belief that you were raised with, or marriage, for example, that people are willing to subscribe and devote the rest of their lives to something without doing any homework on it. And I’m not saying to turn against it, but to do some research on it. People compare heads of lettuce and used-car prices, but they’ll devote their lives to something, without getting an app to look up something — because people mistake questioning for doubt.
They’re two very different things. Questioning something can re-inspire, can galvanize your belief.
Walsh, on creating Father Gene:
What was important to me was showing a cool, positive, non-judgmental priest, and a priest who was friends with a rabbi. We have such a very cool, open-minded pope, which I have certainly not had in my lifetime — and I’m sure before, it was no different. But this pope, I seem to align with him almost 100 percent of the time. It’s very cool.
So, in terms of the show, I would love to see people say, “I would go to church more if my priest was more like this guy.”
And for the record, when I challenged Walsh to name all seven Sacraments, he only missed Holy Orders, which is not bad.
Take a peek:
Image: Courtesy CBS