Ah, Hollywood. Bless their little pointed heads, they keep putting faith in general — and Catholicism, in particular — in shows. It’s kind of like giving toddlers Legos and telling them to build Chartres Cathedral. They’re going to make a mess, nothing’s going to look like a church, and somebody’s going to be hopping around in pain.
Sometimes, they get really close, like in CBS’ just-axed “Living Biblically,” the first season of Fox’s “The Exorcist,” and, shockingly enough, in HBO’s “The Young Pope.” Years ago, CBS could make a miniseries of Saint Pope John Paul II’s life and nail both his personality and his faith. But that was 2005. Today, too many writers, producers or executives lack the guts or the knowledge or the empathy or the understanding to portray the Church with anything approaching reality, let alone positivity.
But, hope — if not optimism — springs eternal. Here’s a look at where faith crops up in trailers for this fall’s network TV pilots (all times Eastern), and how they rate on my potential-awfulness scale.
Manifest (NBC)— Mondays: 10 p.m.
Rating: Possibly Not Awful
Acclaimed filmmaker Robert Zemeckis is behind this drama, which can be described as “Lost” in reverse. An airliner vanishes then reappears five years later, with no time having passed for the passengers and crew — who return to a world that has moved on. As time goes by, they begin to realize they may be part of a greater drama. Parts of the trailer have Christian overtones.
God Friended Me (CBS) — Sundays, 8 p.m.
Rating: Possibly Not Awful
Under the umbrella of uber-producer Greg Berlanti (raised a Catholic), this drama stars Brandon Micheal Hall (“The Mayor”) as an outspoken podcasting atheist — the son of a widowed pastor (Joe Morton) — who gets friended by someone claiming to be God on Facebook. But this is only the start of a string of possibly supernatural occurrences.
Fans of ABC’s sweet but axed “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” may find some solace in this one.
Rel (FOX) — Sundays, 9:30 p.m.
Rating: To Soon to Tell If It’s Awful
Actor/comedian Lil Rel Howery stars in the comedy — inspired by his life — as a guy whose wife cheats on him with his barber, so he tries to rebuild his life post-divorce, as a long-distance single dad on the South Side of Chicago. Rel’s dad (Sinbad) is a pastor; and there are scenes in a church.
Rating: Too Soon to Tell If It’s Awful
Based on Justin Cronin’s bestselling fantasy book trilogy, the freshly retooled pilot stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars as a federal agent ordered to obtain a child (Saniyya Sidney) for a medical experiment (which looks to create zombies). Refusing to deliver her, he becomes her surrogate father as they’re on the run.
Don’t know exactly how Catholicism is involved, but there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rosary in the trailer.
The Kids Are Alright (ABC) — Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.
Rating: Probably Awful
From the network that brought you “The Real O’Neals” comes a single-camera comedy (despite the title, not connected to the feature film of the same name) about another Irish-Catholic family. This one’s in the 1970s, with two parents and eight boys living in a three-bedroom house outside of Los Angeles.
The middle boy wants to try musical theater, and that’s often TV-shorthand for being gay (BTW, there was a gay son in “The Real O’Neals,” and in CBS’ Irish-Catholic-family comedy “The McCarthys,” so apparently it’s kind of a TV thing). The oldest son considers quitting seminary to save the world — because you totally can’t do that in seminary — and the parents are beleaguered but tough.
There’s a high-school-football drama, also from Greg Berlanti, called “All American,” but since it’s set at Beverly Hills High School, it looks like more “Beverly Hills 90210” than “The Blind Side” or “Rudy.”
“Charmed” is rebooted with three more young sister-witches, because girls being witches is the ultimate female empowerment, or so I hear. Their spell book, like the original, has the Celtic trinity knot, but before you get all huffy, the idea that it represents the Trinity is only one of the interpretations of the design. The original “Charmed” (1998-2006) was silly and generally harmless, but a lot of sociological water has passed under the bridge since then, so concerned parents may want to give this one a hard look before letting kids sample the new version.
Also, Catholic writer Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) has finally sold his long-in-development period drama “The Gilded Age” to NBC. It got a straight-to-series 10-episode order and will premiere in 2019. No casting yet, so obviously no trailer, but it is Fellowes, so I’ll give it a tentative …
Rating: Possibly Not Awful.
There are also reboots of “Murphy Brown” and “Magnum, P.I.,” but the less said about those, probably the better.
Image: Courtesy ABC