“Living Biblically” Not as Ridiculous as it Seems

When I first heard about CBS’s new sitcom “Living Biblically” was fairly certain that I would not like it. I almost didn’t bother watching but I decided I wanted to see just how bad it could be. The premise is that a man goes through a bit of a spiritual crisis and decides that he wants to live his life precisely according to the Bible. My first comment in my entertainment blog when the show was announced was that I wondered if it would mean he would stone to death his children for disobeying him. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Exodus 21:17). When I saw a preview for the show in which the main character tells his parish priest he wants to live according to the Bible 100%, the priest laughs in his face hysterically. That was encouraging for me. Maybe it was worth checking out.

Jay R. Ferguson plays the main character Chip Curry is a film critic for a local newspaper. He decides to go on a spiritual journey and live a better life 100% according to the Bible. This is instigated by losing his best friend to an untimely death and after finding out that his wife is pregnant with their first child. While in the bookstore, he accidentally picks up a Bible and includes it with the books he’s about to purchase. He sees this as a sign from God and decides he’s going to live 100% according to the Bible.

Ferguson has previously been seen in “The Real O’Neills” and “Mad Men”. His wife is played by Lindsay Kraft who has been seen in “Grace and Frankie”. Neither of them are very familiar to me.

He then goes to his parish priest to speak with him in the confessional (not necessarily to go to confession but just to seek advice). It is probably the first time in any movie or television show that I’ve seen the confessional portrayed in the modern form where you sit down with a face-to-face conversation with the priest and not behind the old time partition or screen that is so familiar to most TV shows and movies. After the laughing out loud scene that we got in the previews, the priest illustrates the ridiculousness of this plan by advising him to change his clothes because the Bible prohibits wearing clothes of mixed types of threads.

The first challenge to face our hero is that he knows that one of his friends is having an affair. Their wives are friends. Should he tell his wife that her friend is being cheated on? It comes to a head when he and his wife bump into the cheating friend at a restaurant with his mistress. The friend tried to get Chip to cover for him by agreeing that the woman he’s with is just a coworker. Chip doesn’t know what to do so he reaches over into a nearby planter in the restaurant, picks up a rock, and throws it at his friend hitting him in the forehead. Thereby fulfilling the biblical command that adulterers be stoned.

It’s all done in a very funny slapstick sort of way and for some reason it works. I couldn’t help but laugh at parts of it and for me that’s the ultimate test of any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?”

Part of the story is about is friends at work. He has a best friend Vince played by Tony Rock who in real life is the brother of comedian Chris Rock. His boss at the newspaper is Camryn Manheim whom I’ve not seen on TV since 2004 in the legal drama “The Practice”. When she finds out about his plan to live biblically she gives him a new column to write three days a week and a raise in salary. And in the end, his adulterous friend thanked him for hitting him in the head and making him countries senses. He confessed everything to his wife and they are going to counseling. Sara Gilbert also has a bit part as an annoying coworker. It’s yet to be seen how these coworkers characters will flesh out or not.

So the end result is that after just a couple of days of living biblically, he’s gotten a raise at work and he saved the marriage of his adulterous friend. Maybe it’s working?

His pastor Father Gene is played by Ian Gomez and does a pretty good job of walking a fine line between offering genuine spiritual advice and continuing to make fun of his choices. We also get some input from a rabbi who is a friend of the priest. Rabbi Gil is played by David Krumholz who you will remember from the FBI drama Numb3rs and many other roles. By the way they’ve already done the “a priest and a rabbi and a guy living biblically walk into a bar” joke.

In the end this show is doing a reasonably good job of walking a fine line between finding the comedy and religious beliefs versus all-out ridicule and making fun of religion. The whole thing has really surprised me at how well it is written. Don’t get me wrong, this is at times very silly stuff but it tackles some very tough topics with an excellent sense of humor.

According to IMDb.com this show is based on a nonfiction book “A Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. I might have to check that out.

For now I’m giving it a very strong rating of “could be watchable” but the jury is still out as to whether or not the whole thing is going to work.

“The Alienist” is Well Done Period Crime Drama

The Alienist” is a new period crime drama set in the late 19th century New York City. In that era, people who were mentally ill were thought to be alienated from their true selves so the word “alienist” was given to one who studies such conditions. In other words a psychologist or psychiatrist. Our main character is Dr. Laszlo Kriezier who is investigating a serial killer beginning with the murder of a boy prostitute.

Kriezier is played by Daniel Brühl who was recently seen in “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Captain America: Civil War”. He is assisted by his friend John Moore who is a newspaper illustrator and Sara Howard who is the secretary to police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Although fictionalized, her character is inspired by a real-life person who was the first female to be employed by the NYPD. She’s played by now grown child star Dakota Fanning. Moore is played by Luke Evans who is probably most famous playing Owen Shaw in the “Fast and Furious” film series.

Although this series is filmed in Budapest, they have gone to great lengths to re-create 19th-century New York in beautiful detail. The costumes, props, and sets are also top-notch. The performances are nuanced and intricate in the mystery of who is responsible for not only the killing of this boy prostitute from the opening episode but apparently this is just one of several children who’ve gone missing.

Like other period crime dramas such as “Copper” and “Ripper Street” we get a look at the early days of forensic science. Think of this as CSI New York set in the late 1800s. Like those other period crime dramas which I liked, I’m not sure how accurate they are vis-à-vis the level of forensic science available at the time. But it does add an interesting twist to an otherwise ordinary crime procedural.

We also get some insight into the state of psychology and psychiatry at the time with a little bit of preachy plot lines as our hero battles against prejudice over things like homosexuality, masturbation and other taboo subjects. If there’s anything unbelievable about the show is that the doctor has a very enlightened 21th century attitude towards the subjects. Of course we also get to see how female employees in a male dominated institution are treated in those days .

Overall it is well-written and well acted and it really transports yo might have u to this particular time and place while telling an interesting ongoing story. It runs for 10 episodes on TNT network. As of this writing 2 episodes have aired but are available on-demand. I’m giving it a solid “I’m watching” rating.

Bellevue is a Dark, Fascinating, Crime Story

A new crime drama titled “Bellevue” is now showing on WGN American channel. The show was originally produced by Canadian Broadcasting Company. It stars Anna Paquin as a police detective in a small town named Bellevue where everyone knows everyone else’s business. The season-long case we follow with her is the disappearance of a high school student who is a star hockey player. We quickly learn that the student also is dealing with gender identity issues.

This is Paquin’s first major role since the end of HBO’s hit series True Blood where she played Sookie Stackhouse.

Her character Detective Annie Ryder is haunted by the death of her father who was also a police detective. Throughout the opening episodes it becomes apparent that her current case is somehow related to a case of father had years ago investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl. Some of the story is told through flashbacks showing Ryder as a young girl. Pivotal to the story are games that she used to play with her father in which he would give her riddles to solve. Presumably this was to train her in analytical thinking hoping she would become a detective in his footsteps. Paquin’s performance in this show although very different from True Blood is very intense and compelling. I like this new character a lot.

Although there are no supernatural elements in the story it has a very eerie and haunting tone to it. In present day, someone is giving her riddles that are keys to solving this case. These riddles are in the same style as the ones she solved as a child.

The series is very dark in tone and is very reminiscent of one of my other favorite dark detective shows “The Killing”. Although not quite up to that high standard, I think fans of The Killing will enjoy this series as well. Paquin is believable and compelling in the role. It’s too early to tell after 2 episodes if all of the mystery and conspiracy buildup will payoff in the end but I hope it does. With a total of eight episodes it won’t take long to find out.

I’m giving it a rating of “I’m watching”. If this genre appeals to you, you should check it out.

Play Hooky from A.P. Bio

NBC recently had a sneak peek of a new sitcom titled “A.P.Bio” that is scheduled to premiere officially late this month. If you missed the preview, you didn’t miss much. Basically the entire show is one joke and it’s not a very funny joke to begin with.

The main character Jack teaches an advanced placement biology class in a Toledo high school. But he has no intention of teaching the class. He is a former Harvard philosophy professor who for reasons of which we are not quite sure yet is down on his luck and living with his parents in Toledo. His sole purpose in life is to get revenge on his academic rival another professor currently in Stanford and to sleep with his many women as possible. He recruits his students to pull pranks on his rival like catfishing him on Facebook.

Jack is played by Glenn Howerton who is mostly known for his roles on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Mindy Project”.

Patton Oswalt plays the high school principal who tries to get this rogue teacher to actually teach the class but fails miserably. Even someone who has pretty good comedy skills like Oswalt cannot save this ridiculous and unfunny piece of tripe. None of the students or other teachers characters are of sufficient interest to even attempt to describe.

IMDb.com lists six episodes but I would be surprised if all six of them actually make it to air.

This one gets a very hardy and emphatic “Skip It” on my rating system.