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‘Living Biblically’: A sit-com that surprisingly puts religion in a positive light

MAN IN HIS ROBE IN NYC
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The series follows a lapsed Catholic seeking to rekindle the faith of his childhood by following the Good Book.

Troubled by the death of his best friend and blindsided by the announcement that his wife is pregnant, film critic Chip Curry comes to the realization that he needs to be a better man. Like many before him, Chip decides the best way to accomplish this is through religion. But, there’s a catch! You see, Chip is an obsessive, so rather than just rekindle the lapsed Catholic faith of his childhood, he concludes that his every action must now be based precisely on what people did in the Bible, to the very letter.

No doubt, that synopsis of the new CBS sitcom Living Biblically likely sets off the Spidey senses of any believing Christian who has read The Good Book more than a few times. Given the entertainment industry’s somewhat dubious track record with religious material, it sounded like little more than a setup to take potshots at Christianity on a weekly basis. Hey everybody, let’s all laugh at that stupid, backwards Bible stuff, it’ll be a blast!

Surprisingly, though, the three preview episodes of Living Biblically are unexpectedly respectful, both of religion and the people who pursue it. The very first scene opens in a confessional where Chip (Jay R. Ferguson) is explaining his newfound resolve to a bemused Father Gene (Ian Gomez). It’s an important tone-setting moment as it establishes in a humorous way that Chip is sincere in his seeking, and not just some nut job to be made fun of.

Better still, the scene introduces a clergyman who is neither authoritarian or milquetoast, judgmental or morally squishy. He is basically the kind of intelligent, humorous, and compassionate priest most of us interact with at our own local parishes. This positive portrayal of pastors extends to Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), Father Gene’s best friend, who also takes an interest in Chip’s efforts to live biblically. Like Gene, Gil is wise, likable and true to his calling. Chip begins to refer to the two men as his God Squad, and he regularly consults with them on how to follow the examples of the Bible in a modern setting.

However, not everyone is quite as thrilled at Chip’s new direction as his two new clergy pals. Chip’s wife Leslie (Lindsey Kraft), raised as a non-believer by her uber-atheist mother, is supportive, but doesn’t want anything to rock the boat in their happy marriage, especially now that a baby is on the way. Chip’s motley assortment of weirdo workmates is also generally accepting of their friend’s new take on life, but only as long as it requires no change on their parts. All in all, the show is downright genial in its depiction of differing faiths, or lack thereof, with little interest in having any one side score a victory over the other.

But, there’s a catch! As anyone who has delved deeply into Christianity can tell you, there comes an inevitable point where the unchanging, objective truths offered by the religion come into conflict with whatever the mores of the day happen to be. What does the show do then?

The three episodes of Living Biblically offered for review are fairly innocuous in the subject matter they touch upon, covering such things as what clothes to wear and the efficacy of prayer. The closest the show gets to controversial territory is when Chip must decide whether or not to stone to death a coworker whom he has discovered is in an adulterous relationship. His God Squad says no, of course not, but there’s still all those pesky verses in the Old Testament to contend with. The resolution to Chip’s dilemma is actually the funniest moment in the show so far.

Admittedly, Living Biblically’s desire to avoid controversy and stick to a live-and-let-live philosophy is refreshing, especially in these contentious times. It’s nice to see a show full of interfaith dialog where none of the sides are ridiculed. Still, one can’t help but wonder what happens if and when the writers decide to have Chip confront hot button issues like abortion or homosexuality? If they allow the character to stay true to his burgeoning faith, then they’re going to have to make some people mad and listen to calls for their blood. As Jesus warned, that just comes with the territory. It’s hard to imagine that one of the largest (and mostly left-leaning) television networks in the country will simply stand by and let orthodox Christian views on such topics air without compromising them in some way. Alas, we won’t find out this year, as the writers have already declared they aren’t going anywhere near such storylines in Season 1.

Living Biblically premieres Monday, February 26 on the CBS Television Network.

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