Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
I turned on the TV Monday evening, Feb. 26, with trepidation. So often, the Catholic faith is maligned in network programming – ABC's offensive anti-Catholic sitcom “The Real O'Neals” is a case in point. Why should I expect CBS's new sitcom “Living Biblically” to be any different?
But it is. There are some corny jokes: “The church is always open – like 'Heaven Eleven'!” The writers are not afraid to laugh along with Christians at some of the Bible's more unusual passages (such as Leviticus 19:19, which prohibits the mixing of fabrics). But at least so far, we are laughing together. I saw no blatant scorning of Catholic teachings, no disdain for the life issues, no mocking of the Pope.
“Living Biblically” is based on Jewish writer A. J. Jacobs' 2007 best-seller The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible. The sitcom follows the life of New York journalist Chip Curry (played by Jay R. Ferguson). Chip is a lapsed Catholic, but two events cause him to reflect on the meaning of life and the importance of faith: His best friend, who is also away from the Church, dies without benefit of the sacraments; and Chip's wife Leslie, an atheist, reveals that she is pregnant with their child. Chip resolves that he will live his life “100 percent” by the rules of the Bible. In the show's intro, he explains his motivation: “I'm becoming a better man, one verse at a time.” Chris's soul-searching leads him to the confessional, where a faithful yet comedic priest becomes his spiritual mentor, helping him to apply biblical commands in his day-to-day life.
The first three episodes of “Living Biblically” focus on idolatry, adultery and prayer. This is not to say that there will never be a more controversial topic: An upcoming episode, for example, will tackle the third-rail passage in Paul's Letter to the Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.” I can't wait to see the writers' approach to headship teachings in the era of aggressive feminism and individuals' “rights!” There will also be episodes that reach beyond the Christian Gospels to examine other faith tenets.
“Living Biblically” is not profound in its theology – but it's a sitcom, not a study guide, and its goal is to make you laugh. At least so far it hasn't misled its viewers or fueled dissent through erroneous teaching. With Rabbi Joshua Hoffman and an unnamed priest as script consultants, executive producer Patrick Walsh and the show's eclectic creative team look with fresh eyes at things that people of faith take for granted, and dig through the Catholic salad to pull out a good belly laugh. Walsh has expressed his hope that the respectful tone of the show will help to start a conversation about faith. “For me,” he said in a recent interview, “this is a way to show a modern-day Christian and still not shy away from the skepticism he encounters from his wife and co-workers.”
Early reviews of the show have been lukewarm, with writers calling it predictable and not-quite-funny. I disagree. Unlike so many network shows that are outright hostile to faith, “Living Biblically” lets Catholics in on the fun, without flaunting sex and obscenity, and without besmirching the faith of the viewer. I'll take it!