For those of us who spend time considering how to have tough conversations about faith and doubt, fundamentalism and grace, CBS has a show for you. Living Biblically, a new half-hour sitcom debuting Feb. 26 in the 9:30-10 p.m. slot, celebrates and pokes fun at religion. The show is funny and thoughtful as it takes on a topic that is fraught with fear, defensiveness, and hostility.
Raised in a conservative Catholic home (his father still teaches theology in Missouri), showrunner Patrick Walsh observed that whenever religion was dealt with in entertainment, it was subpar from both an artistic and comedic perspective or it was approached with cynicism and mockery.
"The only time you hear religion mentioned on TV is if it's Bill Maher, which is harshly critical and anyone who's religious is dumb. And the flip side is these movies and shows, I'm thinking of like Left Behind, which is so somber and serious that I think they turn off people who are not of faith," Walsh said.
Based loosely on A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically, the show centers on Chip, a man who, after losing his best friend and learning that his wife is pregnant, decides to do a sort of “soul-cleanse” by living his life completely by the Bible. Chip, played by Jay R. Ferguson, rather than taking the advice of his priest to live generally by the Bible, chooses instead to live literally by the Bible. With the help of his “God Squad,” Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), the grudging support/tolerance of his wife Leslie (Lindsey Kraft), his best friend Vince (Tony Rock), and his boss Ms. Meadows (Camryn Manheim) Chip explores his faith and how to live it out, often to hilarious effect.
Walsh, who has worked on shows like 2 Broke Girls, Outsourced, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, purposefully assembled a writer’s room that had a diversity of religious viewpoints — Christian, Jewish, atheist, etc. He even brought in a priest and rabbi to advise on the show and answer questions. This kind of care is evident in the show, which takes on some of the more esoteric teachings of the Bible such as the edict not to wear clothes made of two different fabrics, as well as well-worn topics such as prayer.
Race and sexuality are not absent from the show. Chip’s best friend is black and his boss is a lesbian. However, the most controversial subject Living Biblically will explore in its first season is the role of women in the Bible. According to Walsh, that episode, titled “Submit to Thine Husband,” turned out to be one of the best episodes of the show.
“It’s a great conversation between a husband and wife about if you’re living your life 100 percent by the Bible is that going to change our marriage? And I think that’s a subject that married couples should talk about, couples of faith certainly, and will want to talk about after the show, ” Walsh said.
Ultimately, Walsh’s aim is to start conversations. “Certainly for me and Johnny Galecki, the executive producer, we have a great deal of respect and love and fascination and interest in religion. And we just thought we could do a really funny show that is not offending the religious community, but is also welcoming to somebody who is not of faith. That was the goal. I hope we succeeded.”