Television

Pope Francis Hasn’t Watched TV Since 1990. Here Are Some Key Moments He Missed

Illustration by Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Illustration by Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Pope Francis told an Argentine newspaper on May 25 that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Think of all he’s missed, not just in terms of popular culture, but also in terms of American Catholicism. Here, in no particular order, are seven television shows the pope might want to catch up on before his September U.S. trip.

Digging Under Mount Moriah with TV’s ‘Dig’

Photo by Ronen Akerman / USA Network / RNS

A scene from the “Dig” pilot Episode 101. Photo by Ronen Akerman / USA Network / RNS

Archaic prayers, hidden keys, and secret religious orders — such are the elements of the latest episode of the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series Dig.

Add in a modern re-enactment of one of the most harrowing stories in the Hebrew Bible, and the result is a swirling, baffling stew of religious themes and imagery.

This is your spoiler alert! Read on if you are up to date on Dig or a glutton for punishment.

“It’s all about the End of Days, the Second Coming, Armageddon, the Rapture,” Debbie (Lauren Ambrose) says in what is the clearest explanation by any character of what is going on in Dig to date.

“In order to bring about the Second Coming, the Temple in Jerusalem needs to be rebuilt.”

Here’s a quick summary of some of the religion references in this week’s episode:

Jesus Is All Over the Small Screen, and That’s No Accident

Photo via NBC Universal / RNS

Diogo Morgado in Son of God. Photo via Casey Crafford/LightWorkers Media LLC/Hearst Productions/Telemundo/ NBC Universal / RNS

Need proof that biblical entertainment is Hollywood’s holiest trend? Then look no further than Morocco, where three TV projects — National Geographic Channel’s Killing Jesus, NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues and CNN’s Finding Jesus — were filmed on neighboring sets last year.

“You got this kind of Life of Brian-esque world you’re living in, where on all of our days off, there’s 36 disciples sitting around the pool and three Jesuses at the bar,” said actor Stephen Moyer, who ditched the fangs from True Blood to play Roman governor Pontius Pilate in the Ridley Scott-produced Killing Jesus.

Based on Fox News host Bil O’Reilly’s follow-up to the books he co-wrote with Martin Dugard, Killing Lincoln and Killing KennedyKilling Jesus tracks the last days of the Christian Messiah. Played by Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman, he is portrayed less as a miracle worker and more as a political threat, and the script heightens the sexual tension between Jesus and follower Mary Magdalene (Klara Issova).

“It plays with the idea that Jesus’ teachings are more important than the doing of miracles, that the idea behind what he’s saying is the point and it doesn’t need to have out-of-body, magical elements happening,” Moyer said.

‘Dig’ Digs Into the Bible — But Is It ‘True?'

Photo by Ronen Akerman / USA Network / RNS

Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly, and Alison Sudol as Emma Wilson in “Dig.” Photo by Ronen Akerman / USA Network / RNS

Breathlessly describing his new USA Network series “Dig” in a promo, leading man Jason Isaacs promises “everything is based on reality and true.”

To a point.

The new series, which premiered March 5, moves quickly between multiple story lines and locations, bouncing off prophesies and spinning conspiracies around the Second Coming of Christ, the Book of Revelation and the restoration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where much of the series is filmed.

Throw in a high priest’s magical breastplate, a spotless red heifer, and a doomsday Christian group living in a bunker and the series becomes the would-be love-child of Steven Spielberg and Dan Brown.

And that’s just the first episode.

'Black-ish:' Reimagining Blackness on Television

 Image via facebook.com/blackishABC

Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in 'Black-ish.' Image via facebook.com/blackishABC

Black-ish, the new ABC sitcom created by Kenya Barris, really is one of the funniest shows on TV this season. I laughed my head off watching a marathon run of the first four episodes On Demand. Now it's set to record each week on DVR. One of the things I really appreciate about Black-ish is that it takes universal issues and works them out through a genuinely African-American lens.

For example, in the pilot episode the father, Andre “Dre” Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, is looking forward to a much deserved promotion to Senior VP at a major marketing firm. He is surprised to find out he’s been promoted to Senior VP of the Urban Division. We can all relate to wanting the promotion, but Anderson’s challenge is one particularly familiar within the black professional class. How do you jump the dreaded, yet anticipated, pigeonholing of your value and worth to an organization as a “black” person? How do you become just Senior VP — not SVP of the “Urban” Division? How do you become human? The way Anderson works out this challenge is hilarious. I rolled with laughter even after the half-hour sitcom had reached its conclusion.

And then there’s last week’s episode when the biracial mother, Rainbow, masterfully played by Tracee Ellis Ross, loses her young son, Jack, while shopping at a department store. It turns out Jack is hiding inside a clothes rack and is eventually found by a sympathetic officer. We can all relate to this situation. Children hide in department stores. I did the exact same thing to my own mother when I was about Jack’s age. I hid between the racks at a Marshalls. But Rainbow and Dre’s conundrum rears its head when they are confronted with the question: Will they spank their son? It seems simple enough, but it’s not. This is not only a question of parenting, it is also a question of tradition and culture.

In fact, each episode presents a universal situation that pushes a particular issue of culture within the African-American community. Ultimately, the situation presses the question: “What does it means to be black?”

Atheist TV: Coming Soon to a Television Near You

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, talks atheist-only television. Religion News Service photo by Kimberly Winston.

Move over, Christian televangelists. Atheism is coming to television.

Speaking at a gathering of local atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists in a chemistry lecture hall at Stanford University, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, a national advocacy group for nontheists, announced Tuesday (May 6) that his New Jersey-based organization would launch the first television channel dedicated to atheism in July.

“Why are we going to television?” he asked the audience, a mix of about 100 students and people from the local community. “It’s part of our strategy of going where we are not.”

‘Princesses’ Embraces a Stereotype, Leaving Some Jews Uncomfortable

Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Long Island: Princesses, Season 1 cast, Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Meet Amanda, Casey, Ashlee, Chanel, Joey, and Erica. They spend their time and their parents’ money shopping for designer labels, searching for rich husbands, and lounging by the pool with a glass of wine in hand.

They’re self-admitted “Jewish American Princesses,” and Bravo’s built a whole reality series, "Princesses: Long Island" around their exploits. The show follows six unmarried 20-something Jewish women living with their parents on New York’s Long Island. The first two episodes were titled “You Had Me at Shalom” and “Shabbocalypse Now.”

“Everybody has a stereotype of a Long Island Jewish girl,” cast member Ashlee White said on the show’s June 2 premiere. “People get so offended! I’m like, ‘Bring it.’ I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a princess.”

And that’s where some Jews — and even some Long Islanders — have a problem.

The Best (and Worst) Types of Christian Media

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to mass communication, Christians do some things well and some things horribly. Here’s a breakdown:

1)    The Best

Public Speaking:

Christians have been publicly speaking for thousands of years — since Old Testament times. Church culture is inundated with motivational and inspirational presentations, sermons, illustrations, speeches, and teachings. Sunday schools, youth groups, small groups, church services, camps, retreats, and conventions all have a variety of public speakers.

Christians were experts at the art of speaking before TED Talks became popular or business presentations were commonplace. People working in full-time ministry often speak in front of groups at least two or three times a week — sometimes more. They can sense when audiences are engaged or bored and have the ability to whip stadium crowds into an emotional and spiritual frenzy.

Screen-Free Week and the Still Small Voice

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com

Serene pier, Eugene Sergeev / Shutterstock.com

“Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10a

From April 29 to May 5 individuals, households, and communities will celebrate Screen-Free Week by disconnecting from their screens — TV, computers, games, mobile devices — during their free time and reconnecting with relatives, neighbors, the natural world, and the quiet voices that may be drowned out by the constant barrage of electronic noise. My neighborhood celebrated early so we could offer a variety of cost-free and screen-free family activities during the school's spring break week. I organized the celebration, as I've done for the last six years. It was satisfying to see kids slow down and engage in gardening, carpentry, music making, nature exploration … 

I also observed Screen-Free Week myself. Seven days of fasting from electronic media showed me how much time I spend using then mindlessly and forced me to confront my idolatries that are fed or masked by this mindless use. I'm using Michael Schut's definition of idolatry:

"An idol is anything we put before God, a partial truth mistaken for the whole Truth, a lesser good elevated to the ultimate good. … Idols [promise] what they cannot deliver."

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