A new TV comedy follows a Catholic who tries to do everything the Bible says. Spoiler alert: It’s literally charming
We all know that the Bible is full of rules for living, but in these modern times most of us embrace the Good Book in broad terms in which we follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law.
A new CBS sitcom called “Living Biblically” explores what happens when a middle-aged Catholic guy named Chip Curry faces his midlife crisis by deciding to literally follow every possible rule in the Bible for nine months.
The show is based on the New York Times No. 1 bestselling book “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs, in which the former Esquire magazine editor decided to follow every rule in the Bible for a year as a means of seeing what he was missing as a man who had been raised only culturally Jewish.
The show makes Curry a Catholic both because it’s a more broadly relatable religion among the general public, but also because it was easier to mine more humor from both the Old and New Testament since Catholics embrace both halves of the Bible.
Part of its charm comes from the fact that Chip (Jay R. Ferguson) consults with both a priest named Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz) amid his misadventures. But it takes a special kind of writer to oversee the show’s potentially risky mix of faith and humor. “Biblically” found the perfect guy in its showrunner, Patrick Walsh.
A former writer for NBC’s “Outsourced” as well as the long-running hit shows “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “2 Broke Girls,” he is a lifelong Catholic who’s excited to finally have the chance to bring his own personal, cleaner brand of humor to television, and he talked with Relevant magazine about the challenge and incredible opportunities of creating this potentially groundbreaking show.
“I’d been going around looking for a show to write, and kept hearing the same pitches: six single people living in New York, a guy moves back in with his parents, et cetera,” said Walsh.
“I took the book home and read it in a night. I was very intimidated by it because there’s not a lot of entertainment on television about religion, but I felt like I could do it.”
Walsh knew he needed to give Chip deeper motivation for his quest than Jacobs’ initial intention of creating a living saint, or else viewers would tune out. Thinking of reasons that draw people back into their faith after drifting away, he devised two conflicts for Chip.
“His best friend passed away and he feels lost and rudderless, and his wife is pregnant but he feels ill equipped to raise a child,” explained Walsh.
“He doesn’t know how he’s gonna do it, but says he’ll live his life 100 percent according to the Bible for nine months. My goal was to make a show funny to everyone, funny to both Christians and nonbelievers, and I hope we succeeded. I thought there was a real hole in the market for this.”
Walsh found it was surprisingly easy to pitch the show to the four major TV networks, especially considering he made it clear he was “a respectful, curious, interested person fascinated by religion.”
He sold CBS on it by reminding the network’s executives that at least 84 percent of the world’s population aligns with some form of religion, and yet that massive potential audience was being left unserved by television programs.
“We had to convince them that we’re not going to make fun, and be a lightning rod for controversy,” said Walsh.
“I don’t know how religion became such a ‘you can’t go there’ kind of topic. We wanted to have fun with it, but also be really just respectful. I know many Christians are afraid they’re gonna be made fun of and that’s a real bummer for me, but I get why. So often that’s how Christians are treated on television and in film. But I hope it doesn’t scare people off from watching it and trying it. At its core it’s a very pro-faith show because it shows the positive impact it can have on your life.”
The show faced its real test when taping episodes before a live studio audience of 250 average Americans, a grouping that included at least one invited church group at each taping.
CBS sought to recruit both believers and nonbelievers for the audience in an attempt to reflect the viewing audience at home, and Walsh found their reactions fascinating, as audiences seemed riveted by the subject matter at the same time they were laughing at it.
“We did a show, asking does prayer work, does it matter and what’s its actual importance?” said Walsh. “It was subject matter you just don’t see on a network sitcom and the audience was just riveted by it. These are fascinating subjects people talk about all the time in real life, and I was trying to break the taboo against it on TV and get people talking.”
In fact, overseeing “Biblically” has deepened Walsh’s own faith, because, Walsh said, “Chip was essentially myself.”
He was raised a devout Catholic and attended Mass weekly all the way through college, but had become lax in his practice during his adulthood and found that having to dive into the Bible for writing material and having to figure out clean and respectful humor about a literally sacred subject forced him to contemplate his life on much deeper levels
“People ask what I was shocked by in reading the Bible again and I say not much,” said Walsh. “This brought me back to that mindset, I spend all my time reading the Bible and talk frequently to the priest and rabbi. I bring this home more than any show I’ve worked on. I hope this becomes fodder for discussion in families and makes its way into sermons on Sundays.”
“Living Biblically” debuts on CBS Monday, Feb. 26, at 8:30 CT/9:30 PT/ET.
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