Living Biblically is a new half-hour comedy based on A. J. Jacob’s best-selling 2007 book The Year of Living Biblically. On the show, Jay R. Ferguson stars as Chip Curry, a lapsed Catholic who is despondent because he has just lost a close friend. When his wife announces she is pregnant, he decides he needs to “do better.” So he embarks on a journey to live 100 percent biblically, a lifestyle change he compares to a cleanse diet.
His first step is to talk to a priest named Father Gene (Ian Gomez) who is taken off guard by the idea. Father Gene’s first response is to laugh, since it is pretty much impossible to live by every command found in the Bible. Eventually Father Gene and his friend, Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), form Chip’s God Squad—advisers on the issues he encounters along the way.
Chip’s wife, Leslie, is not a religious person. She’s somewhat bemused by his decision but glad that he’s pulling out of his slump, so she’s willing to go along with it. The change confuses his coworkers too.
The pilot sets up the premise of the show. The second and third episodes each deal with a biblical issue. In the second episode, Chip is re-learning how to pray. Leslie is a bit nervous because her atheist mother is visiting soon. Real issues come up, but the important stuff has to compete with the contrivances of a sitcom. In the third episode, Chip considers what his false idols might be.
This is old-school, laugh-track comedy, and, at least in the first three episodes, the deeper issues get old-school, laugh-track treatment. Yet it is at least touching on deeper issues. The God Squad gives some brief but important depth to the conversation; these spiritual leaders are not treated as either men on pedestals or as the butt of the joke. They are normal people—thoughtful, kind, and educated. In their moments together, I’m reminded a bit of the ethics training Eleanor receives from Chidi on NBC’s comedy The Good Place.
Of course, much of this centers on levitical law, with mandates about everything from not mixing fabrics to stoning adulterers. But this isn’t Living Christianly, and so far Christ has barely been mentioned. Chip is following a random sampling of rules, with no mention of the overarching biblical story. It’s more Ten Commandments and less of the Greatest Commandments.
I’ll be giving this show some time to grow into its strengths (and possibly get a larger budget). It doesn’t take potshots at people of faith, with the exception of the mother of his deceased friend in the first episode (see trailer); she cheerfully announces that her son is in hell because he stopped going to church. That particular scene is probably meant to be quirky, but it was like nails on a chalkboard for me.
One of the more interesting aspects of the show is that it puts this person who is trying to follow all these laws and explore his faith in the midst of everyday companions who are not doing the same. That is essentially an exaggerated version of what many Christians are doing every day, and which sometimes lands us in awkward positions. For instance, Chip really struggles when he tries to stay out of office gossip. We all know how hard that is to do and how often we fail at those daily disciplines.
The show walks a fine line, trying to appeal to everyone. That makes the laugh track problematic. Some things will seem funny to some viewers and not to others. The laugh track is intended to make you to believe it’s all funny, but it just points out when the humor isn’t for you.
In an interview with TV Guide, executive producer Patrick Walsh talks about the audience he’s trying to reach. "Religious people are not given credit for having a sense of humor, and non-believers are not given credit for being curious about religion and wanting to know more about it."
This show has some growing to do, but at the heart of it is a desire to be open to conversations about spiritual things. That’s a rare thing in a sitcom. Living Biblically premieres on Monday, February 26. (CBS/CTV)