There was a lot of skepticism about the new CBS sitcom “Living Biblically,” which premiered last night. Christians braced for yet another show that would mock their beliefs, while some held out hope for a more positive tone and approach.
The premiere brought in a “solid” 5 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter5 While the ratings were respectable, the reviews ran the spectrum.
The show is based on A. J. Jacobs’s book The Year of Living Biblically, a 2007 bestseller that recalled the author’s experiences of engaging with religious communities and their attempts to follow Biblical values in our a modern world.
IMBD outlines the plot for the Pilot episode:
“After losing his best friend and learning that his wife is pregnant, film critic Chip Curry embarks on a spiritual journey to start living a better, more moral life. While searching for answers, he turns to the Bible and comes to the decision to try living in accordance with its pages. When he quickly discovers that it may be harder to achieve in today’s world than he initially believed, he and his wife assemble a ‘God Squad’ to help him out along the way.”
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the comedy seems to make an effort to portray believers in a fair and honest light.”Living Biblically makes an effort to bring up broader ethical teachings from Scripture—not just concepts pulled from Levitical obscurity—which could have wide appeal if the setups weren’t so flat,” commented Alicia Cohn at Christianity Today.
“Take the entirely preventable dilemma when Chip struggles to buy tickets for an important anniversary date because he can’t buy them through his phone (which he’s avoiding as he would an idol). I’d like to think that attempting to integrate biblical principles into real life doesn’t make me this stupid.”
Living Biblically’s executive producer, Patrick Walsh, was acutely aware of the dangers when attempting to create such a show. “If you’re not religious, [the fear is], ‘I’m going to be preached at. What is this doing on my TV?’ and if you are religious, it’s, ‘Oh, you’re going to make fun of me and my beliefs,’” he told CT.
Indeed, many reviewers argue that it is through this vein of public appeasement that the sitcom fails to be overtly humorous. “Because Living Biblically is a CBS show, it’s trying to be a big tent comedy and the jokes in the three episodes I’ve seen are calculated not to offend at least as much, and probably more, than they’re calculated to amuse,” wrote Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter.
And what about when Chip comes into contact with real-life situations that might challenge his Bible-believing faith? Well, you can forget any moments of profundity.
“The show isn’t really about theological debate, even funny theological debate, so there’s no point in wondering how Chip’s “100 percent literally approach to the Bible” is going to be impacted if he somehow meets somebody who happens to be gay or a woman who’s menstruating or any of the countless possibilities that would require more than the setup-punchline the audience is expecting,” added Fienberg. “The show avoids the complications of its premise aggressively.”
Viewers took to social media to express their opinions on the show.
“So I’m watching the first episode of the sitcom ‘Living Biblically.’ All the problems with this show… I can’t even. And the writing and acting are lame, too,” one person tweeted. “You designed this show to mock the Bible. God doesn’t care that you wear mix fabrics,” another added.
I enjoyed the book a good amount, but having trouble making it through more than 2 minutes of Living Biblically.
— Matt Marcotte (@MattMarcotte) February 27, 2018
There were, however, some positive remarks also.
— Nasia Rená (@say_naja) February 27, 2018
“I was one of those skeptics who thought the show would be making fun of Christians,” a positive user wrote on Twitter. “However… It’s hilarious and sweet (and interesting!)”
“It’s actually really nice to see a TV show promoting the Bible & Christianity while also representing other points-of-view,” another added.
Working on @LivinBiblically, was truly like being at church. Everyone was so nice and supportive. Even when I messed up, they would all clap and say "you're doing a great job Camryn." #LivingBiblically
— Camryn Manheim (@CamrynManheim) February 27, 2018
While many of the reviews were positive, there were also some critics who weren’t thrilled:
“A few lines generate a mild chuckle, but Living Biblically mostly feels stale and unfunny – the kind of show that gives broadcast network comedies a bad name,” wrote Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Living Biblically is made in such a way that it won’t offend most anyone. It also won’t make many laugh. That’s splitting the difference in all the wrong ways. The show is exhausting,” added Mark Perigard at the Boston Herald.
Of course, the only review that matters is your own – so check it out for yourself and see what you think! At the very least, CBS should be praised for diving into the faith arena when many networks try to avoid these types of conversations altogether.