Friday, August 26, 2011

Where will the next great religious show come from?

TV has always been a medium that carries with it shows of varying themes. We have seen the political shows, the crime shows, and the war shows.

But there are also those shows that depict a higher being, a higher life, and the ramifications of those beliefs on their people.

Before taking ill-advised turns and plot-twists, Lost was a prime example of a show with religious under and overtones. One if its main themes was the idea of faith vs reason, and free-will vs. destiny. Jack embodied the idea of reason and choice, while Locke was the chief proponent of faith, basing his decisions on the idea that the Island has a living entity, guiding him to his proper end. The two were in constant conflict, not just for island leadership, but for their own individual ideals.

The show also featured a Catholic priest (albeit with questionable legitimacy), the building of a Church and missionary work, sin and repentance galore, and even a very vivid Baptism scene.

At the same time as Lost was airing on ABC, SciFi (before revamping their advertising and renaming themselves SyFy, which is clearly more appealing to the masses. Now they won't know they're watching science fiction) was airing Ron Moore's superior reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Never one to shy aware from any issue, from war to terrorism, abortion to politics, Galactica always had the issue of religion and deities at the forefront.

The humans were of the belief that the ancient gods of old were leading them and guiding their actions, so they built temples to them and wrote their prophecies down. The human made robotic Cylons, however, considered themselves to be advanced beings, and thus they believed in the one God, who was the true God. This created an interesting dichotomy, where a race, considering themselves more evolved, saw the belief in one God to be an example of their advancement (never mind that they nuked an entire civilization, reducing the human population from millions to 49,000.

Once both shows ended in 2010, it left a void in the television universe, with no great shows tackling the theological questions. There is plenty of great television, but what will end up being the next great religious show?

Religion is much more difficult and riskier to depict because of the strong opinions of people on the subject. It can be much more polarizing than catching criminals or dating your boss. Almost everyone in the world has an opinion about religion, whether it be positive or negative. It is difficult for a network to take a gamble on a show knowing that there is already a group of people who will be against its subject matter and thus not watch it. Shows with no viewers rarely survive.

That is why fantasy and sci-fi genres are the perfect ground for religious shows and shows with faith-based elements to land. By nature, they are already in a world in which the normal rules of the universe don't apply, whether the setting be on a mysterious island with its own set of rules, or in a galaxy far, far away. The character are human, but the worlds they inhabit are most decidedly not earth. Under the guise of these worlds, the writers and creators of the show are able to introduce whatever thematic elements they want; one of the most popular is how do people deal with the question of God and his existence.

Because of the universal nature of God, his presence can be discussed on Caprica, in Sunnydale, in places where the Alliance runs amok, in outer space and deep under the sea. The people are the same, but the background is not. This allows for an almost fresh take on the subject, and rarely seems like religion and God are being shoved down our throats.

We are not taught what to think or what to believe, but rather we are presented with new questions that we may have thought of in our own lives. We are also able to relate better to certain characters if we find they have similar beliefs to our own, or even similar ideas. Television is meant to attract viewers to shows, and faith is a great way to keep people interested and also to challenge them and enrich their lives.

So where does the next great faith discussion come from? Game of Thrones dabbles in the gods of old vs. new, but non-book viewers do not yet know where that discussion will lead. Terra Nova has the makings of it, but time will tell if God and modern religion follow the people back in time to hang out with Earl Sinclair. Mad Men and Breaking Bad both deal with sin and causality, but neither directly with God's role.

Stay tuned.

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