Kimmy Schmidt: The Eternal Optimist

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Please note that this is not a family program.  The show deals with some adult themes of contemporary city life, but there are aspects of grace which deserve note.  The thing that really drew me to this series was this sense of “Whatever goes wrong for us in our lives, things will always work out.”  This attitude really drew me to Tina Fey’s new series on Netflix: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,  a tongue-firmly-planted-in-check spoof that seems to have been ripped out to recent headlines.

In the series backstory, Kimmy (played by Ellie Kemper), along with three other teen women and a Hispanic maid, was abducted and held in a bunker for fifteen years by an apocalyptic abductor who told them that the earth had been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The series starts with their rescue and Kimmy’s subsequent move to New York City.

Season one shows her adjustment to the real world, as Kimmy, who only has an eighth grade education, tries to make a life for herself in the big city. Helping her to reintegrate are her African-American roommate (Emmy nominated Tituss Burgess) and her crazy landlady (Carol Kane). Kimmy ends up working as a nanny for a rich family with an absent father and a neurotic, self-absorbed mother who is played to perfection by Jane Krakowsky (also nominated for an Emmy).

For fifteen years, she helped her bunker mates cope with life underground.   She takes this internal strength with her to New York.  Kimmy is the eternal optimist, and with a contagious zeal for life that reinvigorates all the disaffected people around her and forces people to appreciate who they really are and what they are capable of doing. She is life giving and lifesaving.  She sees the Big Apple through the eyes of a young girl and gravitates towards the good in people, helping them find that good within themselves.

Jesus said that we should all have the faith of a child (Matthew 18:2-5). People often question why bad things happen to them and what to do with their lives once these bad things occur. You can be angry and curse the darkness or you can try to move on with your life. Kimmy does the latter. This childlike wonder allows her to move past what has happened and get on with her life. Regardless of what has happened in the past, she truly believes that people are generally good. She does not let what happened define who she will be. She is truly “unbreakable.”


Hey Father, “Wake up. You’re on Candid Camera.”


With more and more Masses being televised and live streamed, some priests and bishops may need reminding that we, the faithful, are watching from the pews if not from our screens.  Bored looks and distracting behaviors may seem invisible in big events, but cameras highlight them.

Last week, I was reminded of this when I tuned in to the live webcast of the ordination of the three new bishops in Los Angeles.   I did not get a ticket to the event so I watched from my computer at Family Theater Productions.  I was struck by the facial expressions and the body language of some of the clergy.

If you have been to an ordination (whether it is a deacon, priest or bishop) you may recall the beautiful part in the middle of the ceremony called the Litany of the Saints. The soon-to-be ordained lay prostrate on the ground facing the altar and the people all kneel. It is powerful to watch fully grown men laying face down in the Church at the foot of the altar.  During this time, the choir chants a series of saints’ name:  e.g. “St. Joseph” and the people respond “Pray for us”.  The community in heaven and on earth together give their prayers together for the soon-to-be ordained and all the people their ministry will affect.

As I looked at the bishops and priests, in the live stream broadcast last week, I was saddened to see how many of the bishops and priests looked bored, uncomfortable, tired and distracted. Now, I am not saying that they were, but just how they looked.

With the new technology of broadcasting Mass on the internet, we get to see everything more closely than even in person. I have a feeling that these priests and bishops would have sat up a little straighter and been much more cognizant of their posture and body language if they could see what I was seeing on camera.   For many people watching on-line, this might be their first experience of Mass this is and we ought to take advantage of the evangelical moment.

I admire the priests in my life and encourage them all to be aware of what their non-verbal language in the sanctuary communicates.  After all, the presider at Mass acts as a model for the laity. Whether it be singing, praying, or listening, the presider is your first cue at how to reverently and joyfully celebrate the Mass-our greatest prayer to God and God’s greatest gift to us.

Thank you to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for live webcasting the ordination of our 3 new bishops.  Please Fathers, mind the camera and the people, who with the saints in heaven, the congregation in the pews and the people on-line who will be watching.

Faith-Based Film “War Room” Opens at Number Two

In Theaters Now.

In Theaters Now.

Once again faith based films proved their audience potential. War Room, the latest film by Alex Kendrick (Courageous and Fireproof) earned the first place box office spot on Friday night and came in second, just behind Straight Outta Compton in the overall weekend draw.

The film, released by Sony/Tri-Star, is unapologetically Christian.   They draw on the audiences established with the Kendrick brothers’ previous films such as, Fireproof and Courageous.   An African American family strives to rebuild their life together through prayer, supporting the famous Family Theater tag line, “The Family that prays together, stays together.”  The filmmakers delivered a film to feed an audience hungry for content that has meaning and hope. They wisely released the film in a down time when there are few other great films competing for attention.

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

I have heard that a significant portion of the weekend’s take was from pre-sales, congregations ordering large blocks of tickets. The real test of the film’s strength will come in the stats for the second and third weeks of release.   Will more people go to see it or did the whole Christian audience go last weekend?

Still this film with no brand name actors and a three million dollar budget brought in $11 million.   It is hard to imagine that it will not do at least $15 million domestic.  Those results are encouraging for us and for other family and faith friendly filmmakers.

Redemption, Respect and the Environment in “Mr. Holmes”

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

Original Poster for Mr. Holmes.

When I think of a summer movie, I generally think of a movie that will involve either slapstick comedy or lots of explosions…or maybe a little of both. I did enjoy Pixels, Adam Sandler’s most recent contribution to sophomoric comedy, but I also found myself drawn to a film that has almost been hidden among the summer releases: Mr. Holmes. This film, starring two of my favorite actors: Ian McKellen and Laura Linney takes place soon after the end of WWII and gives us a ninety something, retired Sherlock Holmes, content to live in the country and tend to his bees. Linney plays the part of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro who is a war widow with a young son, Roger (played by Milo Parker).

Roger is drawn to Mr. Holmes and the two become friends. There is a natural feel to the interaction between McKellen and Parker. Their relationship grows organically and is pollinated by Roger’s fascination with both Holmes’ previous career and his bees.

The main plot of this film is set against the framework of a series of events that causes Holmes to re-examine his final case, one that he had not solved. It involves a young couple and the husband’s concern over the mental state of his wife. In his old age, Holmes has a tendency to forget things, names of those he is close to as well as the facts of this case. As a sort of mental calisthenics, he forces himself to find some closure in this case. He is prodded along by Roger, who pushes Holmes to fill in the gaps in his memory.

Mr. Holmes is not your typical summer movie. The humor is subtle; there are no robots and no explosions. But it is a beautiful movie, if not

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

slower-paced than most people are used to seeing. It is a movie that has several messages that are relevant to Catholic Social Teaching; there is an overarching theme of respect for the elderly. Roger and Mrs. Munro always treat Holmes with the utmost respect and dignity. There is a respect for the living and the dead, and the conviction that those who have died before us (even in the womb) are still very much with us and part of our lives. There is also a nice sense of reconciliation, through a side story and a long forgotten person in Holmes’ life. Also, right on the heels of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”, there is a strong sense of protecting the environment through Holmes’ love of beekeeping. In a nice moment towards the end, Holmes does something to ensure his housekeeper and her son (a widow and orphan in the biblical sense) always have a place to live.

So, yes, Mr. Holmes may not be your average summer movie, but it is a movie that is beautifully shot, acted and directed. The film is subtle in its message and its performances are like a cool ocean breeze on a hot summer day.

UnREAL: Behind the Scenes of Reality Television

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

The Lifetime Channel shows the reality of reality in a scripted series, UnREAL, airing new episodes on Monday nights with the entire season available at the Lifetime Channel website.

Ten years ago a guy walked into my office looking tired and heavy hearted and needing to talk.  He was in a process of discernment.  He loved making films but hated his current job, which he found soul-crushing on the on one hand, but too lucrative to leave on the other.   We talked for awhile before he would even admit that he worked on a reality television program.  He was tired of creating and exaggerating conflict, of manipulating people and making people who were basically good, look like buffoons or villains.

Monday night I felt like I got a glimpse into the world he had described when I watched latest episode of UnREAL on the Lifetime Channel.  This is not a family show, be warned.

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) produces a fictional reality show called “Everlasting.”  Think, “The Bachelor.”    She always appears weary, on the edge of a deep sadness as she skillfully, if not reluctantly, uses her intuition to get close to contestants, learn their vulnerabilities and then manipulate them to create conflict and further the storyline for the show.

She knows how to induce tears or a cat fight, a tender moment of personal revelation and romance, or a devastating scene of rejection.  All of this is part of her job and she is good at it and miserable for it.


At one point her executive producer Quinn,  played by Constance Zimmer, rallies the crew saying, “We want tears people, bonuses for nudity and for 911 calls.”   The producers want us to believe we are seeing a competition  for true romance.  In fact what the edited episodes of reality shows that end up on the air are contrived by cynical, calloused methods, with little regard to the human dignity of the people cast as contestants.

The show is probably exaggerated but not as much as fans of the genre might hope.   The conversation I had with that man ten years ago was not the last I have had with many other people working reality and discerning a new career path.

Let’s be Real

Here are five things reality show fans need to remember:

  1. Reality” on TV is highly manipulated.  The contestants are carefully cast, the situations contrived, viewers often do not see the context for the shots they see.
  2. If your life was filmed for a week, a skilled editor and producer could make you look however they wanted.  The programs reflect more the agenda of the producers than the reality of the lives of the contestants.
  3. Judging people is never good for the soul.   If I watch reality TV so that I can  let myself be drawn into indignation at their excesses it may seem harmless, but that feeds a dangerous tendency to condemn others and feel self-righteous.
  4. The joyful moments are easy to fake, the suffering is often real.   Try to have compassion for contestants.
  5. Think very, very hard before you would ever consider being part of a reality show.

Live in the fullness of your own reality, Family Theater You Tube and look for the ways that our loving God is always trying to send people and circumstances into your path to invite you to a deeper and fuller life, even if it is not one that would sell on television.





Love: Avengers Style!


More than just comic book heros.

More than just comic book heros.

The other day my brother, Kevin, was relating a conversation he had with his younger son about the lack of a discernible plot in so many recent movies.  He bemoaned the fact that so many movies today are mere montages of effects under the guise of telling a story.  My nephew countered (as I believe most teenagers would) that it didn’t matter, that he liked going to the movies for the spectacle of the show.  In his mind, plot was secondary to explosions, car chases, and things jumping off of the screen at you.  After much discussion, Kevin and I concluded that we were probably not much different in our youth. 

That discussion was part of a larger one we were having about The Avengers: The Age of Ultron. Kevin brought up a good point; this movie (as are many in this genre) was a movie without a really strong plot…but I loved it!  Granted, the whole “technology is going to take over our lives” thing is a tale as old as time or, at the very least, a story that is as old as the movies themselves — just watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 to see that this type of paranoia is nothing new.  But Avengers makes this fear fun.  It is a slick, gimmicky movie with an almost cartoonish feel in its palette and CGI treatment, and it moves along at a roller-coaster pace with only a few spots for the viewer to catch his breath.  It also has my favorite Stan Lee cameo to date…but then, his appearance in Winter Soldier comes in a close second.

But, buried beneath all of the explosions and fight sequences is a subplot that is very relevant to today’s world. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with technology, but everything to do with the importance of family and friends.  In a world that is becoming very impersonal, even in our closest relationships, this movie really emphasizes the importance of family and friends.  The Avengers genuinely enjoy each other’s company.  They love and support each other.  They fight and make up.  We see this group of superheroes and techno-nerds as a tightly knit group of friends (some would say a dysfunctional family) who would do anything to save one another, even if it leads to disagreements.  We also see that regardless of what they have to do in their day-to-day, nine-to-five-world, their family is what is most important—just as ours should be.  One of the main characters is revealed to be a family man at heart: he and his wife have decided to keep this family away from a world that they feel is too violent for their children, and he keeps them anonymous to protect them from the violent life he must lead.  He would do anything he can to shield them from harm, even if it means hiding his family from everyone else.   So, perhaps, my dear nephew, there is a strong plot after all.  Perhaps, if you strip out all of the 3D effects, the violence and the car chases from this movie, what you end up with is a nice film about relationships and the importance of staying true to your friends and family – no matter the cost.