Category: Family Movies & Television

Patricia Heaton, Bradley Whitford and Kim Cattrall Headline Faith-Adjacent Fall 2019 Shows [UPDATED]

‘Perfect Harmony’/NBC

The broadcast networks have announced their plans for the fall, and there are a few shows of possible interest to people of faith. Just remember, a lot can change between a show being picked up and actually making it on the air.

Perfect Harmony (NBC)

Former West Wing star Bradley Whitford — who reportedly is involved with All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California — stars as former Princeton music professor who winds up working with a small-town church choir.

Carol’s Second Act (CBS)

After talking a break following the end of The Middle on ABC, Catholic star Patricia Heaton returns to her Everybody Loves Raymond home of CBS for a new multicamera comedy. She plays a retired teacher who, now that her children are grown, decides to become a doctor. Kyle MacLachlan also stars.

Patricia Heaton (right) in ‘Carol’s Second Act’/CBS

Evil (CBS)

Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) are behind this new drama, starring Katja Herbers (Westworld), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Aasif Mandvi and Michael Emerson (Lost, the upcoming The Name of the Rose). It’s described as a psychological thriller exploring the origins of evil and the (Catholics believe false) dichotomy between science and religion (some descriptions have Colter’s character as a “priest-in-training,” and the team working for the Catholic Church). The husband-and-wife duo bring their own theological perspectives, since Robert is Catholic, and Michelle is Jewish.

Filthy Rich (Fox)

Kim Cattrall headlines the cast of a show described as a soapy Southern Gothic family drama. When the patriarch (Gerald McRaney) of a Southern family, which got rich from creating a Christian TV network, dies in a plane crash, his stunned family learns that he fathered three children out of wedlock — and they’re all written into the will.

Also, just added today (May 14) …

United We Fall (ABC)

The multicamera comedy stars Will Sasso and Christina Vidal as parents of two young children dealing with overzealous extended families — including the Latina mother’s large Catholic one. Also starring are Jane Curtin and Jason Michael Snow.

Christina Vidal, Will Sasso in ‘United We Fall’/ABC

Also, among the shows axed was ABC’s Catholic-family comedy The Kids Are Alright, that our blogger Adrienne Thorne didn’t dislike.

But, in good news, NBC’s acclaimed family drama This Is Us was picked up for three more seasons. From Variety:

“In a television landscape with nearly 500 original scripted series, there are very few, if any, that have the critical and cultural impact of ‘This Is Us’ and we couldn’t be more proud to bring fans three more seasons of a show that so well represents the NBC brand,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, presidents of scripted programming for NBC Entertainment. “A huge thank you and congratulations to our executive producers, cast and crew who reach new heights every week with the show’s inventive and compelling storytelling.”

Images: NBC, CBS, ABC

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘Bless This Mess’: ABC’s New City-to-Country Comedy Is Promising

Dax Shepard, Lake Bell in ‘Bless This Mess’/ABC

I had seen the commercial advertising ABC’s new city mouse/country mouse comedy “Bless This Mess” more times than I could count, by the time it finally premiered on April 16. And I still couldn’t decide if it looked more funny and entertaining, or cheesy and silly.

Some helpful background information: I grew up on a dairy farm. So you have to understand that if there’s ever a show or movie with cows in it, I’m likely to critique the living daylights out of it (like even more than I do with other stuff!).

As you can see in the commercial/trailer for this show, it is all about people discovering farm life (including dairy cows). So I had to check it out.

Premise of Bless This Mess…

A guy named Mike (played by Dax Shepard from Parenthood, half of an adorable real-life couple with Kristen Bell) inherits a farm in Nebraska. His wife, Rio (Lake Bell – she created the show as well), jumps on board with his idea that the two of them abandon their urban lifestyle in New York and become farmers.

Obviously, nothing about this is simple for them. The house they’ve inherited is decrepit, their neighbors are super weird, their land is bad. Oh, and Rio is … afraid of cows? Okay, sure.

This husband and wife have never had a fight before, but now as they embark into these unknown waters, they’re finding themselves stretched in ways they hadn’t expected.

The pilot isn’t a bad start…

The pilot of “Bless This Mess” definitely has its cheesy moments, and its moments of, “Here’s a bunch of plot exposition for you, audience!” There are times when it feels a little cliched – like the small town trope of a sheriff who also runs a store and the community theater. But it’s an interesting enough fish-out-of water premise of city characters experiencing country life for the first time. These two don’t have a clue how to farm, and I’m kind of interested to see where that goes.

Bless This Mess is also pretty clean (so far)…

The pilot does have a scene where the husband and wife are in the shower together, but there’s no nudity or sex shown. There’s also some mild language – and a reference to the prostitutes in Les Miserables, of all things. Though we’re only one episode in, the tone they set here seems to indicate that this show won’t be too raunchy.

I’ll definitely be giving this one a shot

Even though this show has its faults, I personally just have to see where they go with it.

And granted, I’m mostly interested in seeing how grossly they get wrong all the things about farm life (really, they should have hired me as a farming consultant. Maybe they’ll see this when I tag them on Twitter – I can dream…), but it still seems like a pretty decent show.

Bless This Mess airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC; you can also stream on Hulu.

Image: ABC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Breakthrough’: DeVon Franklin and Chrissy Metz on the Powerful Prayer Story

(L to R) Topher Grace, Chrissy Metz, Marcel Ruiz of ‘Breakthrough’/Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

Hitting theaters on Wednesday, April 17, Breakthrough, from executive producer DeVon Franklin (The Star, Miracles From Heaven), is based on the true story of St. Louis teen John Smith, who broke through lake ice and was apparently dead for almost an hour, until, after his mother Joyce’s fervent prayer, he came back to life.

Directed by Roxann Dawson (the former actor’s first film, after directing lots of TV), and adapted by Grant Nieporte from Joyce Smith’s book, The Impossible, Breakthrough stars Marcel Ruiz as basketball-loving John; This Is Us star Chrissy Metz as Joyce; Josh Lucas as her husband, Brian; Topher Grace as their pastor, Jason; and Dennis Haysbert as John’s physician, Dr. Garrett.

BTW, John was taken to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, a Catholic pediatric medical center. The center’s website talks at length about the case here. And here’s a video:

Metz also did a song for the film, called I’m Standing With You, written by Diane Warren. Have a listen:

Thanks to Dawson, Breakthrough is more stylish than many faith-based films (it is a 20th Century Fox production), and its story does have the advantage of being true. It’s also backed up by a lot of medical evidence as to the unlikeliness of John’s survival and recovery.

The script lightly touches, but does not do a deep dive into, thorny issues like, why one person is miraculously saved and not another, or why not all prayers are answered.

Also lifting Breakthrough are the portrayals of the parents as less-than-perfect people. Metz’s plays Joyce as a fiercely devoted mother who can’t figure out how to make her Guatemalan-born adopted son feel wanted, but whose singleminded, almost manic determination that he would live rivals the emotional intensity of Metz’s high-drama This Is Us character. At the same time, Lucas’ Brian hangs back at the hospital, unable to match his wife’s intensity and refusing to face the situation head-on.

In the end, Breakthrough is affecting but not necessarily profound. We’re meant to celebrate the miracle without thinking about it too much. But it does leave room for people to draw their own conclusions, and that may make it interesting for secular audiences.

Recently, at a junket in Dallas, reporters got to sit down with the stars and producers. Here are some highlights:

From Franklin, on what he’d like people to take away:

The number one takeaway is that prayer works, love wins. Really when you think about it, it’s like why would Joyce pray that hard? ‘Cause of her love? I think that’s just so powerful. There’s so many films that celebrate superheroes that are great. Hey, those are billion dollar movies. But they’re all imagination; this is real. And what Joyce did is a real superhero doing a real superpower, which is faith and praying. So I really want people to take that away.

I want people to take away that they’re valued. We can go through life feeling that we’re alone, and that we don’t matter. This movie I think shows that we do matter. All of the people in the community that first responders, the pastor, the congregation, the basketball team, the teachers, the school, they all interceded for one. To me, if we do that, the whole culture changes for the better. We don’t do it enough. I think, I’m hoping, people will take that away when they leave the theater.

Metz on what she hopes people glean from the film:

That we’re stronger together than we are apart, and there’s all of these people on the planet to learn from, to teach, to learn, to grow, to evolve with each other, Otherwise there’d be one person on the planet. There’s a reason why we all look differently and like different things, come from different backgrounds, because we’re all here to teach each other, whether it’s empathy or tolerance or self-love in order to impart that on other people. So, I hope that that’s what people take away.

John Smith on what he’s heard since the story went public:

It’s just amazing to see how many responses we’ve gotten from atheists, from unbelievers. This has sparked curiosity regarding, “What is God?” And also the science part of it — that there is no answer for me. I say that respectfully. when there is 300-plus pages of medical documents of why I should be dead, but I’m alive.

So unbelievers see that and go “Oh, it can’t just be another God-based film.” Now we have doctors that are on our side to pull more unbelievers and to get them to believe that this is a bona-fide miracle. And the only person that can do this is God. And I truly believe that’s what separates us.

And, regarding his real mother, Smith said:

You mess with her, you’re in trouble. And her faith for God is just stronger than … I want to be like my mom, when it comes on to that sort of thing. Whether she is sick, ill, she never complains. It’s always “OK, God, I believe in you. This is just an attack. Let’s move forward. Let’s keep pushing back on the enemy.” That’s my mom in a nutshell.

Image: Fox 2000/20th Century Fox

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘Eighth Grade’ Is a Well-Done Film, But Not for the Faint of Heart

Elsie Fisher, ‘Eighth Grade’/A24

I first heard about the coming-of-age indie film Eighth Grade some time ago when it was garnering a bunch of critical acclaim around the time it came out last year.

I stumbled upon an article about it that mentioned it was written and directed by a dude who is almost exactly my age, so I was immediately curious (and insecurely jealous, ahem …).

I’m not usually into coming-of-age stories about kids younger than mid-teens, and this one’s about a 13-year-old. But it came to Amazon Prime, so I figured I might as well see what all the fuss was about.

Eighth Grade Is Brutal

I mean that in every way you can imagine – I mean, except for, like, actual violence.

It’s the story of an awkward, insecure girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), as she nears the end of her eighth-grade school year. She has no friends, is tragically voted “most quiet” in her class. She basically hates her life. This girl wants desperately to fit in and has no idea how to do it.

Kayla makes online videos (which no one watches) to give “tips” about things like how to be confident, how to make friends, how to put yourself out there … the irony being that she herself doesn’t do any of these things.

We cringe for her over and over again, and honestly it’s kind of hard to watch at times.

My husband, who was doing homework nearby while I was watching this, asked me, “Is this movie funny?” And even though it’s supposed to be a dramedy, I responded without hesitation, “No.” There’s pretty much nothing funny about it.

Personally, I’d almost consider it more of horror movie than a comedy. Not horror in the normal sense of the term, but I was definitely horrified at it more than a few times.

A Real Eye-Opener

I don’t consider myself to exactly be estranged from, or oblivious, to the typical teen-aged existence these days. I love young-adult stories and I even spent a good amount of time as a middle-school substitute teacher. So I wasn’t really expecting to be shocked by anything in this movie.

But there are two areas that really stood out as shocking to me in this film. One is the sexual content.

Now it’s rated R and has a few nasty issues that might be kind of troublesome to some Catholic viewers – no actual sex scenes, but some sexual humor and a gross sequence where she’s looking up something sexual online.

But this 13-year-old girl’s whole social existence is so very wrapped up in sexuality.

The boy she likes is known for asking girls to send him nude photos. He asks her if she’ll do something sexual in order for him to go out with her.

Her acquaintances talk about sexting as if it’s nothing. And when an older teen guy tries to put moves on her, he references the future hook-ups he knows she will have.

I would expect this kind of content, and certainly not be shocked by it, if the people were, say, in their 20s. But these are 13-year-olds!

And we might say, “Oh that’s got to be exaggerated for dramatic effect.” I hope so. But I really doubt it is terribly exaggerated from what a lot of young teens are exposed to these days.

The other aspect that was kind of unexpected was how social media saturates this girl’s whole existence.

I had already read, before seeing it, that Eighth Grade made a bit of commentary on the social media and smartphone usage of today’s typical teen. So I was expecting some kind of cheesy, obvious, on-the-nose discussion of it, like in The Emoji Movie.

Instead, this movie showed social media and smartphones as almost like an extra body part for these characters.

There was no proselytizing on how we’ve lost our sense of real communication, etc. It was just that their lives were lived on and wrapped around this online world in a way that felt realistic, common, and still so very unhealthy. I’d say the movie does a good job making the point, without anyone really realizing it’s making a point.

This Is a Hard Movie to Watch

Eighth Grade is undoubtedly well-done and engrossing, with strong writing that avoids the trap of falling into cliché, and some pretty great acting. But its subject matter is hard.

You will cringe, a lot. And probably come away with a new appreciation for the fact that our modern society does not make it easy for a teen to be happy, emotionally healthy, or even good.

Perhaps I make it sound rather bleak. Well, so did this movie. Though it definitely offers some hope at the end, as we see that Kayla looks like she will be okay after all.

If you want to have a better idea of how teens live these days, watch this movie.

Personally, I’m glad I watched it. But I must admit that I am almost equal parts horrified and discouraged over it.

Image: A24

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter. Reposted with permission (and some minor edits) from A Thorne in the Flesh.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘Unplanned’ Surprises With a Strong Second Weekend

Ashley Brachter in ‘Unplanned’/PureFlix

In its first weekend after being released on March 29, the pro-life drama Unplanned grossed over $6M (recouping its production budget), but it didn’t disappoint in its second weekend.

The gross take was $3.2M (with 500 extra theaters), about half of weekend one, but good enough to keep the PureFlix-distributed film at number 8 on the BoxOfficeMojo.com list.

Obviously, people don’t just go to movies on weekends. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the current lifetime gross for Unplanned is about $12.5M.

Unplanned is based on a memoir by Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas who had a “road to Damascus” moment while watching an abortion procedure and became an ardent pro-life advocate.

The film’s success came about despite being turned down for advertising on almost all cable networks (except CBN and Fox News), receiving an R-rating, and having its Twitter account temporarily suspended on opening weekend.

Even the New York Times took notice:

“This movie tells the truth, and a lot of times we don’t get an opportunity to see that,” said Cheryl A. Riley, director of the Respect Life office for the Archdiocese of Newark, who organized the viewing and works with women who have had abortions.

Describing herself, like Johnson, as formerly in favor of abortion rights, Riley choked up while recalling her own experience terminating a pregnancy at 19: “I know that story, and I know that pain.”

From a story at Religion News Service:

“This film has been an overwhelming success,” said PureFlix CEO Michael Scott. “The amazing work of the filmmakers, actors and team behind bringing Abby Johnson’s story to audiences is helping to raise awareness to national and regional pro-life movements around the country. For one film to have such an impact with audiences that are showing up in such large numbers reinforces how important it is to bring this topic to audiences.”

The financial success of Unplanned may pave the way for other films presenting a view of hot-button topics that differs from that of most of Hollywood and the mainstream media.

And, by the way, appearing in the film as Abby’s attorney is Kaiser Johnson, who stars in our online series Catholic Central. More on him here.

Image: PureFlix Entertainment

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘Unplanned’: New Dad Kaiser Johnson on the Impact of the Planned Parenthood Drama

Kaiser Johnson of “Unplanned”/Screenshot: PureFlix Entertainment

Sometimes a story impacts an actor on ways he or she didn’t expect.

In the new film Unplanned, hitting theaters on May 29, Kaiser Johnson plays lawyer Jeff Paradowski, who helps former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson (Ashley Brachter) with her legal troubles after she left the organization and turned to the pro-life perspective.

Since Johnson — who stars in Family Theater Productions’ online series Catholic Central —  filmed his part in the film early last year, he and wife Keeley Bright Johnson had a daughter. As he sat in the theater for the Los Angeles premiere of Unplanned, his daughter in his lap, he

Kaiser Johnson, with Lisa Hendey, daughter and wife Keeley Bright Johnson on the “Unplanned” red carpet in Los Angeles/Photo: Patrick Nuo

had some thoughts, shared with me yesterday:

It just took on a much more personal context. … I had my own thoughts about it beforehand, but then to see this, to be holding my daughter and go, “Oh, my gosh, there is a corporation and an industry that exists only to separate children from their parents And to look at that and go … how do we  not see this? How are we blind to this as a society?”

If we see that clearly, I hope that industry would cease to exist.

But, it’s like, the people who are clamoring the most about corporate greed and corporate power and stuff like that are looking at a corporation and an industry that is built around separating children from their parents. Whether it’s at the border or in whatever case, let’s look at where it’s being done the most, and the most recently, and that’s in the womb.

Based on Abby Johnson’s book, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line, the film chronicles how a Texas girl from a pro-life family became an ardent pro-choice advocate and a stellar employee — a clinic director by her late 20s — at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas.

According to Abby, what she saw when she was called in to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week fetus shocked her. Having had two abortions herself (one with RU486, the so-called “abortion pill”), and spent years explaining the procedure to women at the clinic, Abby was no stranger to the concept.

But, she says, seeing the unborn baby fight to escape its own death affected her deeply, so deeply that she could no longer work at the clinic. She resigned in October, 2009. After leaving, Abby — also a wife and mother — has become a popular and tireless pro-life activist, author and speaker (and eventually, a Catholic).

Unplanned, directed and written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (God’s Not Dead), traces Abby’s story from college through her change of heart. After Abby’s resignation, Planned Parenthood slapped her with a temporary restraining order to prevent her from talking about her former job. That order was lifted in Nov. 2009 — thanks to the efforts of Jeff Paradowski.

Kaiser Johnson got to meet the confident, freewheeling Paradowski at the premiere and said:

He’s exactly who you’d expect him to be. He’s definitely who he is in the movie.

Johnson also says that when you see Paradowski’s billboard in the film, that’s his real contact information. He notes:

So if you need a personal-injury lawyer in practice, you know who to call.

Johnson is a working film, TV and voiceover actor, and doing a controversial movie like this could impact his career. Asked about that, he says:

On the side of doing this movie, the only way to have this be controversial is if you don’t watch it, or if you go in bigoted and prejudiced, if you refuse to set your prejudices aside for a minute and actually look at it. This is a true story. This is a woman’s true story. If there’s anything that all of Hollywood is telling us right now, it’s that we need to listen to the true stories of women, and they should have a voice and be listened to … and I agree.

So if you are someone who goes, “Oh, no, this is the kiss of death to anyone’s carer,” or you go in and you go, “I’m not gonna see this movie because it’s anti-choice, or it’s anti-Planned Parenthood,” or something like that, well, you’re letting your biases shut out a true story that a woman has to tell. It’s a hot topic, but it shouldn’t be a controversial one.

And for those who might dismiss Unplanned by saying, “Oh, it’s just another one of those Christian movies,” Johnson says:

I read the script, and I’m like, “Oh, this isn’t even a Christian movie.” God is mentioned in it maybe twice, and it’s just because it’s part of the true story, too.” This is not a preachy movie. This is not an over-the-top movie. This is a movie that just shares the truth of this person’s story, and it’s worth watching.

Here’s a video Johnson recorded Tuesday for the Facebook page of Unplanned:

Kaiser Johnson who plays Jeff Paradowski (Paradowskilaw.com) in the movie #Unplanned – shares a personal story of how this movie has impacted him. See it in theaters this Friday – pre-order your tickets on Facebook and pay NO FEES – https://www.facebook.com/movies/2767431609998983 #Unplanned #PullBackTheCurtain

Posted by Unplanned on Tuesday, March 26, 2019

And a video Johnson shot on the set:

Lasly, here’s the film’s trailer:

For more information and to buy tickets, visit UnplannedFilm.com. Warning to parents, the Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an R rating for “some disturbing/bloody images.” The filmmakers claim this is unfair, but that the rating, as a CNSNews story says, “reinforces the position that abortion is violence.”

To watch Johnson in Catholic Central, visit CatholicCentral.com.

Image: PureFlix Entertainment/Patrick Nuo

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.