Category: News & Trends

NBC’s New Afterlife Drama ‘The InBetween’ Is a Bit of a Letdown

‘The InBetween’/NBC

When I saw the commercial for NBC’s new hour-long crime-solving series The InBetween, I was immediately intrigued. It seemed that this was a show about solving crimes with some help from people who have died. And the whole in-between aspect hinted that this might have something to do with a Purgatory-type concept. So I eagerly tuned in to see just what was going on here.

The InBetween’s premise is kind of confusing

The show’s main character is a 20-something woman named Cassie, who works as a bartender and often experiences unpredictable visions that have to do with crime cases her detective foster father is investigating. These visions, though, are a lot more of a psychic/clairvoyant nature than anything with a bent toward Christian concepts of the afterlife.

It seems that in this show, some people get stuck in the InBetween after they die. By the end of the second episode, it’s still not clear what this InBetween scenario really means. But after Cassie hints to one dead guy that he’ll go to hell once he’s out of this InBetween, he says that he doesn’t think it’s as simple as that.

Equally unclear is the rhyme or reason behind how Cassie’s visions work. Sometimes she just sees people; sometimes she’s actually experiencing the same things that the crime victim experienced. And conveniently, whatever she sees just happens to go along with the case her foster father is on … not in any kind of a clear or obvious way, but in a convoluted, puzzling way that ekes out the storyline into a full 42-minute episode of detective-ing. The show is otherwise unspectacular.

Apart from the confusing nature of the premise, I’m not a huge fan of the somewhat ditzy main character. She seems to just be kind of floating along through life, coping with her visions and also hooking up with her coworker. Also, her foster dad? He’s “married” to another dude.

And Then There’s the Spirit Girl

Also, there’s a spirit preteen-girl side character named Abigail (it’s unclear if she’ll be a regular on the show or not) who is dead after her grandpa killed her in a pretty messed-up abuse situation. There are all kinds of cringe-able issues here: Abigail talks about how she’d love to kill her newborn baby sister and describes what she’d do to her graphically. Then, Cassie says, “Oh don’t do that. Focus instead on your twisted, sexually abusive grandpa who’s in jail for accidentally killing you.”

Cassie then delivers a message to the grandpa, saying that his dead granddaughter will smother the breath out of him someday. And then as Cassie leaves, she fondly watches as Abigail begins to choke the guy (unseen to everyone but Cassie) out in the prison courtyard. Fun stuff.

I’ll be skipping this one

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a clear-cut, theologically correct portrayal of the afterlife here. Nor do I think that’s necessarily a must for a show like this to be good. But it’s hard to even know what the rules are in this world, after watching two whole episodes. If the moral and story quality were good otherwise, I’d be interested to see exactly where it goes and just what their idea of life after death is.

But between the confusing afterlife premise and the overall mediocrity here, I’ll have to pass.

The InBetween airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

Image: NBC

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

BASED ON: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Contrasts Real Faith With Gilead’s Fake Faith

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’/Hulu

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE, a Hulu Series based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. Content warning: Mature themes of violence and sexuality.

Margaret Atwood writes in the preface to a recent edition of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale — currently a hit series on Hulu — that she disagrees with some critics who claim the work contains anti-Christian themes … unless, of course, in her dystopian world, Christianity has morphed into something it was never intended to be: a religious police state that dictates fertile women slave away as surrogates for the barren wives of government officials.

The story’s fictional country of Gilead, thus, resides at the center of the story as a theocracy. The semiotics of Gilead conveys the externals of religion, but little to no internal conversion has actually taken hold among the ruling populace. And no true conversions will be permitted — as, in the first episode, a cassocked cleric, presumably of Catholic persuasion, hangs over the city walls with other enemies of the state.

The show’s first season confirms what I’ve always suspected about even the subtlest appropriating of religion. Think of European flags. While some nominally Christian countries incorporate the cross into their national flag, this may actually be a way of keeping the transformative power of the Gospel in its place, relegating faith to historical signage.

Atwood’s novel ends in the same ambiguous way as season one of the Hulu show: June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), the voice of the story enters a van. Will it take her to safety in Canada, or merely transfer her to another host family in another part of Gilead? Subsequent seasons of Tale, are thus original to Hulu. (BTW, this September, Atwood releases a sequel, The Testaments picking up the story 15 years later.)

What interests me the most is the show’s continual juxtaposing of sincere and artificial faith. The second season reveals the van indeed took June to freedom. She holes up in the abandoned offices of the Boston Globe, which have been repurposed as a safe house, until she acquires transit out of Gilead. With time to explore, she discovers the bullet-riddled and blood stained walls where Gilead soldiers executed Globe journalists. Acting seemingly on instinct, June lights a series of candles and lines the wall with them. The scene reminded me of All Souls’ Day and marked a moment of spiritual truth to redeem Gilead’s suppression of journalistic truth.

I referred to instinct as June’s sole motivation, because her faith had not been revealed until season three. A subtle praying for the dead seemed to be the decent thing to do for the kind, decent character June is. In hindsight, there was now a mustard seed planted in June’s backstory.

In the season-three episode called God Bless the Child, handmaids and their newborns gather in a compulsory religious ceremony. A few participants show fervent zeal, most others stifle feelings of unease. The big set piece contrasts with flashbacks from June’s daughter’s private baptism. The only ones gathered for this intimate sacrament are June’s mother, the father of the child, a godparent and the priest.

The handling of personal freedom marks the difference between the two rites. In Gilead, the heavy-handed government forces religious observance. In a formerly free America, June and her fellow faithful present the baby for baptism of their own volition.

So, to Atwood, who created this sci-fi world, I say, “Bravo.” To the showrunners of seasons two and three, who added a layer of authentic faith to subvert Gilead’s fake one, I offer a full-throated, “Praise be.”

Image: Hulu

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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BASED ON: Hulu’s ‘Catch 22’ Doesn’t Improve on the Original

(L-R) George Clooney, Christopher Abbot in ‘Catch 22’/Hulu

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

Catch-22, a Hulu mini-series produced by George Clooney, based on the Joseph Heller novel of the same name.

I remember reading Catch-22 in high school at about the same time Quentin Tarantino released Pulp Fiction in theaters. Both works drew me in by their unique structure. Catch-22 was told in third person omniscient, taking the points of view of several characters. Additionally, Heller tells the narrative non-sequentially, a departure from the linear storytelling I had been accustomed to. An event told matter-of-factly at first is revisited later for greater impact by story’s end. Tarantino’s classic film also opted for a non-linear structure and has been copied by both professional and student filmmakers ever since. (Especially, the latter.)

The small-screen adaptation reverts back to a more linear approach. Showrunners/writers Luke Davies and David Michod also tell the story primarily through the perspective of one character: bombardier John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott). The two alterations have the cumulative effect of blandly attaching historical note cards together in an unbelievable way. Would every absurd event that could happen in a war really happen to one Army Air Force captain over the course of one campaign?

Most other war films follow an ensemble of soldiers, thus creating an air of realism. As it is, this version is one part Memphis Belle, one part Casualties of War, one part Best Years of Our Lives, among others. The theme of a Catch-22 is interesting at first, but tires out by series end.

The showrunners establish early that on the military is necessary to defeat fascism. Waging war is a profitable business, however. So is the very apparatus best suited to end a military conflict is also then financially incentivized to perpetuate it. The series seems dead-set towards viewing every human interaction through this prism. In the most bizarre of protests, Yossarian walks the airfields in the buff in the final episode. We expect a reprimand from his superiors, but the Catch-22 now turns against them. The bombardier, despite him losing his mind remains the most experienced and effective of airmen.

Satirical tone aside, the circular reasoning of the film’s title makes for fittingly repetitive story beats. By the show’s end one is both exhausted and left not knowing how to feel. As alluded to earlier, the show has a nagging way of saying everything about war, but at the same time, nothing.

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line is a much better war film, employing a somewhat non-linear structure that also gets into many of the heads of its soldiers thanks to generous amounts of voice-overs. The impressionistic style, typical to a Malick film, lessens the feeling of judgment of the film’s characters. Objection to the war machine might be one character’s viewpoint, but not everyone’s, and certainly never something to be imposed on anyone else: characters in the story or viewers watching it.

TTRL’s various viewpoints and fractured story structure masterfully upgraded the James Jones novel on which it was based. It’s a shame that Joseph Heller’s novel of a similar structure wasn’t preserved and respected in the same way.

Also starring are Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie; along with being executive producer, Clooney plays Lieutenant (later Colonel and eventually General) Scheisskopf, and he directed the fourth and sixth episodes.

All six episodes of Catch-22 are available for streaming here on Hulu.

Image: Hulu

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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RIP Tim Conway, Actor, Funnyman, ‘Carol Burnett’ Star … and Catholic

Tim Conway on ‘The World Over’/EWTN

A bit of laughter has gone out of the world, with the announcement of the death of Tim Conway at the age of 85 this morning, May 14, in the Los Angeles area.

A native of Chagrin Falls, Ohio (he has something to say about that in the video below), Conway volunteered for the Army and later pursued show business. He was beloved as a funnyman but also as star of such classic TV shows as McHale’s Navy and The Carol Burnett Show. For younger viewers, he was also the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob Squarepants and won Emmy awards for guest appearances on the sitcoms Coach and 30 Rock.

From People:

Conway is survived by his wife of 35 years, his stepdaughter, his six biological children and two granddaughters. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family would like donations to be made to The Lou Ruvo Brain Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The beloved actor is best known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, winning viewers over with characters like the Oldest Man and Mr. Tudball, whose accent he has said was inspired by his Romanian mother. He was known to ad-lib his sketches — even surprising his scene partners — and won a Golden Globe Award for the series in 1976, along with Emmys in 1973, 1977 and 1978.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an Irish father and a Romanian mother, Conway was baptized into the Romanian Orthodox Church but converted to Catholicism for a girl while in college. Faith wasn’t almost foremost in his mind, though, until back spasms later in life led Conway to discover that a high-school football injury could have left him paralyzed … but didn’t.

From a 2013 post at Tony Rossi’s Christopher Closeup blog:

That was a watershed moment for Tim, spiritually speaking. He writes, “Ever since that incident on the football field, which might have altered the course of my life, Jesus and I have stayed in constant touch. I never stop saying thank you.”

Though Tim, who converted to Catholicism in college because of a girl he liked, doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve, his relationship with God remains important to him. He admits that his journey of faith hasn’t always been a straight line, but adds, “All straight lines get a little crooked from time to time, but I tried to maintain a decent life.”

In the same year, Conway went on Raymond Arroyo’s World Over show on EWTN to discuss his career and his memoir, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life — and his conversion to Catholicism …

Here’s just a taste of Conway’s comic genius on The Carol Burnett Show, with co-star (and frequent victim of Conway’s efforts to crack him up) Harvey Korman:

Conway was married twice. Among his six biological children and one stepdaughter is Tim Conway Jr., who currently has a radio show on L.A. station KFI AM 640.

Here’s a clip of Conway Jr. as emcee of the Orange (County, California) Catholic Foundation’s 15th Annual Conference on Business & Ethics, from 2017, including a selfie with Bishop Vann of the Diocese of Orange — and showing the comic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:

Image: EWTN (screenshot)

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

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For Oxygen: Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg Projects Tackle Prisons and Sex Trafficking

Photo: Adobe Stock

Oxygen Media, which has shifted its focus from female-oriented lifestyle programming to true crime (also a favorite with female viewers) has just announced its slate of new programming and shows in development, with such stars as Kim Kardashian and Mark Wahlberg.

Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project

Among the projects given a greenlight is a documentary from socialite, entrepreneur, reality and social-media megastar Kardashian, reflecting her newfound interest in prison reform. She’s also apparently now in the midst of a four-year law apprenticeship, with the goal of taking the bar exam in 2020, following in the footsteps of her late father, attorney Robert Kardashian.

A attendee of Catholic Marymount High School in Los Angeles, Kardashian has — despite her racy public persona and multiple marriages — claims to be a Christian. She and current husband Kanye West had their daughter, North, baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church, at the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem (more here on that).

In between her social, entertainment and family obligations, Kardashian has become involved with a group seeking to advance causes for clemency and prison reform. She was among those instrumental last summer in the release of 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, who’d been in an Alabama prison on a nonviolent drug charge since 1996. President Trump commuted her sentence last June.

According to TMZ, Kardashian and her legal allies have gained freedom for 17 inmates over the last few months, and now her efforts — as might be expected from a reality-show star — are coming to TV.

From Oxygen:

“Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” (working title)

Executive produced by Kim Kardashian and Bunim Murray Productions with Gil Goldschein, Julie Pizzi and Farnaz Farjam serving as executive producers.

In June 2018, Kim Kardashian used her global fame to publicly campaign for criminal justice reform by convincing the White House to grant Alice Marie Johnson clemency.

Inspired by her work with Johnson, Kardashian has made it her personal mission to lobby for systematic change and advocate for the men and women who she and her legal experts believe have been unfairly sentenced.  Now, as she pursues her own career in law, Kardashian is dedicating both personal resources and her public platform to the cause.

In this compelling 2-hour documentary, Oxygen will capture Kardashian’s efforts to secure freedom for Americans who she believes have been wronged by the justice system. “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project” is an exclusive, never-before-seen look inside her mission to tackle one of America’s most controversial subjects.

Mark Wahlberg’s Exploited

Among the projects currently in development is one from Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas company. Wahlberg, a former rapper who spent time in prison for felony assault and had other run-ins with the law, has found a new life as an actor, producer, husband, father and devout Catholic.

He’s spoken about his conversion in many venues, including this 2010 interview with the U.K.’s Catholic Herald:

“Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life,” the A-list actor tells me firmly when we meet for tea in a posh hotel near his home in Beverly Hills. “The first thing I do when I start my day is, I get down on my hands and knees and give thanks to God. Whenever I go outside of my house, the first thing I do is stop at the church. The kids will be mad with me. ‘Daddy! It takes too long!’ I’m saying: ‘It’s only 10 minutes and this is something I really need to do.’ Because I do. If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I’m doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.”

“Once I focused on my faith wonderful things started happening for me,” he says now. “And I don’t mean professionally – that’s not what it’s about. These days, I’ll be in church and people will come up to me and say: ‘Do you mind if I sit and pray with you?’ And they’ll start praying and it’ll turn out they’re praying for their new movie to be a success or whatever, and I’m like, this is not what I come here for. For me to sit down and ask for material things is ridiculous. It’s a much bigger picture than that. I want to serve God and to be a good human being and to make up for the mistakes I made and the pain I put people through. That’s what I’m praying for, and I recommend it to anybody.”

Now, he’s looking to have an impact on one of the most compelling issues of our time — sex trafficking.

From Oxygen:

“Exploited” (working title)

Produced by Unrealistic Ideas and Blue Pacific. Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Archie Gips serve as executive producers for Unrealistic Ideas and Matt Bartley, Michael Janke and Chris Campbell serve as executive producers for Blue Pacific.

From Mark Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas production company comes the new active crime investigation series that follows the on-going work of the DeliverFund, as they tackle the current US sex trafficking epidemic. In each episode the DeliverFund, comprised of ex-CIA, NSA and Navy Seal operatives Nic McKinley, Kara Smith and Jeremy Mahugh, take viewers on a journey to what victims call the center of hell. They will locate victims, work with local law enforcement and ultimately rescue sex trafficked victims and return them to their families.

Here’s wishing both celebrities luck with projects tackling important issues.

Images: HBO/Twitter

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.

‘Game of Thrones’ Coffee Cup: How Could This Have Happened? (With HBO’s Response)

‘Game of Thrones’/HBO

In some ways, the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, but leave it to HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones to give us all a momentary Monday distraction — in the form of a Starbucks coffee cup.

The cup in question made a cameo appearance in the May 5 episode, the follow-up to the previous week’s massive but murky battle scene. Since this was an interior scene on a set, it was likely filmed in Belfast — meaning, if you go to the Northern Ireland city, you can still get your Caramel Cloud Macchiato fix.

I’ve been on enough sets in my years as an entertainment journalist to know that mistakes happen, but usually they’re caught somewhere along the way. But, this one made it all the way to the final cut.

For some answers, I turned to our producer-at-large, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a graduate of USC Film School. Here are my questions, and his replies:

What is continuity, and why does it matter in a movie?

To borrow from business parlance, continuity is a type of quality control in filmmaking that assures a visual coherence by the final airing. For instance, you would not want a character holding a knife in the right hand in one shot and then placing it in the left hand for another shot in the same scene. It creates a nightmare for editing to cut around. For a fantasy piece like Game of Thrones, especially, a set has to be wary of leaving anachronistic items in the shot — water bottles, coffee cups, cellphones, etc.

Whose job is it on a set to make sure anomalous objects aren’t visible?

It is the script supervisor’s specific responsibility to make sure anomalous objects aren’t visible within frame. That said, anyone on set who notices this should inform the script supervisor or one of the producers.

How could this have been missed in all the layers of editing and special effects?

In this day and age, especially in the world of television, when shooting must go quickly, physical production will sometimes film even though another camera crew is in the shot, presuming visual effects can take it out afterwards. Recently, I sat in on an editing session of a parishioner of mine who does visual effects on Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. He pointed out the shots where physical production knew visual effects would work their magic later. Some of the coolest fixes were taking out power lines in a panoramic shot or adding ominous looking clouds in an episode’s final shot, where they weren’t present in the raw footage.

If it had been caught earlier on, how could the error have been fixed?

Editing out the coffee cup could have been an easy fix in post. A colorist could have replaced the white of the Starbucks cup with the color and texture of the cup’s immediate surroundings.

When things like this happen, how often do you guess that it’s an intentional Easter egg and how often just an oops?

It’s hard to believe a show operating with the highest level of technicians in the world would miss this at that all levels of production and post-production, so I suspect it’s an intentional Easter egg.

I don’t watch the show and have found it to be pretty devoid of meaning. It would be the boldest of post-modern statements, if intentional. That for all the fans’ analysis and dissection, the show is ultimately nihilism, and even the producers ensuring the integrity of the fantasy world they’ve created is of no importance.

And fans are indeed debating. But you have to wonder, if you’re truly absorbed in a scene, do you notice these thing unless you watch it repeatedly? This episode only aired last night, so either folks have extremely sharp eyes, or they’re hitting the restart as soon as the episode is over.

Did you see it?

This particularly humorous take on it appeared in a story in The Verge:

And HBO’s response?

In response to inquiries from those who saw a craft services coffee cup in Sunday night’s episode of GAME OF THRONES, HBO states, “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake.  Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

Images: HBO/Twitter

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

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.