CBS’ ‘Living Biblically’: Hope in the TV Wasteland

A man loses his best friend and then finds out he’s going to be a father. He decides to turn his life around, so, for guidance, he relies on … the Bible.

That’s the premise of a CBS series that premiered last week. Episode 2 airs tonight at 9:30 ET/PT. The pilot is available to view online here; episodes can also be streamed on CBS All Access.

The series premiered to less-than-stellar ratings, but did as well as an earlier series in the same slot. Since one of the executive producers is Johnny Galecki, star of CBS’ hit “Big Bang Theory,” the network might be inclined to give it a chance to find an audience. The other executive producer is Patrick Walsh, a self-described lapsed Catholic (who’s still a big Pope Francis fan).

Jay R. Ferguson stars as movie critic Chip Curry, whose trip through the Testaments is aided by two guides: Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), who quotes Thomas Aquinas in the course of the three episodes CBS provided for preview.

A.J. Jacobs, the author of the nonfiction book the series is loosely based on, “The Year of Living Biblically” is Jewish, but aside from taking the basic premise of a New York journalist devoting a period of time to living by Biblical precepts, the CBS show is entirely its own thing, It’s much more influenced by Walsh’s own Catholic upbringing.

In the three I saw, faith is treated humorously but respectfully; there’s no attempt or apparent intention to demean or mock Christianity; and those who know little or nothing about the Bible may learn a bit.

I found it charming and good-natured. Here’s what my pal Kathy Schiffer had to say at the National Catholic Register:

Unlike so many network shows that are outright hostile to faith, “Living Biblically” lets Catholics in on the fun, without flaunting sex and obscenity, and without besmirching the faith of the viewer. I’ll take it!

Thanks, CBS! So, give this show a try, and we’d love to know what you think in the comments, either here or on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy CBS

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Our Producer Priest’s Top Oscars Picks

With political controversies and scandals likely to be talked about — and addressed from the stage — during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, viewers could be forgiven for firing up the Netflix or playing board games instead.

But the irony is, in a movie year where off-topic speechmaking and awkward acknowledgements of Hollywood’s current peccadilloes might turn people off, some of the movies nominated are really good — and even one is friendly to Catholicism.

Click here for Variety‘s rundown of all the nominees — which we won’t discuss in their entirety, to your likely relief — but I asked Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest, producer here at Family Theater Productions, and a graduate of USC Film School, what his picks were for the winners of the top categories.

Aside from Best Picture, Father Kuna said: “For the other major awards, I liked what the guilds picked, and am going with that.”

His picks are in bold.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

(Note: Plummer came in at the last minute to replace Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, after Spacey’s own troubles with sexual scandal caused him to exit the film.)

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Note: Unlike Father Kuna, I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I did see this one twice. It’ll be a dang shame if Oldman doesn’t take this. He was astonishing as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Here’s what I had to say back in November.)

Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture:

“Call Me By Your Name”

“Darkest Hour”


“Get Out”

“Lady Bird”

“Phantom Thread”

“The Post”

“The Shape of Water”

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

And, for Best Picture, Father Kuna said:

In the newly instituted preferential ballot (rank 1 to 9), I see LADY BIRD being ranked in everyone’s top three.  With every other film, I could see the ranked votes being scattered from like to dislike and everything else in between.

This way of voting could propel a film that not everybody loved, but just about everybody liked, to best picture.

“Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical account of the Catholic-school years of a non-Catholic student and her fraught relationship with her mother.

Bishop Robert Barron said:

Now you might say, “okay, a typical coming of age story.” Yet running underneath this complex story of love and conflict is religion, more precisely, Catholicism. Though not a Catholic herself, Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, with quite a number of priests and nuns on the faculty. At regular intervals in the film, we see Lady Bird and her classmates attending Mass and other religious services—and none of this is presented mockingly or ironically, as we’ve come to expect from most Hollywood productions. When Lady Bird auditions for the school’s fall musical, she discovers that an older priest is one of the drama coaches. This figure is presented very sympathetically as a man who, earlier in life, had been married and had lost a son, and who now wrestles with depression. When he goes away for treatment, he is replaced by a younger priest, who had served up to that point as football coach and who, to the amusement of his students, brings a good deal of fifty-yard-line enthusiasm to his new task.

But by far the most powerful and positive personages in the film are the religious sisters who staff the high school. To a person, they are bright, dedicated, funny, and wise, and provide strong role models for Lady Bird and her classmates. When one of the girls fixes a sign to the sisters’ car announcing, “married to Jesus for forty years,” the nuns privately enjoy the joke as much as the students. The pivotal scene in the film involves a conversation between the headmaster of the school and Lady Bird in the wake of Lady Bird’s truly insulting and objectionable behavior during an assembly. Whereas a more small-minded administrator would simply have dismissed the girl, this canny nun punishes Lady Bird but then invites her to explore her creativity as a writer. Throughout the film, the Catholic Church is an encouraging and illuminating presence.

Click here to read the rest, including his notes on the film’s climax.

I’d be equally happy with victory for “Darkest Hour,” a fact-based story that managed to achieve high drama and present a relatively accurate view of history while also being cracking good entertainment — and, short one mild profanity, perfectly fine for preteens and up.

You may not want to watch the awards — I’ll be doing so in the company of a group of film-loving Catholics — and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t (if I wasn’t at this party, I wouldn’t), but the fact that “Lady Bird” has made it all this way is encouraging.

A win for this faith-friendly, verging on faith-positive, little film would be sweet, indeed.

Image: Courtesy The Academy Awards; Father Vince Kuna; Focus Features; Scott Rudin Productions/Entertainment 360/IAC Films

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Bible TV! Father Mitch Pacwa S.J. Teaches ‘Scripture and Tradition’ on EWTN

The press release for Father Mitch Pacwa’s new Bible-study series says that it’s a result of “ongoing viewer demand.” So much for the seemingly immortal myth that Catholics don’t crack open the Bible.

“Scripture and Tradition” premieres on Tuesday, March 6, at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT), and will encore at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on Tuesdays, and at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Wednesdays.

Says the release:

“I’ve already written a lot of Bible studies that are organized thematically,” said Fr. Mitch. “So we’re going to start off with my book, ‘Winning the Battle Against Sin,’ which deals with Biblical teaching on sin and forgiveness. After that, I’d like to counterbalance that with my Bible study called ‘Saved,’ which tackles the theme of salvation. I’ve also done Bible studies on the life of Christ. We’ll be taking his ministry step by step. Another approach I hope to take is to study the individual books of the Bible, starting with Isaiah and then Jeremiah and other books of the Bible.”

“For over three decades, Father Mitch Pacwa has been a favorite of EWTN audiences around the globe,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “I am confident our viewers will be excited about this newest program which plays to Father Mitch’s strength as a Scripture scholar.”

“Fr. Mitch will talk about Scripture in light of Catholic Tradition – spotlighting early Church documents that illuminate the way we understand the Bible,” said EWTN President Doug Keck, who helped create the show.

And, what does Father Pacwa know about the subject? He’s got a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Vanderbilt University; and Master of Divinity and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degrees from the Jesuit School of Theology at Loyola University Chicago.

He’s also taught Scripture at Loyola and the University of Dallas, and is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Institute for Biblical Studies.

You can learn more at EWTN’s Facebook page (click here), where you can also leave questions for Father Pacwa.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Image: Courtesy EWTN

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Jim Caviezel On Faith, Courage, Passion and ‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’

Recently, here at Family Theater Productions, we played host to filmmakers Andrew Hyatt and T.J. Berden from the upcoming Sony/AFFIRM film, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” hitting theaters on March 23.

They sat down for a video interview (watch this space for that), and talked to a group of local Catholic friends, filmmakers and industry pros. The duo then returned the next night for a special screening of the movie.

More about the film closer to premiere, but it’s a look at the last days of Paul’s life, when he’s imprisoned in Rome, with flashbacks to his earlier life as Saul of Tarsus, fierce persecutor of Christians, and to his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Playing the title character is British actor James Faulkner, whom both Hyatt and Berden told me has the “best beard on film.”

Judge for yourself:

Faulkner’s joined by Jim Caviezel, star of “The Passion of the Christ,” returning to his first Bible film since that one, playing the Greek physician and Gospel writer Luke.

For a lot of actors, playing this kind of a part is just another acting job, but not for Caviezel.

Here’s his surprise address to the young attendees at SLS18 in January, a leadership conference sponsored by FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. He talks about faith, courage, leadership, freedom and the real physical cost of following (and playing) Christ.

Prepare to be inspired:

Images: YouTube Screenshot; Courtesy Sony/AFFIRM

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Mario Lopez and His Beautiful Catholic Family [VIDEO]

In a lovely video published in January, TV host and actor Mario Lopez (“Extra,” “Saved by the Bell”) sits down with wife Courtney, son Dominic and daughter Gia to talk about their Catholic faith.

Raised in a Catholic family originally from Mexico, Lopez had his ups and downs in his faith, but now he seems settled into the life of a faithful husband and father. Wife Courtney also comes from a Catholic family, and they’re raising their children in the Faith and Catholic schooling.

(Upside, as Gia points out, you can take your pets to be blessed on St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day in October.)

He also showed off his ashes on Ash Wednesday.

And here’s the video:

Back around the year 2000, Lopez did some Spanish-language radio work for Family Theater Productions. As you heard at the end of the video, the family concludes with the signature phrase of our founder, Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.:

The Family That Prays Together Stays Together

To which we say, Amen!

Images: YouTube Screenshot (Mario Lopez); Instagram:mariolopezextra

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Vatican’s Monsignor Vigano Thinks Movies Can Be ‘Sacred Art’

Monsignor Dario Edoardo Vigano has been in Mexico participating in the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the Chair of Sacred Art at Monterrey University — and he dedicated the commemoration to the art of the moving image.

The anniversary events began on Tuesday, Feb. 13, with Msgr. Vigano — the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications — set to give three talks: “Searching God in the Folds of the Visible”; “The Face of Jesus in Cinema: History, Model Narratives, Intersemiotic Questions”; and “Sacred Art in the Cinema: New Language and Unedited Methods to Tell Stories in the Center of Audiovisual Production of the Holy See.”


(BTW, not entirely sure what “Intersemiotic Questions” are, but scholar Roman Jakobson translated “Intersemiotic Translation” as “Translation from one linguistic system to another which means the transference of meaning from a verbal to a non-verbal system or from one medium to another.” Your guess is as good as mine.)

In an interview conducted with ZENIT prior to leaving for Mexico, Msgr. Vigano shared some thoughts on the value of movies.

Here are some excerpts.

On honoring the movies:

[Cinema is a] dynamic art, projected towards the future, which involves all the phases of age, from children to adults; it captures the emotions, it tells stories taken from our life and, above all, it’s the factory of dreams. To speak of dreams doesn’t mean to make reference to the superficial part of existence, to the ephemeral, rather to that part of us that is always ready to receive novelties and projects, to be moved, to combine sentiments and rationality. The cinema has all this and does it . . . with art.

His favorite films (with a definite lack of mainstream Hollywood movies):

I cannot but mention “The Gospel According to Matthew” of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a milestone in the history of cinema and of the cinema that addresses the biblical text and the subject of the sacred; “Diary of a Country Priest” of Robert Bresson; “Dialogues of the Carmelites”  of Raymond Leopold Bruckberger and Philippe Agostini; “The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman; “Au Hasard Balthazar” of Robert Bresson. I add a more recent one (1994) “Before the Rain” of Milcho Manchevski. I’ll stop here , because the list risks being too long and losing its efficacy.

On religious movies:

If religious subjects are treated, the cinema can become an instrument of evangelization, not of proselytism, but an occasion to lay in people’s heart the healthy restlessness of the search for meaning, of the presence of others and of the Other.

On Jesus’ omnipresence:

Francois Mauriac wrote in his “Life of Jesus”:  “. . . and when, some weeks later, Jesus is removed from the group of the disciples, goes up and is dissolved in light, it’s not a definitive departure. He is already hidden, at the turn of the road that goes from Jerusalem to Damascus, and spies Saul, his beloved persecutor. Henceforth, in each man’s destiny, there will be this God lurking, ‘ . . . also in the cinema.

Back in 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican compiled this list of great movies. It does include some mainstream films, such as the 1959 “Ben-Hur,” “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), “The Mission (1986), “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “Gandhi” (1982), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Citizen Kane” (1941), Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).

Last December, compiled a list of movies that got, if not a papal imprimatur, at least got a quasi-papal endorsement, from the pope screening the film or meeting one-on-one with the filmmakers (or, at minimum, a kind word from L’Osservatore Romano, the semiofficial Vatican newspaper).

Among the post-1995 releases on that unofficial list are Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” (2016), “Spotlight” (2015), the new “Ben-Hur” (2016) and “The Passion of the Christ” (2004).

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.