I have mentioned that I have watched quite a bit of Netflix streaming during this blah part of my current pregnancy. I didn’t set out to find Catholic characters on TV shows or anything. My very scientific method of selecting series to watch is to just click on shows that Netflix suggests and hope for the best, mostly. But there they were, three shows in a row with Catholic main characters and recurring Catholic themes. After exactly none that I can remember in anything I’ve watched before that (not the major focus, anyway).
On the one hand, it’s nice to see familiar and comforting sights like Catholic Churches and confessionals on television. It’s nice to feel represented, somehow, in our popular culture. But on the other hand . . . boy, howdy, do they ever get us mostly wrong. They get us mostly wrong in quite various and varied — although not necessarily UNENJOYABLE — ways. Let’s take a look, shall we?
This mystery series set in 1920s Melbourne looked like a good fit for someone on (as Haley and Christy would say) “TV shows about dresses” withdrawal. Which I was, after Gran Hotel ended so abruptly on Netflix with no English translation of the final season in sight. <shaking fist>
Overall, I really, really enjoyed the first two seasons. Phryne Fisher is smart and cheeky and charming and generally awesome, if rather lax in the, um, personal moral compass department. But her dalliances are kept almost entirely off-screen, and the acting, writing, and dresses are, for me, all top notch. Detective Inspector Jack Robinson reminds me an awful lot of the fella I married, so I like him too.
And then, there’s Dot, Miss Fisher’s lady’s companion, who is a devout, practicing Catholic. She’s a really likeable character, but she’s definitely portrayed as naive and silly compared to the sophisticated, worldly Miss Fisher.
The fact that the main character gets it wrong on issues like abortion and chastity (and communism!) doesn’t really bother me that much. She’s completely uncatechized, but she means well. But the fact that Dot is scared to answer the phone because her priest told her that the electricity in phone lines might cause an explosion . . . um, what?
Dot’s love interest in the show is a Protestant constable, which causes some tension. In the first two seasons we never really see Dot abandon her values, she’s just not particularly respected for them. Which is too bad.
Still, I’d watch season 3.
When I ran out of Miss Fisher episodes (there aren’t many), I decided to give Murdoch Mysteries a try. It’s another detective show, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Toronto. And, hey, ANOTHER Catholic character, the MAIN main character this time. It seemed very promising, but I found it to be mostly a disappointment.
The dresses are pretty good, but why in the name of all that is holy is Detective Murdoch wearing guyliner? WHY?
It seems like he’s supposed to be this genius detective a la Sherlock Holmes, and I think he’s meant to be socially awkward, in the tradition of geniuses. But, he’s not. He’s just this conventionally handsome guy solving mysteries by using modern technology that he conveniently invents. In guyliner.
And then there’s the Catholic thing. We are told he’s a devout, daily Mass-going, frequently confessing Catholic, and that, in a Protestant town, his career is suffering because of his stubborn insistence on being Catholic. That’s great, right?
But he keeps getting it really, really wrong.
I only watched maybe five episodes, but in two of them, he violates major tenants of his faith. In one episode, he believes that a medium has given him a message from his dead fiancee. I kept waiting for him to have been faking it, and cleverly expose her as a fraud, buuuuut, he didn’t. He just rode off on his bicycle, happily having violated the first commandment. In another, a murder investigation takes him into the secret gay underworld of 1900s Toronto. He’s full of doubt about his beliefs on the subject, and the episode finishes with him appearing to conclude that all it will take to change the Catholic Church’s position on same sex behavior is enough time.
Phryne Fisher believes that as well, I’m sure. But that’s not nearly as problematic for me. She’s not supposed to be a devout Catholic. There are many seasons of Murdoch Mysteries, and I have no idea how his faith is handled in later episodes. Maybe it all turns out okay . . . maybe he gets a backbone, and a catechism, and some makeup remover. I quit watching, so I couldn’t tell you.
I didn’t find the content of the show objectionable. As far as I saw there’s no onscreen funny business, and very little gore. But it felt like I was watching a character journeying in the wrong direction, and I’m not much interested in doing that.
I’m really not sure HOW I picked this one. I pretty much never watch American TV shows. (Except for this one.) But, I ended up watching it somehow. At first, I was just intrigued by the fact that two of the first three episodes featured Catholic characters, even though those characters were a crazy stalker guy, and a murdered altar boy. But I kept watching, and it turned out one of the two main characters is a Catholic himself.
Bones, the forensic anthropologist, and Booth, the FBI agent, are played against one another as the brain vs the heart, and reason vs faith. I’m finding the show very enjoyable, if occasionally frustrating.
Considering that the show is about a team of forensic anthropologists and an FBI agent who solve cases by examining the remains of murder victims, there really isn’t much gore or violence. I also appreciate that the cases themselves aren’t salacious, as is often the case in crime-based shows. And while there is some hanky-panky, it’s all been off screen.
I’m only in season two of ten, so I know there is plenty of character development left to come, but I like this show, and I find Booth very endearing, even with his shortcomings.
He tells a nun that he goes to Mass every Sunday, but he also has a son out of wedlock and keeps falling into physical relationships with his ex-girlfriends. I know all of that happens, I just wish the writers didn’t portray it as completely to be expected, and no big deal.
Still, I love how open and matter of fact Booth is about religion. It is a huge theme of the show. It comes up almost every episode, and Booth consistently defends his faith, even if he doesn’t seem to quite understand all the nuances of Catholic doctrine. Unlike Dot in Miss Fisher, he’s not set up as the silly butt of the smart kids’ jokes. The writers treat the perspectives of both Bones and Booth with respect. And unlike Murdoch in Murdoch Mysteries, Booth doesn’t appear to have been made Catholic so we can all watch him learn important lessons about how wrong Catholicism is.
Sometimes they give Bones the last word, and she gets a zinger or two in against religion in general, and Catholicism in particular. But Booth has some profound everyman insights into his faith. He’s a good man and he seems to want to be a good Catholic. And, at this point, that seems very refreshing.
And that’s my honest opinion, but this is a sponsored post.
Okay, your turn. There must be other TV shows out there with Catholic main characters and Catholic themes. Actually, I KNOW there are, because I already asked this on the Catholic All Year Facebook page. But, let’s talk about them here. Are there any mainstream TV shows that feature a Catholic main character who gets it right? Or someone who goes from not particularly Catholic to devout Catholic, rather than the other way around?