Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

HBO’s “Big Love”–And Why I’m Longing for TV’s Next Buffy

posted by donna freitas

HBO has given its latest series “Big Love“–about a polygamous family from a Mormon offshoot group–the coveted post-Sopranos time slot, 10pm on Sundays, beginning March 12th. In other words, executives are planning to make a “Desperate Housewives”-sized splash in an effort to snag a large audience interested in following the trials and tribulations of Bill Hendrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).

The show’s creator has called the Hendricksons “America’s next great family like the Cleavers, the Petries, or the Huxtables” (insert me gagging here). Let’s take a moment to think about that. America’s next great family? AMERICA’S NEXT GREAT FAMILY? Of course the show is going to play up how the women find in polygamy a sisterly camaraderie, along with the expected rivalries and jealousies. The show will explore how these wives have somehow chosen this life as one that’s empowering rather than demeaning, while also dramatizing all the petty disputes that will surely have them frustrated and conniving. And let’s not forget how poor, poor Bill is not simply a husband living every man’s sexual fantasy but is exhausted by the conjugal demands of his polygamous lifestyle. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. Give me a break.

Here’s what depresses me most of all. I can’t think of one current television series that deals with religious themes and does not also perpetuate the patriarchal status quo when it comes to women. Long gone is Buffy Summers of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“–the uncharacteristically female chosen one, savior of all humanity, a teenaged girl representing the classic Jesus figure. Our heroine Buffy has been replaced by what? Shows like the laughable “Book of Daniel,” mercilessly canceled after only three episodes, which centered on a man and his “close,” albeit comical, relationship with Jesus; “Lost” which happens to be one of my favorite television series of all time, but disappointingly and typically defaults all the religious power to the show’s male leads, Jack, Locke, Mr. Ecco; and “Invasion,” another show I love and which has terrific religious overtones, yet still resorts to handing all true leadership power to its male characters. And now this “Big Love,” which sounds like a celebration of the supposed normalcy of polygamy–which is widely known as a framework for male sexual power and gratification and female subjugation.

Forgive me, but I’m not buying it. Where, oh where, is the next Buffy hiding? Have we given up on roles for women that explode traditional notions of gender and power?

(By the way, “Big Love,” the TV series, should not be confused with last summer’s “The Big Love,” a hilariously wonderful novel by Sarah Dunn, which will have anyone who grew up with a serious dash of Christianity in their youth rolling on the floor, trying to calm their side-splitting laughter. )

“Da Vinci Dialogue” Dissent

posted by kris rasmussen

Is Sony Studios trying to buy the Christian community’s support by hiring a publicity firm to promote its upcoming church conspiracy thriller ,“The Da Vinci Code,” to the religiously-inclined masses? That’s the question being heatedly debated by those in and out of the Christian community after the launch of a new website, The Da Vinci Dialogue. Sony has spent a significant amount of money (some reports have said $2 million dollars) to develop this site in conjunction with a company that specializes in marketing mainstream films to the church community.

The Da Vinci Dialogue website, which features a variety of essays examining the controversial religious issues surrounding the story, supposedly grew out of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s desire “to respect those concerns by providing a forum where a wide variety of respected religious scholars could discuss some of the serious questions the movie may raise.” However, the site has not only received criticism from newspapers such as UCLA’s “Daily Bruin”–which called it nothing more than a publicity stunt–but also from well respected Christians within the Hollywood community who feel little productive dialogue can come from debating “Da Vinci.”

The most interesting response may have come from Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun who runs Act One, a group that trains Christians to work in Hollywood. On her blog and here on Beliefnet, you can read her well-worded rant on the subject of the Da Vinci Dialogue website–and her idea for a counter-response to the movie. She, along with other Hollywood insiders, are calling for Christians to bypass “Da Vinci” and instead go see another film that opens the same weekend–the animated picture “Over The Hedge.”

Trying to convince thousands of people to go see a movie based on a comic strip as a response to one that claims “everything our fathers told us about Christ is false”? I think that will stir up about as much of a reaction from Hollywood as the Da Vinci Dialogue website will stir up thought-provoking discussion among Christians. Which is to say, very little. I am quite skeptical of either approach as a productive reaction, even though I do believe the Da Vinci Dialogue site is well crafted and informative. I wish Sony would have taken a page from the marketing for “Chronicles of Narnia” and done something like the “Narnia On Tour” promotion, in which scholars did face-to-face dialogue with fans at various universites across the country. Now that might bring about some substantial and enlightening discussion worthy of all of this dissent.

Turning the Other Cheek on ‘Idol’

posted by ellen leventry

American Idol contestant Mandisa Hundley threw the book at brash Brit judge Simon Cowell Wednesday night–a bit of the Good Book, that is. After the full-figured Hundley’s initial audition in Chicago, Cowell raised eyebrows and ire by asking if the stage was “Going to be bigger this year” and responding to Paula Abdul’s comment that she sounded like former Idol contestant Frenchie Davis by saying “Forget Frenchie, she’s like France.”

Last night, after the contestants made their way to a semi-final group of 44, Mandisa and the other Idol hopefuls faced judges Randy Jackson, Paula, and Simon one last time to find out whether they had made it to the final group of 24. Instead of releasing a string of expletives at Simon, a common occurrence on the show, Mandisa calmly addressed him saying:

A lot of people want me to say a lot of things to you. But this is what I want to say to you. Yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was painful… But I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, and that you don’t need someone to apologize to forgive them. And I figure that if Jesus could die so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, then I could certainly extend that same grace to you.

A very refreshing sentiment on a show where God’s name is usually invoked by braggarts. Jackson responded to Mandisa’s spiel with an “Amen,” while Cowell confessed, “I’m humbled… I’m just so appalling aren’t I?”

Apparently, Hundley has discovered the one thing that cows Simon Cowell–forgiveness.

CCM Artists Get a “Second Chance”

posted by kris rasmussen

Because I spent my formative teen years avidly listening to Christian music artist Michael W. Smith and Christian rocker/satirist Steve Taylor, I watched “The Second Chance,” a movie which stars Smith and was directed by Taylor, hoping it would not be another cheesy, small-budget Christian flick that would do nothing to convince Hollywood that Christians know anything about storytelling. The movie, which opens in very limited release tomorrow, attempts to earnestly look at church politics, racial division, and urban outreach to the poor by throwing Ethan (played by Smith)–a prodigal son/former musician/associate pastor–together with an unorthodox and often angry African-American pastor, Jake. (Ethan has been sent by his wealthy suburban church to “observe and learn” at Jake’s inner-city church, The Second Chance Community Church.)

Though the acting performances, including Smith’s, are all surprisingly respectable–and I have seen far worse overtly Christian films than this one–there is still much to be critical of in this movie, which beats us over the head again and again with every spiritual cliché possible. But then again, this movie is clearly intended solely for the conservative Christian church community. It is obvious that “Second Chance” was not conceived as a platform to reach the secular marketplace and has no interest in what Hollywood might think of it. So maybe it will touch its intended audience in some way and prompt some healthy conversation among those churchgoers who attend the movie.

But for me, the disappointment lingered long after the final credits rolled, because I want to see Taylor one day direct a truly great indie film that says something fresh about the Christian journey. I have to believe anyone who wrote the lyrics to “I blew up the clinic real good” and “I want to be a clone” has it in him. So when his next flick comes out, I will still give Taylor a second chance and watch it.

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