Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Heavenly Match no match for UP’s previous offerings. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I tend to like movies on UP TV.  Some are excellent but, whether comedies or dramas (or a mix of the two), almost all of them tell reasonably insightful and interesting stories about likable people that you want to root for. Without being preachy, UP’s refreshingly snark-free films put forth the values of faith through modern-day parables that leave you feeling a little bit better armed to face the world. It’s a type of storytelling the broadcast networks have almost entirely abandoned as they continue to go further and further over the edge while remaining hyper P.C. at the same time. That, of course, requires pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling while studiously coloring within the stringent lines drawn by industry gatekeepers. But I digress.

The point is Heavenly Match (airing tonight 10/12 at 7:00 PM ET on UP TV) is a movie I really wanted and expected to like more not just because I like the network and respect the creative people involved but because I like its premise.

Synopsis (from the UP press release): Life would be perfect for 30-year-old, single Reverend Casey Hart (Samaire Armstrong) if it weren’t for parishioners who poke into her love life and steal money from the collection box.  Not to mention some very inconvenient feelings she is having for her long-time friend, fellow seminary school classmate, and verbal sparring partner, David Swenson (Brenden Penny).  Feeling the pressure of leading the congregation and managing the board’s expectations, Casey questions if she should remain a minister in the church or pursue other career opportunities.  Unsure of her direction, terrified of professional failure and panicked that David has met someone new, Casey turns to her other best friend from school, Reverend LaRonda “Ronnie” Mason (LeToya Luckett).  Can Casey reclaim her confidence while reconciling her clerical robe with high heels and date nights?  A fun-loving look at a single girl’s life on the other side of the altar.

The idea of a dramedy about a female minister called on to lead a quirky, slightly-stuffy congregation could be a lot of fun and perfect for UP TV. In fact, I think the idea has great potential as a TV series as well.  Unfortunately, there’s just something off about Heavenly Match. 

It’s not just the dialogue is a little stilted, it’s that the relationships are too. First of all, there are just too many ministers in the story. Besides, Cassie, there’s her love  Rev. David  Swenson (Brenden Penny, looking an awful like Donald from That Girl) and her best friend Rev. LaRonda Mason (LeToya Luckett) as well as an older (and dying) female minister mentor (whose name I can’t find in the press materials and whose storyline starts)

Taken one by one, the mentor character is fine but her storyline starts and ends rather abruptly — popping up almost like an afterthought, a scene or two and then she’s gone. Personally, I think there should have been a bit more set up for character. Rev. LaRonda is also fine — though I think it may have been more interesting to have given Cassie a best friend from outside the ministry. If you’re going to have virtually everyone she’s close to be a minister, that could be an issue for the character to deal with. Is her world too insular?

But what really throws things off, in my view, is that character of David. He’s just plain boring and the whole idea of him being a minister from another church just throws things off balance. His character may have worked better if his character was a congregant and, perhaps, a member of the parish board that is so skeptical of her ability to mobilize the church.

There’s also a storyline about diminishing church collections — and whether or not someone is dipping his or her hands in the till — that resolves rather unconvincingly.

On the plus side, the script does offer some nice insights on life and a situation that allows for some Scripture quoting that doesn’t come across as forced.  It just could use a little tightening around the edge.

And, despite its problems, I’m not so sure a sequel isn’t in order. It wouldn’t be the first series to find its way after a bumpy pilot (?). The premise, as I said, is solid and I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the character of Cassie continue. I’d suggest losing the boyfriend character and keeping the focus on the growth of Cassie and her relationships with the parish board and the church members. There’s promise here.

Heavenly Match is  produced by Front Street Pictures Harvey Kahn and directed/executive produced by Michael M. Scott, both of whom were behind UPs Far From Home (a film I liked The film is based on Beth Pattillos novel Heavens to Betsy which, in turn, sprang from Pattillos experiences as a female minister.  Cara J. Russell wrote the adapted script. 

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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