In a lot of ways — often in too many ways — American Catholics are just like other Americans, and that goes for the TV we like. But in watching TV through Catholic eyes, I’ve found shows that offer us things I think we need. Here are a few (warning, they’re not all family friendly) …
“The Flash” (The CW): The DC Comics-inspired drama, starring Grant Gustin as super-fast Barry Allen, won a Christopher Award for its emotional, positive outlook (a contrast to the generally grittier, more dystopian comic-book fare on TV and in movies). As executive producer Andrew Kriesberg told me in an interview, “What really appealed to us to do the show was to embrace the light, the hope and the joy of being a superhero — helping people.”
The show ended with a blockbuster finale that hit on touching themes of self-sacrifice and the many kinds of real love — I talk about those in detail here — living up to the promise of its first season.
Some obligatory progressive themes are woven in (there’s a gay police captain planning a wedding), but they’re not central to the main story, which leans heavily on friends and family, especially the importance of fathers. And at least so far, there’s been almost no sexual content, and what there was, was PG.
The same production team is behind CBS’ upcoming “Supergirl.” I’ve seen the pilot, and it has a similar bright, upbeat tone, but focusing more on the complex interactions of sisters and mothers.
“Marvel’s Daredevil” (Netflix): At the opposite end of the TV-superhero spectrum is this dark adaptation of the Marvel Comics book/graphic novel. Blinded in a childhood accident that also enhanced his other senses, New York lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) prowls the grimy streets of Hell’s Kitchen (the way it used to be, not the gentrified enclave it is now), fighting bad guys of the ordinary human persuasion.
As he was on the page, Murdock is a Catholic and often goes to his priest to wrestle with reconciling his faith with his violent (and I do mean, violent) extracurricular activities.
Sexual content in season one is nearly nonexistent, but the fight sequences, though they have a brutal balletic beauty, are extreme. On the upside, Murdock doesn’t have special healing powers (like the Flash has, for instance), so he suffers along with his victims. He’s not a killer, but sometimes that’s a fine distinction (I examine that in more depth here, along with the show’s take on the Church and Cox’s own Catholicism).
But, “Daredevil” takes faith seriously and asks important questions about right, wrong, friendship and loyalty. Send the kids to bed, settle in and click here for some binge-watching (and there will be a season two).
“Silicon Valley” (HBO): Please, please also get the kids out of the room before watching this comedy about a bunch of geek types trying to launch a new tech start-up in the Bay Area of Northern California. There’s no real sex or violence, and minimal (non-sexy) nudity, but the language is truly appalling (and one of the characters claims to be a Satanist, but he doesn’t really do anything about it).
What makes it worthwhile is, A, it’s funny (the creator is Mike Judge of “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill”), and B, it’s a painless primer on modern American business and entrepreneurship.
On the way to funding a new tech company called Pied Piper (it even has its own blog), shy, awkward programmer Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and bombastic start-up “incubator” owner Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) bumble and scheme their way through successes and failures in a pressure-cooker atmosphere of bizarre billionaires and ramen-noodle dinners.
Catholics sometimes seem allergic to entrepreneurship and business, or, as a friend of mine puts it, “They think it’s more virtuous to dig with a spoon than a shovel.” But if we are to baptize all nations, we have to speak the language of the unconverted, and today, that’s tech.
“Silicon Valley” will give you a starting vocabulary and a working knowledge of venture capital and start-up culture, along with relieving you of any illusions you may have about how business works. Then, as with anything, take the best, and leave the rest — and go create an app of your own (or a TV show about it).
To watch, you’ll need an HBO subscription (there are a couple of episodes left in the current season two, and you can watch on the official site; then there’s On Demand), or the standalone HBO GO online streaming service. Season three has already been picked up.
And, by the way, Judge has a gift for skewering the peculiarities of the faith-hostile and family-unfriendly San Francisco Bay Area.
As Bachman pointed out to a pair of Christian guys pitching him an app, “Christianity is borderline illegal in Northern California.”
In the same episode, an aging-hippie neighbor opposed to the goings-on at the incubator (otherwise known as Bachman’s suburban house) declared, “The neighborhood is mostly families — people with pets, you know.”
Images: Courtesy HBO, The CW, Netflix