Monday, April 17, 2006

Has TV grown a conscience?

I'm assuming you've seen or at least heard of "God or the Girl" on A&E. If not, read the reviews on Metacritic to learn about it.

Not likely, but after watching "God and the Girl" on A&E and reading a lot of the commentary, it made me think. If you look at the Metacritic page for the show, you'll see a lot of really mixed reviews by the major papers. Reading those reviews was a lot more fascinating for me than watching the show itself. These reviewers... it's almost as if they care about the characters on the show! True, a number of them express their care in existentialist language in order to avoid statements of respect for Catholicism. But even the negative reviews, save for Doug Elfman in the Chicago Sun Times, were negative because they felt the production was distracting from the actual stories of the discerners themselves!

Some great comments, from the least favorable reviews to the most:
  • "But Joe does try to walk from Cleveland to Niagara Falls, relying only on the handouts of strangers who want their mugs on TV. Mike goes on a retreat to escape both Aly and his insistent mentor priest. And Steve Horvath, 25, flies down, all by himself (if you don't count the obviously ever-present producers and cameramen) to Guatemala, not to take a meeting with Danni Boatwright, who won $1 million on Survivor there last winter, but ostensibly to help the poor." - Jonathan Storm, Philly Inquirer.

    Now, Mr. Storm also pointed something out that I want to counter. He quotes Jesus against the show, citing Matthew 6:1--"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: Otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." But he forgets Matthew 5:16--" Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." These teachings are not contradictory, but they point to the fact that Jesus is teaching an interior disposition rather than a mere external commandment. The men on "God or the Girl" were not seeking personal glory, but God's.
  • "If ever there were a reality show that personifies Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - the idea that the act of observing can alter the nature of what's being observed - this is it.

    The spiritual search these four young men are going through (Steve Horvath, 25, and Mike Lechniak, 24, are the others) is real, but what's captured on camera in "God or the Girl" is a lot more suspect.

    Series creators Darryl Silver, Stephen David and David Eilenberg should have come up with a more distant and purer way to observe their subjects." - David Bianculli, New York Daily News

  • "It's remarkable to see how unobtrusive "God or the Girl" is on these young men, on their demanding moms and on their potential lovers, given that it must be getting harder for TV series to simply document people rather than destroy them." - David Bianculli, Chicago Sun Times
  • "What the series leaves you wishing for is more of a portrayal of the power and mystery that binds a person to the Catholic faith. Or, in the spirit of full disclosure, it doesn't commit as sufficiently as I, a lapsed cradle Catholic, would have liked it to.

    The other question so desperate to be answered these days is why young men are still attracted to the priesthood at all -- an institution associated with an outdated patriarchal ideal at best and rampant sex-abuse scandals at the very worst.

    In the middle are many other notions "God or the Girl" fails to sufficiently explore, such as why, in a culture that equates success with power and wealth, would young men choose a life of celibacy and service?" - Melanie McFarland, Seattle P-I

    I really like McFarland's review. The fact that she identifies herself as a "lapsed Catholic" but nevertheless feels intrigued and inspired by the men on the show--and irritated by the production's cheapening of their stories--is exactly the kind of thing that convinces me that "God or the Girl" was, in the end, a good thing.

  • "Too many deeply religious folk already harbor a persecution complex when it comes to their depiction in the media. It would be a shame if "God or the Girl" adds to that sense of distrust simply because A&E's tendency to sensationalize has left them unable to distinguish the forest from the trees." - Brian Lowry, Variety

    Cheers to Lowry for the brief nod to the plight of the "deeply religious folk."

  • "The creators of ''God or the Girl," Darryl Silver, Stephen David, and David Eilenberg, neither ridicule nor revere their subjects, despite obvious opportunities. At regular intervals, one of the young men says or does something that most reality producers would exploit shamelessly, such as when Mike, who is dating Aly, says he resists making out with her because lust is ''sick and disgusting." ''The Bachelorette" would have hung an entire episode, and relentless promotion of the episode, around that comment. Joe, too, could be easily pathologized since he's so profoundly fearful of romance. And Dan spends his spare time praying at strip clubs and abortion clinics, a fact that the producers let us judge for ourselves." - Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe.

    What Gilbert writes here is a common observation by reviewers. Generally, they're struck by the uncommon non-judgmentalism of the series (with the exception of some really awful cut-scene commentaries). Now, I know guys in the seminary who are very much like each of the four men on the show. That means, to me, that if people find things to like about the guys on the show, then by extension they would find lots to like about the next generation of priests.

  • "That this type of spiritual dilemma still plays out in an age of cynicism is inspiring to follow, even if too many of the usual reality show trappings (intrusive music, manipulative narratives) detract from the central theme. Despite that, "God or the Girl" is laudable simply for bringing the issue of morality and higher calling to a genre notably devoid of same." - Ray Richmond, The Hollywood Reporter

    Here here!

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