Stars of ‘Living Biblically’ Talk About Religion’s Place in Pop Culture

The CBS sitcom is based on A. J. Jacobs' nonfiction best-seller "The Year of Living Biblically."

February 19, 2018 5:00 am
Jay R. Ferguson in 'Living Biblically.' (CBS)
Jay R. Ferguson in 'Living Biblically.' (CBS)

Plenty of people find themselves at a crossroads in their lives. What happens when one modern man decides to live strictly in accordance with the Bible?

This is the premise of the new comedy series, Living Biblically. Yes, it’s a comedy series.

Following the loss of his best friend, and facing fatherhood, Chip Curry decides to put his slightly obsessive temperament to use and embarks on a journey to live 100% by the Bible.

Leslie, his wife, is both skeptical and entertained by her husband’s quest, but supports him completely.

Knowing he’ll need some practical advice, Chip forms a “God Squad” that includes Father Gene, a Catholic Priest and Father Gene’s best friend, Rabbi Gil Ableman.  At work, Chip leans on his no-nonsense boss, Ms. Meadows, and his friend, Vince.

The series is executive produced by Johnny Galecki, best known for his role as scientist Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory.

Galecki explained how he came to the concept of the series at a recent press event, saying, “When I started my production company, it was number one at the top of the list to try to do a comedy about religion and the struggles and the questions that we have.”

The series is influenced by his childhood, said Galecki. “My mother spent many years in the convent, before she met my father, and before I was born, obviously. So, there were a lot of elements of Catholicism in my upbringing. It kind of turned hippie Catholic, as years went on, with a lot of sitting [cross-legged] and with acoustic guitars, which was wonderful.”

Fellow Executive Producer on the show, Patrick Wilson added, “[n the pitch] I was saying that the only time you hear about religion is in a harshly negative way, and not a critical word here, but churchy  —  to a point where it excludes people who are not religious. I think religious people are not given credit for having a sense of humor, and I think nonbelievers are not given credit for being curious about religion. We get into some pretty interesting topics on this show, and that’s a goal, to serve an underserved audience,

Joining Jay R. Ferguson in the cast, who plays Chip, are Lindsey Kraft as his wife, David Krumholz as Rabbi Gil, Ian Gomez as Father Gene, Tony Rock as Vincent, and Camryn Manheim as Ms. Meadows.

When the cast was asked about consulting the bible for their roles, they were quick to respond.

“In school, I read [it], so I wasn’t surprised by anything. It’s a whacky book,” laughed Gomez.

Krumholtz said, “It’s a very long storybook with lots of rules in it.”

“My grandfather is a reverend, and it was if anything, it was “Oh, yeah, I remember I heard that before,” admitted Rock.

Manheim added, “I’m a secular Jew, so a lot of it was a big surprise to me.”

Playing a priest and a rabbi respectively, Gomez and Krumholtz admitted that their exposure to men in these professionals has been limited.

“{I didn’t have any kind of relationship with any rabbis],” said Krumholtz, “But my father had a soft spot for Judaism. He wasn’t devout or religious, but he grew up with the traditions of it so he kept me devout for quite some time.”

Gomez revealed, “I’ve met a few priests in my life who were not who you would consider ‘priestly.’ There was one guy in Chicago who, under his robes, had a Chicago Blackhawks jersey on. I’ve known priests you would consider to be the typical priest, like a humorless guy. I’m not that guy. I’m more of the Blackhawks guy.”

It’s not lost on everyone involved that there are controversial concepts in the Bible, like homosexuality and misogyny, that might alienate some viewers should the narrative address these topics.

To this Walsh responded, “As far as homosexuality, It was discussed and discussed, and we couldn’t break [a story about it]. As far as the misogyny in the Bible, that’s in episode eight. We do tackle these issues head-on. We’re not pretending that they don’t exist. And, while Chip is a modern man living by the Bible, there are certain things that he will not be doing.”

Walsh is a bit concerned about offending people but says that “I don’t think there is any scenario where the show wouldn’t bother someone in the world. But it is absolutely not the goal.” He added, “Our goal is never to offend, and I think it would be crazy in this day and age to do a show that is trying to offend people of faith.”

Giving her take on the appeal of the show, Manheim said, “I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be a big indictment on the Bible, on the way we interpret it in modern day,’ but the truth is it somehow kind of gorgeously straddles both sides — If you’re non-religious, I think you can go, ‘These are the things that really piss me off,’ and if you are religious, I think you can say, ‘These are things that don’t seem to work well in my life, but I do see the soulfulness of it.’”

To give the series authenticity, Walsh says that the production team has a priest and a rabbi read every draft of the script. “[They] tell us where we are wrong in certain cases, or where we could use a better example from the Bible.”

When questioned as to why there were no nuns on staff, Walsh commented, “Well, we have a limited budget. We’re a first-year show. But the priest and the rabbi are very helpful, and I would definitely not be opposed to adding more consultants as we explore other religions, which we would like to do.”

He says that in the narrative Chip’s wife, Leslie, is an atheist, “So you get that point of view. I think it just makes for some very meaty and interesting discussions.”

In addition to this, Ms. Meadows is a lesbian, and Walsh said that “She has her own personal background with religion.” He also pointed out that, ”Vince goes to his aunt’s church to meet girls. There are all different reasons that people align themselves with religion on this show, and that will lead to a lot of future stories and conflicts.”

Translating the Bible into everyday life isn’t without its challenges, but it’s a goal worth the effort, said Galecki. “One of the biggest hurdles is the fear to have the conversation about it. I think there is something like over 100 million Bibles printed annually and yet I’ve never seen anybody at Starbucks reading one. As we all know, the best way to approach a conversation that people are uncomfortable with is with comedy. Our goal here is, one, to make people laugh, and, two, to inspire a conversation around the water cooler that people might have otherwise been uncomfortable with, no matter what the result of that conversation.”

‘Living Biblically’ debuts Monday, February 26th at 9:30e/8:30c on CBS.

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