Your handy guide to true religions on TV - Judaism and Christianity

Posted on May 10, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Castiel the Angel in Supernatural

This entry is one of a series of articles covering religions depicted on TV as being true. For full details and a list of the other religions covered, go to the introduction.

Judaism and Christianity
Christianity has been the dominate religion in most of the West, especially Europe, for hundreds of years. There are, of course, many denominations of Christianity, each with their own beliefs, and much of Western literature either includes Christian figures or embodies Christian values in some ways. It stemmed from Judaism and the two religions still share certain core beliefs and figures: God, angels and so on. However, Jesus is particular to Christianity, of course, while Mary and the saints are really only prominent in Catholicism and Orthodox religions. 

Mormonism, a (debatably) Christian denomination, almost gets its own show - Battlestar Galactica, which is based in part on the Book of Mormon - but that show doesn't prove Mormonism's truth or show Mormon teachings.

In terms of TV, God actually shows up surprisingly infrequently - or unsurprisingly, given he doesn't have a physical form in the Bible - although he appears in metaphor in shows such as Home Improvement. Jesus shows up occasionally, but far more common are the Devil and demons. 

As for shows that show the truth of Judaism and Jewish religious stories but that couldn't also be Christian stories, there aren't any that I can think of, beyond an episode of The X-Files featuring a golem that despite trying very hard, gets a whole bunch of stuff wrong.

1. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
A dramatisation of the New Testament, starring Robert Powell as Jesus. Not strictly faithful to the Bible, but does depict the risen Christ at the end, as well as his miracles.
Further reading
Buy it

2. The Bible (2013)
Covers the entire Bible from Genesis through to Revelation, with five hours covering the Old Testament and five covering the New Testament, so both a Christian and a Jewish work.
Further reading
Buy it

3. Big Love (2006-2011)
While not actually showing any divine acts, the show depicts Mormon polygamy.
Further reading
Buy it

4. Millennium (1996-1999)
While not initially a show supporting any religion, towards the end of the first season with the show's Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, this thriller about an FBI profiler took on a supernatural, apocalyptic quality, with demons and angels both making appearances.
Further reading
Buy it

5 The X-Files (1993-2002)
Two FBI agents investigate the supernatural and while the focus was mainly on UFOs and American urban legends, the show occasionally took in aspects of Judaeo-Christianity, including the Devil, angels and Nephilim.
Further reading
Buy it

6 John From Cincinnati (2007)
What initially starts as a story about surfers on the West Coast of America quickly transforms into something far weirder, with miracles and ghosts aplenty, with the second coming of Jesus in the form of John From Cincinnati, who can only talk in phrases he's already been told.
Further reading
Buy it

7. The Second Coming (2003)
Steve Baxter (Christopher Eccleston) discovers he is the Son of God and has just a few days to find the human race's Third Testament and thus avert the Apocalypse.
Further reading
Buy it

8. Witchblade (2001-2002)
Adapted from a comic book in which an alien artefact gives its female wearer a chainmail bikini and the ability to fire lasers, the TV series was a far subtler thing. In it, the Witchblade is revealed to be 'a branch ripped from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil'. Later episodes go on to feature the Christian legend of the Wandering Jew as well as the spear that pierced Jesus's side while he was on the Cross.
Further reading
Buy it

9. The Unit (2006-2009)
Largely, a mix of special forces action and Army Wives, this action adventure show to a turn for the Christian when The Unit is sent to South America to find a Brigadoon-like monastery that houses the spear that pierced Jesus's side while he was on the Cross.
Further reading
Buy it

10. Brimstone (1998-1999)
The Devil (John Glover) lets one of Hell's inmates out so he can catch some escapees. Interestingly, when an angel appears, he's also played by John Glover.
Further reading

11. Reaper (2007-2009)
Slacker discovers his parents sold his soul to the Devil, and now has to work for him reclaiming escapees from Hell.
Further reading
Buy it

12. Saving Grace (2007-2010)
Sinning atheist cop is offered redemption by an angel.
Further reading
Buy it

13. Highway To Heaven (1984-1989)
An angel and a mortal friend travel America, helping those in need.
Further reading
Buy it

14. Touched by an Angel (1994-2003)
A whole bunch of angels travel America, helping those in need. Features the arrival of God in the final episode.
Further reading
Buy it

15. Supernatural (2005-)
Two brothers track down demons and other supernatural beasts. Although initially featuring just demons, the show eventually adds angels, the Devil, and other Christian and Jewish figures. The show has also featured gods from other pantheons, including the Hindu, Roman and Norse; however, these are either depicted as bad guys (they eat babies) or as inferior to even angels (who kill them).
Further reading
Buy it

16. Eli Stone (2008-2010)
A lawyer begins to have visions and suspects he might be a prophet sent by God. Although the show equivocates about whether the visions are divine or caused by a brain aneurism, the show eventually plumps for God.
Further reading
Buy it

17. Quantum Leap (1989-93)
Putting right 'what once when wrong', time-travelling physicist Sam Beckett soon discovers that his ventures into the past to make people's lives better may not be so random after all. While the question of whether God is controlling Beckett's leaps is left ambiguous for most of the show's run, the final episode is pretty clear than God is behind it all.
Further reading
Buy it

18. Joan of Arcadia (2003-5)
Teenager Joan Girardi is chosen by God to fix people's lives. Since God appears as a different person each time, Joan worries she might be mad, but since everything always works out well, it's pretty clear God is behind it all.
Further reading
Buy it

19. Eternal Law (2012)
Two angels are sent down from heaven to help in court cases.
Further reading
Buy it

20. Apparitions (2008)
Catholic priest and exorcist Martin Shaw is tempted and his faith tested by various demons.
Further reading
Buy it

21. Afterlife (2005)
Psychic Lesley Sharp can communicate with the dead. Although God and co are a no show, Sharp's heroine does say she is 'doing God's work'.
Further reading
Buy it

22. Being Human (2009-13)
A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost flat-share. While their supernaturalness is initially regarded as something natural, with a Christian fundamentalist showing up in the second season and conclusively proved to be bad, the final season features the Devil.
Further reading
Buy it 

23. Angels in America (2003)
HBO mini-series mainly about the AIDS outbreak during the mid-80s. However, there are visitations by both ghosts and an angel, with one character commanded to be a prophet.
Buy it

24. Save Me (2013)
Anne Heche is a sinning party girl who chokes to death on a sandwich and becomes a prophet of the Lord.
Further reading

25. Miracles (2005)
A sort of religious X-Files, Miracles saw Skeet Urich and others investigate miracles to see if they were true evidence for the existence of God. With people coming back from the dead, miraculously and cured, the answer was probably yes, but a big question of the show was whether 'God is nowhere' or 'God is now here'.
Buy it

26. Life On Mars (2006-7)/Ashes to Ashes (2008-10)
2006 policeman Sam Tyler gets knocked down in a car accident and wakes up in 1973. Is he dead, mad or in a coma? While the ending was slightly ambiguous, the general suggestion was that he'd been in a coma. However, a sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, finally answered the question definitively, showing that he, the people he'd met in 1973, as well as new arrival policewoman Alex Drake, had been in a form of limbo or purgatory. The US remake, however, came to a completely different conclusion, so is not included.
Further reading 1, 2
Buy it 1, 2

Related entries

  • May 17, 2013: More religions added to the blog's handy guide
    More additions to the guide to true religions
  • May 28, 2013: Review: Save Me 1x1-1x2 (NBC)
    A review of the first two episodes of NBC's Save Me
  • May 13, 2013: Your handy guide to true religions on TV
    All the scripted shows on Western, English-language TV that have not just featured religions but have actually shown them to be true in some way or other
  • June 28, 2013: Yet more Christian shows added to the guide
    I've added Save Me, Angels in America, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes and Miracles to the guide to Christian shows

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