Review: Living Biblically 1×1 (US: CBS)

Learn to stone adulterers in a bar

Living Biblically

In the US: Mondays, 9:30/8:30c, CBS

The Bible is full of guidance on how to live your life. However, it was written a long time ago, so while certain bits of advice are timeless (eg “Love thy neighbour”), some of the more specific parts, particularly from the more detailed sections at the beginning, don’t really work as well in modern society and may even not have made much sense in the first place.

For example, there’s plenty about what to eat and drink that would have prevented outbreaks of food poisoning in a hot Middle Eastern country that didn’t have refrigerators, for example, but bacon’s a pretty safe food stuff in most countries now. Meanwhile, rules about how women should be treated when they’re menstruating really don’t cut the mustard any more (Leviticus 15: “Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening… On the eighth day she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and present them to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle”) .

Anyone who decides to stick to the word of the Bible (and all the words at that) is going to have their work cut out for them and probably get some strange looks, too. Indeed, such a source of comedy (and education to some extent) is this idea, it’s already been a best-selling book called The Year of Living Biblically, which has now been turned into a US sitcom, Living Biblically.

Strange rules

This sees tepid Catholic Jay R Ferguson playing a newspaper film critic whose best friend has died really. Then atheist/agnostic wife (Lindsey Kraft) reveals that she’s pregnant and Ferguson starts to search for more meaning to his life.

So he turns to his Catholicism and the Bible for inspiration in his time of need, deciding to live as closely as possible to the Good Book’s teaching, in order to be the best father possible – something that his new priest (Cougar Town‘s Ian Gomez) and his Rabbi friend David Krumholtz (Numb3rs) both find to lie somewhere between commendable and borderline insane.

Episode one of the show sets up all the characters, including Ferguson’s very un-newspaper-like workplace, while putting Ferguson through the mildest of challenges – to not wear fabrics of more than one material (Leviticus 19:19: “Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material”).

Slightly more interestingly, the show also challenges him to stone an adulterer (Deuteronomy 22:22: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die”), which is a least a little brave, since he does actually go through with it.

However, it does indicate that maybe the focus is going to be completely on the Old Testament (otherwise, John 8:11: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”…When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”), since that offers the most opportunities for laughs, although not for depth or any real guidance.

Living Biblically

Simple sitcom

However, that’s really the show’s only source of laughs, since everything concocted to provide a framework for this quasi-biblical scholarship is pretty limp. It’s actually relatively amiable stuff for a single-camera CBS sitcom and ultimately this is still a show about someone trying to be nice to other people. But of laughs, there were but a few – certainly nowhere near enough to feed 5,000, let alone 15 million viewers.

Indeed, amiable is the best that can be said about the show. The cast are okay, but not hugely charismatic. The moral dilemmas are minimal and trite. Jokes are formulaic.

Still, if you want a little biblical education that’s largely set in a bar, you could do worse.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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