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Carla's Top Ten: Religion & TV

by Carla Hinton Published: October 9, 2010

I hope today’s column on religion themed TV shows struc

k a chord with readers.

As promised, I’m listing my favorite spirituality-infused TV episodes. It’s all in fun — nothing too serious. And I guarantee that I probably left off some of your favorites, but that’s why these are my favorites. I encourage you to create your own list, again, just for fun.

OK, I’m going to do this David Letterman style. In other words, I’ll be counting down to my No. 1 favorite episode.

I guess my picks kind of date me, but these are my favorites, so be it.

10. The Church Lady segments on Saturday Night Live. OK, this REALLY dates me. I was just a kid when Dana Harvey introduced the Church Lady (pictured) to the TV world. I probably didn’t get some of her little quips because I was young, but she was hilarious nevertheless. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a little info: Harvey dressed in drag as a prim grey-haired woman called the Church Lady. She talked about the issues of the day and gave her own smug and sanctimonious opinions about them. I gather that her snobby, ultra religious ways hit close to home for some folks and that’s why she was so funny. And she was always linking everything she didn’t like to the devil. Don’t know where Harvey got the idea for the Church Lady, but she sure was a hoot. Could it have been SATAN?!

9. Joan of Arcadia episodes. This was a short-lived show that brought stardom to its star Amber Tamblyn. The CBS show aired from 2003 to 2005. I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show, but I did watch some episodes. What I liked about it was it introduced the idea that God is interested in the everyday matters of believers. Tamblyn portrayed Joan, a teen who spoke with the Lord and performed good works according to His instructions.

8. “Touched by an Angel”: I’m going to be honest with you. I liked “Touched by an Angel,” but I thought a lot of the episodes were too sentimental and the plots were too obvious. Having said that I have to include these episodes because, like “Joan of Arcadia,” they gave the impression that God is interested in the everyday lives of His people — the good, the bad and the ugly. I hated it when Andrew, the angel of death came, but hey, death is a part of life. The good thing about “Touched by an Angel” was that it brought spirituality and the idea that God is all around us to the mainstream. The show, starring Roma Downey and Della Reese, was a huge hit for CBS so it must have resonated with viewers. In hindsight, I think the plot points were deliberatly kept simple to reach a broader audience, particularly people who had never been introduced to some of the spiritual concepts before.

7. “Oprah” episode featuring Kirk Franklin: Franklin, a Grammy Award-winning gospel recording artist, appeared on “Oprah” a few years ago to talk about his struggle with pornography and how his faith healed him from his porn addiction. The reason this episode of “Oprah” makes it into my Top 10, is that it showed a high profile celebrity being candid about his troubles and being equally as candid about the way he overcame those troubles through his faith in the Lord. Oprah couldn’t seem to relate to this. She kept inferring that Franklin would never be truly healed, but he kept insisting (bravo for him!) that he was. The concept of deliverance seemed foreign to Oprah, but Franklin held his ground. I gave him kudos for his bravery in talking about such a touchy subject and his willingness to come on national TV and tell how his struggles threatened everything he stood for and how God changed his life for the better.

6. “Law & Order SVU”: There are too many episodes to mention that include religious themes so I couldn’t really pick one. But what is worth noting is the faith of the character Detective Stabler, portrayed by Christopher Meloni. Stabler is Catholic and viewers can tell that he is devout. There have been many episodes where one gets the sense that the detective’s faith is all that keeps him going as he and his partner investigate some truly horrific crimes.

5. “Glee” — “Grilled Cheesus”: OK, I have to say that this would not necessarily be the way I would introduce a religious

theme in a TV show BUT I like the fact that spirituality was infused in this episode, period. This is one of the most popular shows on TV right now and I have to think that the show was thought-provoking enough to get people talking about their own religious and moral truths and their moral guideposts. That’s what makes for a good episode — thought-provoking and showing different sides of the story.

4. “Seventh Heaven”: This was one of my favorite shows althought it didn’t start out that way. I watched the first couple of episodes and thought, like “Touched by an Angel,” that it was too sentimental. But later as the children’s characters grew up, it seemed that the writers of the show allowed the show to grow up as well. What I mean by that is that the episodes began to seem more realistic and depict some of the real problems and issues that face families, particularly families of teens, these days. Following the lives of the Camden family which was headed by a minister, the show eventually tackled some tough issues like teen pregnancy, teen rebellion (remember all the drama with Mary, the Camden daughter portrayed by Jessica Biel?) and suicide. I don’t know if I had any favorites, but I think I particularly like the episodes that showed the Camden children resolving their tough issues in realistic ways. In other words, sometimes situations were resolved in ways that didn’t leave everyone happy or satisfied, but that’s life, right?

3. “Fraiser” — The “Star Mitzvah” episode: I loved “Frasier” when it was on and I still watch the reruns at night at least once or twice a week. This episode is the one where Frasier is trying to learn to say a short little speech in Hebrew so he can say it at his son Freddy’s bar mitzvah. His co-worker Noel promises he will teach Frasier to say the speech in Hebrew, but he wants Frasier to get him an autograph at an upcoming Star Trek convention. Of course, Frasier being Frasier, he scoffs at Noel’s request. Noel gets revenge by teaching Frasier the speech — in Klingon, a language that the devoted Trekkie Noel has obviously studied seriously. Anyway, the episode culminates with Frasier saying the speech in a language that is clearly not Hebrew. It’s one of the funniest “Frasier” episodes, maybe the funniest. I liked it for the hilarity but also the way they incorporated Freddy’s Jewish heritage into the episode.

2. “The Good Wife,” episode entitled “Boom”: This show, now in its sophomore season, stars Julianna Margulies (of “ER” fame) and Chris Noth (Some folks may know him as Mr. Big from “Sex in the City”). Last season, the show featured an episode about a newspaper being sued for negligence because it ran a cartoon image of the Prophet Muhammad. One of the newspapers editors was killed when someone threw a bomb in the newspaper building. A radical Islamic terrorist group claimed responsibility for the fatal bombing, but there was an interesting twist and viewers find that not is all that it appears on the stereotypical surface. I liked this episode because it resonated with me as a journalist. I was especially intrigued about the ethical questions that surrounded the whole issue of the cartoon. Should a newspaper or any media entity be held liable if it prints a cartoon of a religious figure and the cartoon incites violence? Then, another question arose: Is it ethical for a newspaper or media outlet to print or air something solely for the shock value (and the resulting spike in circulation), even knowing that it might stir violence or put someone in serious jeapordy? Is there a sensitivity to religion and religious figures that should come in to play when these questions are being debated? Anyway, I thought it was a thought-provoking episode.

1.Friends” — “The One With the Holiday Armadillo.” I loved “Friends” on NBC and still watch the reruns. Ross is perhaps my favorite character and in this episode, he is trying to teach his son Ben about Hanukkah. Prior to this episode, I don’t think I had realized that Monica and Ross, who are sister and brother, are Jewish. So Ross prepares to spend some time with Ben and tell him about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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