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Television | Even as a thriller, the TV show Revelations falls far short of the Book

Issue: "The fewer and the proud," April 23, 2005

Christians accustomed to fighting among themselves over end-times prophecy are not going to approve of the eschatology in Revelations (NBC, Wednesdays, 9:00 ET).

And yet, this six-part supernatural thriller presents Christians as good, Satanists as bad. God is real and Jesus is His Son. A Bible-spouting woman derided by some as a "religious fundamentalist" is the heroine. The first episode hinges on her efforts to keep alive a "vegetative" young woman on life support-in Florida, no less-against those who want to pull the plug.

Such a Christian moral and symbolic framework has become so rare in today's culture that it is refreshing to see it in a TV drama. And that framework, as the classic writers knew, makes possible some genuinely good stories.

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Revelations is about a nun, Sister Josepha (Natascha McElhone), who is investigating signs that the biblical end times are at hand. She teams up with a secularist scientist, Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman), who gets involved after Satanists kill his daughter. The result is not so much Left Behind as X-Files, with the two metaphysical detectives with different belief systems tracking down a virgin birth and battling a vast Satanic conspiracy.

The theology is ludicrously confused. Catholicism is the only kind of Christianity Hollywood knows about, though we are told that the church opposes Sister Josepha. The return of Jesus is construed as the birth of a baby, not as His unmistakable coming in power, glory, and judgment. Sister Josepha thinks Jesus has to be protected from the Antichrist and that the cataclysms described in the book of Revelation have to be prevented.

On its own terms, though, Revelations is an effective, involving thriller. (Though with its creepy violence-including against children-it is not for youngsters or the squeamish.) It might do some good in bringing Christian categories back into the popular imagination. But even as a thriller, the TV show Revelations falls far short of the Book.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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