The Antichrist Is Coming, the Antichrist Is Coming! To NBC, That Is.
Could the new series “Revelations” possibly be as bad as it sounds? The evidence suggests it'll be even worse.
By John D. Spalding
In the six-episode series that premiers on NBC tonight at 9, Bill Pullman finds himself at the start of Armageddon, as a spaceship a quarter the size of the moon hovers over the earth, blowing up the Empire State building and the White House with a corny sci-fi laser. Will Pullman be able to stop this evil force before it takes over the planet?
Oh, wait. That was Bill Pullman in “Independence Day.” In “Revelations,” he finds himself again at the onset of Armageddon, only this time as a brain-dead girl begins channeling his deceased daughter (killed by a Satanist) who wants her father to join a fervent nun on a search for clues that the world is coming to an end. “Revelations” poses several intriguing questions, the first of which is: Could this series really be as horrible as it sounds?
The clues, I’m afraid, portend that it will it be even worse than that. Based on a literal reading of the Book of Revelation, this series was created to appeal to the conservative Christians who read the Left Behind series, went with their churches to see “The Passion of the Christ,” and helped re-elect George Bush. “We felt what needed to be done is a television show that expressed itself as Christian,” Gavin Polone, an executive producer of the show, told the New York Times last month. “We’re very clear about that here. The words ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ’ are used three times a minute.”
When an executive producer offers freely that he enforced a “Jesus Christ” quota, you hardly need more evidence that this series will be lousy, though there’s a mountain of it.
I haven’t seen the first episode yet, but Tom Shales, television critic for the Washington Post, has. He reports that the dialogue is awful (“Clearly, the endgame for Earth has begun”), the performances aren’t credible, and the story is “monotonously bombastic and overblown from the outset.” “Lightning appears to strike a girl not just once but twice,” he writes, “the second time while she’s on the limb of a tree to which the first strike hurled her.” Well, at least it doesn't strike her in church, say, as she questions the miracles of Jesus.
The quality of the show's production, Shales notes, is also poor. Though “Revelations” hops around the world faster than a James Bond film, “you may still get the feeling that most of it was shot in Toronto.” Even the lighting is bad: “You'd think that in the nominal interest of realism, scenes set in hospitals would at least be lit brightly enough so that patients' faces, not to mention their other parts, could actually be seen by the naked eye.”
But Land and Jenkins aren’t all praise for the show. In reviews they wrote separately for Beliefnet (here and here), both criticize the series for not being biblical enough. Jenkins points out that the show is called “Revelations,” with an S, whereas the last book of the Bible is “Revelation,” singular. “Even the title jangles in the ears of evangelicals, the base audience to which the producers claim they’re trying to cater,” he writes. Land adds that the S in the title is “a signal to viewers that extreme dramatic license is being taken with the biblical narrative.”
Among the “more egregious goofs,” Jenkins says, is the show’s depiction of the antichrist. “Scripture may be complicated on a lot of issues,” he writes, “but it is clear that Antichrist will be so attractive and persuasive and beautiful that everyone without Christ will believe not only that he is one of the good guys, but that he is likely God incarnate…until he eventually shows his true colors. In Revelations, this character is such a villain from the beginning that no one would be fooled by him.”
Still, there’s apparently much in the show evangelicals will like. As the New York Times noted, the book of Revelation, the series’ source material, features “a judgmental, unambiguously sectarian God who has vowed one day to destroy mankind—or at least all non-Christians—in a wave of plague, famine, pestilence and war.”
Natascha McElhone, who plays the nun in “Revelations,” believes the show has universal appeal. “I defy anyone to say they’re not interested in the questions that are being asked here,” she told the Times.*
Riiiight. Lots of people aren’t intrigued by questions framed by biblical literalism, myself included. Nevertheless, I might watch the show anyway, to see how liberals come off. Richard Land says “Revelations” includes “the typical little Hollywood cheap shots at conservative Christians.” He cites a scene in which a doctor explains that the aforementioned brain-dead girl is in a “persistent vegetative state,” which the doc characterizes as “an unfortunate area of debate,” remarking that “right-to-lifers would claim consciousness and brain waves on a night crawler.” (Hmmm. Doesn’t that sound like something an M.D. just might actually quip?)
But given the lengths NBC has gone to attract religious viewers, I’m curious whether they’ll also include, to borrow Land’s phrase, the typical little conservative Christian cheap shots at liberals. The kind of unflattering portrayals you’ll find in the Left Behind books, or the sort of dig Richard Land makes when he describes Pullman’s character as “an initially skeptical (surprise, surprise) Harvard scientist.”
Tonight will tell.
*The Times attributed this quote to “Mr. McElhone,” and later printed a correction stating they’d misidentified the actress Natasha McElhone as a man. But I suspect a different error occurred. I think the writer meant to attribute the quote to “Mr. Polone,” the NBC executive quoted elsewhere in the piece. Ms. McElhone isn’t quoted anywhere else by the Times, and it’s not the kind of comment an actress like her would make. I mean, look at her. No, those are more likely the boastful words of a network big swinging dick. But, I could be wrong.
Also: the Times apparently no longer links to the article I’ve mentioned above; just to the correction pertaining to it.
John D. Spalding is the editor of SoMAreview.com and the author of A Pilgrim's Digress: My Perilous, Fumbling Quest for the Celestial City.
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