"God or the Girl": A Final Assessment
Our strong-stomached critic endures the rest of the series, resisting a temptation to flip over to the Food Network.
By Mary Beth Crain
On Sunday night, “God Or the Girl” came to its “shocking conclusion” (that’s A&E speak for boring finale), in which Joe, Dan and Steve announced their big decisions on whether or not to pursue the Catholic priesthood.
Hey, what happened to Mike? Well, after a tearful spiritual retreat, he made his grand revelation—that he was choosing The Girl and a teaching job—to Fr. Pauselli in Episode 3. Fr. Pauselli was predictably pouty; “You’ve just stuck a dagger into my heart,” he whined, and when Mike, feeling appropriately guilty, replied, “I feel like I’ve let you down,” Fr. Pauselli graciously agreed. “You have let me down,” he said. “But not completely. I know you’ll make a good teacher, and someday, you’ll make a great priest.” In other words, someday you’ll either leave that witch who took you away from me, or she’ll die, and then I’ll have you at last!
Believe me, I only watched this series because I had to. If I weren’t writing about it, I’d have been tuned in to the Food Network, where observing the world’s greatest pastry artists create spectacular gingerbread mansions complete with candy landscaping, or master chef Bobby Flay produce magical Chinese spareribs, would have been infinitely more interesting. Flay’s show, by the way, is called “Boy Meets Grill,” but I think it should be changed to “God Or the Grill,” with Bobby as the spiritual advisor to four young men about to make the agonizing choice between the seminary or culinary school.
And speaking of food, there was plenty of it at the family barbecue where Joe, back from his spiritual retreat in Buffalo, was scheduled to make his earth-shattering pronouncement. Naturally, the show’s creators dragged this out forever. Everybody had to hang around drinking beer and musing about Joe and his chronic indecision (“The idea of Joe actually making a decision is about as realistic as pigs flying,” one of his brothers supportively observed). Then they sat around a big outdoor table, eating and eating and eating, while Joe squirmed and got all red in the face, waiting for the most opportune moment to spring his Big News.
The best part was when Joe finally made his announcement. Bear in mind that his rabid Catholic mom had been pestering him for, like, the last twenty years to become a priest, and this was the moment she’d been waiting for all her life. “Well, I guess this is a good time to share my decision with all of you,” Joe says, and the whole table grows quiet. But mom is still chowing, and doesn’t even put her fork down in respectful anticipation! When Joe utters the fateful words, “I’ve decided not to become a priest,” mom continues to stuff her face! You’d think with a few million people watching her, she’d at least have the good manners to focus her attention on her son instead of her potato salad, but oh well.
The Announcement is attention hog Dan’s shining moment so far. Our 21-year-old Jesus in Training has, to date, galvanized youth groups to spread the Word of God at abortion clinics and strip clubs; carried an 80-pound cross on his shoulders across the Ohio countryside with his “disciple” Catholic frat brothers by his side; and put his relationship with his worshipful girlfriend, Amber, on hold as he ponders what God wants him to do with his life—get married or become a priest.
With his long, wavy locks, ratty T-shirt and boxers peeping up above his worn jeans, Dan looks and tries to act like a sloppy contemporary Jesus. He’s the leader of his set. He commands the absolute obedience and adoration of all who know and love him, particularly the girls, who fawn over him with groupie fervor. “Dan’s definitely a chick magnet,” declares one young lady.
Dan preaches to his awestruck “brothers” and other young people, who practically weep at his feet. He leads something he calls “Jamming for Jesus,” a group of wildly dancing and singing Jesus freaks who look like they’re in the throes of a mass orgasm, and probably are.
In a scene no writer could make up and live to tell about it, Dan takes us into his bathroom, where he’s plastered the mirror above the sink with a picture of Our Savior. “That’s to remind me that when I look in the mirror, I’m not supposed to see me, I’m supposed to see Him,” he explains, apparently missing the joke. The most repulsive aspect to Dan—and there are too many—is his appalling arrogance couched in the guise of spirituality. There are a lot of missing links between Jesus and this conceited zealot who thinks he’s Jesus, but the most glaring is humility.
And so, when it’s time for Dan to announce his decision about his future to “the brothers,” he plays it for all it’s worth. All day the frat house is buzzing; “Dan’s going to tell us his decision at dinner,” is the news flash, and the boys are breathless with excitement. But Dan decides to play cat and mouse. “I think it’ll be more fun if I play with them and make them wait,” he chortles, and everyone has to beg him to “tell” all throughout dinner, at a table that bears a not unintentional resemblance to the Last Supper.
Dan sits at the head of the table, laughing, joking, soaking in the attention until he honestly looks like he’s going to burst. Finally he tells “the brothers” to “guess” whether or not he’ll become a priest or get married. They agree to vote with a “sign”: hands posed in prayer is “priesthood,” arms cradled as though rocking a baby is “marriage.” The final vote is 5 “prayers” and 4 “cradles,” or maybe it’s the other way around, I forget. And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…ladies and gentlemen, the envelope please…and the answer is…
Dan has decided to put the priesthood “on hold,” and spend his remaining two years on campus in the house with his devoted disciples while he takes more time to discern God’s will. The table erupts in cheers; Jesus isn’t leaving us after all! He’s going to remain among us! That’s pretty much exactly what the “brothers” say, with fervent relief, in the post-announcement interviews. All I can say is, to paraphrase an old Italian blessing, “May God deliver you from the Dans of the world and neighbors who are learning the violin.”
Finally we come to Steve, the ex-rich-businessman-turned-campus-minister, who did some missionary work in a literally dirt poor Guatemalan village with a wonderful priest, and discovered what true humanity, true humility, and true discipleship is all about.
Steve tends to cry a lot, and the camera relentlessly focuses in on every tear. But you have to respect him. Of all of the four seminary wannabes, he is the most sincere, and, interestingly enough, the only one who chooses God over The Girl. Not that there is a girl—or rather, if there is a girl, it’s Steve—but no matter. He makes his Big Announcement to the entire parish at mass, and it’s a genuinely moving declaration of gratitude and commitment to an ideal that we know will become, in his case, a reality.
While Joe wanted to be a priest to feel “special,” Mike was too stuck on Aly to really be a contender, and Dan doesn’t really need to become a priest because he’s already Jesus Incarnate, Steve is a refreshing example of a man who gave up wealth and material security for God, and now looks forward, with obvious joy, to serving Him, with the kind of real humility Dan wouldn’t know if it came up and bit him on his holy butt.
So that’s the windup, folks. This being A&E, though, it just can’t be over. We know the sequel will be “God Or the Guy,” in which case the sequel for me will be “A & E or the Food Network.” And nobody’s going to have to sit around guessing what my decision will be.
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And be sure to read Father David Nuss' review of the show here.
Contributing editor Mary Beth Crain's last piece for SoMA was An Easter Parade for the Dogs.
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