The Christian Bible is a holy text composed across centuries, representing complicated perspectives on everything from the great spiritual mysteries, to slave management, to goat-boiling. It’s complicated, you might say.
On the lazy new CBS sitcom Living Biblically (premiering tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS), a lapsed Catholic, Chip (Jay R. Ferguson), reaches for the Good Book. He’s in a moment of crisis and transformation: His best friend has died, and his wife (Lindsey Kraft) is pregnant with their first child. He wants to be a better man, so he decided to follow the Bible’s instructions, to the letter.
It’s a catchy concept, adapted from a book by former EW staffer A.J. Jacobs. But Living Biblically replaces Jacobs’ playfully twisted tone with expired gags about the Jonas Bothers, Twilight, and Blockbuster Video. Like a lot of latter-day network sitcoms, Biblically overstretches its premise with too-familiar settings. By day, Chip is in a workplace sitcom, with a dedicated single pal (Tony Rock) and a funny-tough boss (Camryn Manheim). He’s also juggling personal drama (like a disapproving mother-in-law). And he hangs out in a bar with his own personal “God Squad,” a priest played by Ian Gomez and a rabbi played by David Krumholtz.
Krumholtz and Gomez are great. Their characters are the most endearing kind of holy men: Clever, thoughtful, comedically aware of the confusing paradoxes built into their profound religious dedication. “A priest and a rabbi never walk out of a bar”: That’s the setup, and there’s a crackle in their scenes that the rest of the show can’t approach. The workplace stuff is bargain-bin farce; it doesn’t take long for the old broken elevator gag. Ferguson was charming on Mad Men and a laugh riot for a few scenes of last year’s Twin Peaks, but he looks a bit lost here. Part of the fun here should be how Chip wrestles with the knotty complexity of the Bible’s small print, but the show makes things too easy for him, rewarding his goodness with unconvincing regularity. C