The people behind the new CBS sitcom “Living Biblically” really didn’t want to offend religious people. Or nonreligious people.
If only they’d been as concerned about offending people who like good television.
Executive producer Johnny Galecki (“Big Bang Theory”) wondered about the lack of religion on TV, adding that his No. 1 goal for his new production company was to do a comedy about it. He bought the rights to A.J. Jacobs’ book “The Year of Living Biblically,” and executive producer/writer Patrick Walsh (“2 Broke Girls”) turned it into a sitcom.
Walsh said it’s “strange” that “the only times you hear religion discussed on television are either harshly critical” or “sanitized.”
They’re right. There should be a place on TV for a show like this. But “Living Biblically” doesn’t get a pass because its intentions are good.
Jay R. Ferguson (“The Real O’Neals,” “Mad Men”) stars as Chip Curry, a film critic who, mourning the death of his best friend, decides he wants to make changes to his life and visits a priest, Father Gene (Ian Gomez, “Cougar Town”).
“For the most part, I’m a good man, but I want to be great,” Chip says. “And, I know it sounds crazy, but the real reason I’m here is because I’ve decided to live my life 100 percent by the Bible.”
“You mean in general,” Father Gene says.
“Oh, no, Father. To the letter,” Chip replies — not just the love-thy-neighbor stuff, but all the stringent Mosaic law stuff.
The priest bursts out laughing and asks Chip if he’s stoned.
Chip has also just learned that his smart, charming, atheist wife, Leslie (Lindsey Craft, “Grace and Frankie”), is pregnant. She’s mostly supportive of his newfound religious fervor, even when Chip tells her, “I won’t be able to touch you while you’re on your period, and if you get too crabby I’m supposed to go live in the desert. You know, it’s just Bible stuff.”
Ugh. “Living Biblically” is so labored, and the laughter from the studio audience is so loud and non sequitur, that it falls flat.
In the premiere (Monday, 8:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2), Chip tries to avoid mixing fabrics, as per the Old Testament. And he stones an adulterer, albeit with one small stone.
“Our goal is never to offend,” Walsh insisted, adding, “We hope that we treat [religion] fairly and with respect.”
Mission accomplished. Sure, “Living Biblically” will offend those who see no room for jokes about religion. But there are also jokes about the nonreligious, and it’s all rather mild. Which is a primary reason the show doesn’t work — it’s too timid.
So timid it avoids the elephant in the room — the subject of homosexuality doesn’t even come up in the eight first-season episodes.
Walsh said the writers couldn’t come up with a way to tackle the topic. He did promise that Chip won’t turn to Leviticus and turn anti-gay. But avoiding tough topics undermines “LIving Biblically.”
The show is not just trying to be all things to all people, it’s trying to be three shows. Chip and Leslie exist in one; Chip and his “God squad” — Father Gene and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz, “Numb3rs”) — exist in a second; and Chip and his co-workers and boss (stand-up comedian Tony Rock; Sara Gilbert, “The Talk”; and Camryn Manheim, “The Practice”) exist in a third. None of it meshes.
The cast is likable. The intentions are good. The show is not.
If nothing else, “Living Biblically” makes you appreciate shows like “Big Bang” and “Mom.” Producing a good, traditional, multicamera sitcom is clearly a lot harder than those shows make it look.