Given the abundance of different faiths in the United States, and a heightened sensitivity to showing them respect in these tense political times, the new CBS sitcom Living Biblically is entering potentially fraught territory. Adapted from the book The Year of Living Biblically, the show centers on a columnist named Chip (Jay R. Ferguson) who decides to live a more faithful life after his best friend dies, nearly at the same time he finds out his wife, Leslie (Lindsey Kraft), is pregnant.
Camryn Manheim, perhaps best known for her award-winning turn as Ellenor Frutt on The Practice, plays Chip’s boss, Ms. Meadows. She wants viewers to know the series, premiering Feb. 26, intends to have a diverse audience.
“I think there is this idea that a show about the Bible or living Biblically, and especially that it’s a comedy, that it might be insulting in some way to people, and I just want to put an end to this now,” Manheim tells us. “People will let us know if it’s insulting. But it really isn’t insulting. Every character exists. People who believe in it strongly, people who don’t. Just like our world. … It’s for everybody because everybody is represented on our show.”
Manheim also points out that the show has Ferguson playing a man who is approaching his new religious path with sincerity and not an ironic detachment.
“There are people across the nation who have different feelings about what [religion] means to them, and I guess what we’re trying to say in the show is that there are certain tenets that really serve people — that happiness can ensue by following that path,” she says. “We’re not judging how people live, and I hope they’re not judging how we’re living either.”
The show has a diverse cast of supporting players who will represent different perspectives, including agnostics and atheists. “There are other characters that are skeptics,” Manheim says. “Me personally, I grew up Jewish. I’m a cultural Jew. I like to call myself ‘Jew-ish.’ My son was bar mitzvahed but not with the Torah, not with Hebrew, not with God. We’re secular Jews. But I love bringing this topic to the table in modern-day society and having families talk about it.”
In January, it was reported at the Television Critics Association Press Tour that Living Biblically’s producers, Patrick Walsh and Johnny Galecki, said the show would avoid the subject of homosexuality in Season 1. Manheim is and has been an advocate for the LGBT community, and she plays a gay character on the show. While some might use the Bible to propagate backwards views of homosexuality, Manheim says her show won’t.
“One of the things that drew me into doing this show was the fact that my character [is] a lesbian,” she says. “I thought this was going to be really interesting when Chip, the main character, approaches me to talk to me about my homosexuality and how that fits into the Bible. Since we only did a half-season — there were so many things to cover. … We covered so much that we decided to save it for the second season.”
The Bible can be interpreted many ways, she says. “Some people look at homosexuality as a sin against God, and other people don’t. I know gay priests and gay ministers. It’s all really in interpretation,” she says. “I can guarantee that given the fact all the writers on our show are smart and awesome and progressive, that we will handle the issue with grace and humor. [We will] try to open the doors so people can see how fabulous all gay people are and how much they matter in our society.”
Living Biblically premieres Feb. 26 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.
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