Chris Hicks: Prayer and churchgoing characters are rare in movies and TV

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 8:30 a.m. MST

Tom Selleck, at the head of the table, and the cast of "Blue Bloods" gather around for Sunday dinner, over which the family always says grace.


If you are a person of faith in the 21st century, you don’t have to see many movies or watch much television before it becomes apparent that Hollywood has become not just blind to religion but also quite aggressively anti-religion.

This is most aggressively demonstrated on talk shows where celebrities who otherwise characterize themselves as liberal and tolerant think nothing of taking a swipe at a large section of the population.

In fictional shows, it’s usually demonstrated by a simple remark spoken by a character, often an aside that has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but other times, it’s front and center with a deluded, psychotic or duplicitous preacher or believer.

Which is really quite surprising, because the makers of movies and television shows are selling products, and you might think they would want to avoid deliberately offending or cutting out a large portion of their ticket-buying audience.

Except for a handful of faith-encouraging programs — which is to say, movies or TV shows that are specifically aimed at families with Bible-based beliefs, and which generally announce themselves as such — it’s a rare show from the Hollywood studios that depicts churchgoing or prayer or someone calling upon God, unless it’s to mock, ridicule or humiliate.

So it has been surprising to me to lately stumble across some little TV-watching moments that portray church attendance or characters who pray that are actually positive.

A couple of weeks ago while I was watching something, a commercial zipped by for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that depicts a family praying over their meal. It’s a jokey 15-second ad (you can see it on YouTube, titled “Family Dinner”) with the camera focused on the grandfather who has come to live with the family.

All are holding hands while offering a prayer over their meal when the grandfather sneaks a quick bite using his grandson’s hand. It’s a funny bit and I laughed, but then I began thinking about it. It isn’t Thanksgiving, and there’s no special occasion mentioned. The family members are simply saying grace over a meal. As if they do that every night.

Aside from “Blue Bloods,” the family-of-cops series on CBS, where do you see that on TV? I’ve written about “Blue Bloods” before, which shows three generations of law-enforcement professionals sitting down to a family dinner each Sunday, and although this part isn’t shown every week, this devout Catholic family prays before the meal. They also go to church.

Another churchgoing family can be seen on “The Middle.” In an episode shown a couple of weeks ago, they went to church, as they often do, and each received individual counseling from a new minister. In fact, most of the episode took place in the church building.

In “The Middle,” the faith is not specified, but periodic episodes mention Sunday churchgoing as well as church youth activities, and there’s a recurring young minister who sings songs and plays guitar.

All of this is played for laughs, of course, and if you watch this sitcom, you know how dysfunctional the family is. But religion itself is never the butt of the joke. And at the end of this particular episode (titled “Hungry Games,” available to watch for free on Hulu), there’s a sincere expression of family loyalty and love from an unexpected family member. It’s broad comedy but can also be warm and fuzzy.

OK, I can’t pretend to watch enough television to suggest this never happens on other shows, but these two programs aren’t afraid to do what that Macaroni & Cheese commercial did: show churchgoing and prayer as commonplace to many American families.

And perhaps it’s worth noting that both programs have stars — Tom Selleck on “Blue Bloods,” Patricia Heaton on “The Middle” — who are politically conservative, which in the climate of show business is most unusual.

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