Here's a riddle: What highlights Biblical themes without once mentioning God?
“There are so many shows that really address issues that are so central to faith without specifically addressing faith,” Cusey said. “ ‘Breaking Bad’ is a prime example. It’s about sin. It’s about the slippery slope to becoming an evil person. That is sermon-quality material, but it’s not about God.”
Washington Post pop culture writer Alyssa Rosenberg said cable’s rise in antiheroes like Tony Soprano or Walter White is part of what sets “The Leftovers” apart whether God is addressed or not. In an article she wrote about the debut of the series, Rosenberg argued that the show was offering a kind of morality in a medium where morally bankrupt characters rule the roost.
"It's very common for cable dramas to portray themselves as morally sophisticated by having lead characters who range from transgressors to outright bad people," Rosenberg said. "This show makes a significant shift away from that. No one's mendacious, no one's a murderer who's also a family man."
Artistic middle ground
In exploring themes recast from the Bible in a broad way, Christian Century media columnist and Boone United Methodist Church pastor Jason Byassee says Hollywood finds its mark with a healthy middle ground.
“God is honored in telling a story beautifully. If you're a Hollywood executive, I'm sure you don't want to limit yourself to churchgoers," Byassee said. "Having a religious theme that's sort of a dog whistle that believers can hear but everyone else isn’t turned off by is a good approach."
Rosenberg agrees, saying it's important for audiences to remember that any TV show, whether the themes are religious or not, is still artistic interpretation.
"Pop culture is never going to look like a church ideal. We all need to take a breath here," Rosenberg said. "It's hard to do religion in mass culture without becoming a target or getting fact-checked to death."
That middle ground that shows like “The Leftovers” strikes at is something Cusey thinks some of the faith community should also explore.
“It’s detrimental to art and exploring these things that the idea of something that’s interesting to someone of faith is equated to something children could watch,” Cusey said. “Bible stories are very R-rated quite often. Human nature is R-rated. For the faith-based community to say, ‘We’re not going to watch anything that has the F-word in it,’ cuts out a lot of the human experience.”
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