We watch... so you don't have to.

The Piece That Passes All Understanding

TV executives are notoriously thickheaded. Lengthy debates over whether to use Jesse or Veronica's Closet as the Frasier lead-in have dulled senses in the network noggin that you and I otherwise take for granted. All-nighters spent watching Kirstie Alley mug for the camera will do that to a man.

Still, that doesn't explain why -- just a few months after NBC skimmed through the Bible, cribbed a couple of lines from the story of Noah (God tells a guy to build a really big boat), and turned it into a four-hour hoot-fest -- network executives have green-lighted two TV movies about Jesus Christ and his totally righteous mom, Mary.

That's right. Two miniseries about Jesus. Dueling Jesuses, as it were. Because if three miniseries were good enough for Amy Fisher, then two should do the trick for the Son of Man.

You think the suits would have learned their lesson: Opulent Hollywood productions and the word of the Almighty go together like grain alcohol and newly licensed drivers. Sooner or later, something is bound to go horribly wrong, and someone will have to pay. Here's a clue: It's not going to be God.

Take NBC. Is it any wonder that after showing a miniseries that culminates with a fright-wig-wearing Jon Voight dancing like Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" to spare himself from the Lord's capricious wrath, NBC lost a giant chunk of its viewers this season? That it's hanging on to No. 1 slot among networks by its fingernails? That only three rookie shows will make it to another year on the Peacock?

These things, they aren't accidental. God is one writer who would seem to demand final script approval whenever one of his pet projects goes Hollywood. And if I'm Garth Ancier right now, I'm checking my ass for boils.

"Oh, Phil," some of you are probably saying right now. "There you go, bringing us down with your negativity again. How are you so sure that the two Jesus miniseries are going to be a double-dog drag? Maybe both projects will be the most moving portrayals of Christ since that big-haired kid crooned 'Day By Day' in 'Godspell.' And just once, could you maybe write an article without using the word 'ass?'"

Let me answer the second question first. No. I can't. As for the first question -- the bit about how I know "Jesus" and "Jesus II: Electric Boogaloo" are just going to be plumb awful -- it's not important how I know. I just know.

Look, all you have to consider here to gauge the quality of the productions is who's going to be appearing in "Jesus Vs. Jesus." If this wire story I have in front of me is true -- and I have no reason to doubt the honesty of the good men and women of Daily Variety -- then the part of Mary in NBC's edition of "Jesus Cubed" will be played by none other than the fabulous Jacqueline Bisset, the star of stage, screen and thousands of unsavory daydreams by any male who ever saw "The Deep."

Leading, no doubt, to some truly awe-inspiring moments in the history of the TV biopic.

MARY: Jesus, will your disciples be staying for dinner?

JESUS: Yes, mother.

PETER: (under his breath) Gosh, Jesus, your mom is hot!

JESUS: My mother's a saint!

Because she is, you know.

No word on who's been tapped for the CBS project. But if the casting takes a similar vein, we can no doubt look forward to seeing Emma Samms, Harry Hamlin and Rip Taylor as John the Baptist.

This is no knock on Jacky Bisset, who, as I mentioned, just did yeoman's work in "The Deep." But if I understand my Bible -- and it's not easy, what with all the "thou shalts" and the "begats" and the "Habakkuks" -- then Mary was in her mid- to late-teens round about the time the New Testament kicks it in to high gear. For those of you scoring along at home, the teen-age years are considerably fewer miles on the ol' odometer than Ms. Bisset has logged.

It would be fair to conclude, then, that the makers of "Jesus & Jesus" plan to take the same sort of artistic liberties with the story that made "Noah's Ark," "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and just about any Biblical-based project set to celluloid into the buckets of swill we know and love today. And that's a problem.

I mean, next year, when I tune into NBC or CBS to watch "Jesus Christ: The Early Years," what sort of artistic atrocity will the producers wreak upon the Gospel of St. Luke? Can I look forward to seeing Jesus as a fast-talking private eye who tools around Judea with his 12 pals in their Mystery Mobile, looking for crimes to solve? Jesus as a sensitive '90s guy, trying to preach to his people while raising three precocious daughters? Jesus as a long-haired hippie screeching horrible Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes?

Oh... right. Already been done.

Right now, my worst nightmare -- even worse than the one where I show up to biology class without any pants -- is to turn on my TV during the next Sweeps week and to come across the stubbly face of Mickey Rourke, glowering from underneath a Stetson and clenching a cigarillo in his teeth.

"First, they arrested me," Rourke will mutter. "Then, they beat me. Then, they put a crown of thorns on my head and had me crucified.

"That's when I got mad."

For years, we've been saying that TV's going to hell in a handbasket. Now, it looks like TV won't be happy unless it drags the rest of us down there with it.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *