[Paleopsych] NYT: 'Revelations': End Is Expected, but There's Still Time to Debate Morality
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Wed Apr 13 14:32:42 UTC 2005
Arts > Television > TV Review | 'Revelations': End
Is Expected, but There's Still Time to Debate Morality
April 13, 2005
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
"Revelations," NBC's six-hour mini-series about a nun and a
scientist's search for signs that Armageddon is at hand, may not
persuade skeptics to believe in God. But the timing alone suggests
that a higher being favors the show: on the heels of the Terri Schiavo
debate and the death of Pope John Paul II, the premiere includes a
right-to-life battle over a coma patient and nuns in schism with the
Well made, spooky and suspenseful, "Revelations" has been marketed by
NBC as a breakthrough faith-based thriller, a latter-day "Da Vinci
Code" and a spiritual "X-Files." But its real appeal is something that
is actually more common on television dramas these days: politics are
part of the scenery, and ethical and moral dilemmas are woven into the
And oddly enough, this mini-series about Satanists and truth-seekers
fits into a broader paradox: as television news moves further and
further away from covering hard news, political issues are
increasingly debated on television dramas.
The finale of this season's "West Wing" paid more prime-time attention
to its fictional Democratic National Convention than the network news
divisions did to the real one in the 2004 election. (In it heyday "The
West Wing" could tease high drama out of even the most prosaic
Washington issues; one episode in the first season revolved around an
amendment to a trade bill.)
"Law & Order: SVU" is a weekly tinderbox of difficult issues, from
stem-cell research and euthanasia to the sale of human kidneys.
"Boston Legal" recently had a subplot that dramatized the United
States government's failure to prevent genocide in Sudan. Even
"Deadwood," an HBO western set in the 1870's, delivers a weekly civics
lesson on property claims, corruption and nation building.
Long before the play "Doubt" opened on Broadway and long before the
pedophilia scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in 2002,
television shows like "Nothing Sacred," a 1997 series on ABC, or NBC's
"Law & Order" examined the problem of pedophile priests and their
protectors in the church.
In contrast, morning talk shows and evening newscasts race through the
events of the day to dwell on the kind of personal melodramas that
were once relegated to tabloids or crime shows like "Columbo."
Yesterday the "Today" show host Katie Couric interviewed a brother and
sister who are accusing the husband of their sister of poisoning her
five years ago and passing her death off as a heart attack. Ms. Couric
referred to their tale as a "cold case," part of the title of a hit
CBS crime show, but it could also be that NBC is trying to fill the
vacuum left by the end of the Scott Peterson murder trial.
The evening news shows are just as soft-edged, full of features about
retirement, pain medication and other news you can use. "The Early
Show" on CBS is taking it a step further by offering viewers
newscasters they can use: yesterday on a feature titled "Anchors to
the Rescue," the co-host Julie Chen was dispatched to Macon, Ga., to
baby-sit a 2-year-old so that the overstressed parents could play golf
together. Ms. Chen taught little Torree some yoga moves.
There is nothing soft about "Revelations," which opens with a montage
of violent images from civil wars in Africa to a person jumping 40
stories off the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The hero of the
mini-series, Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman), a Harvard
astrophysicist, is first shown on a small plane returning from Chile
with the body of his 12-year-old daughter, who was kidnapped and
murdered by a Satan worshipper who is also on the plane, in handcuffs,
on his way to a prison in the United States.
In Mexico, meanwhile, Sister Josepha Montafiore (Natascha McElhone,
from the 1998 thriller "Ronin") joins throngs of believers huddled at
the base of a mountain to gaze at a huge crucifix-shaped shadow. She
was hired by a foundation to record and study supernatural phenomena
that correspond to portents of the end of the world as described in
the biblical Book of Revelation.
Their paths cross because of a girl who was left in a vegetative state
by a lightning bolt (one of the better scenes) and who suddenly begins
muttering bits of Scripture in Latin. Doctors think these are
involuntary utterances and plan to pull the plug and harvest her
organs. Dr. Massey, originally skeptical of Sister Josepha's
convictions that the muttering is more than that, begins to believe
otherwise when he thinks he feels the girl squeeze his hand.
Written by David Seltzer ("The Omen"), "Revelations" is steeped in
creepy amber light and a scary religiosity, but the first episode at
least allows viewers to entertain doubt. Sister Josepha is poised and
Oxford-educated, but she sometimes shows a maniacal edge that suggests
she might well be nuts. And Dr. Massey, who points out to Sister
Josepha that she is being paid to find religious phenomena and is
therefore hardly an objective scholar, has mitigating motives of his
own. Inconsolable over his daughter's death, he wants to see traces of
her ghost in these religious signs.
NBC prays that "Revelations" will be successful enough to warrant
turning it into a series. (The season finale could be good: the world
comes to an end.) Fox, however, diabolically extended "American Idol"
for an additional half hour so that it would conflict with the
premiere and draw viewers away.
The battle of good and evil on television never ends.
NBC, tonight at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.
David Seltzer, writer and creator; Gavin Polone, executive producer;
pilot directed by David Semel; series directed by Lili Fini Zanuck and
Leslie Linka Glatter. Produced by Pariah.
WITH: Bill Pullman (Dr. Richard Massey) and Natascha McElhone (Sister
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