NEW YORK — For some viewers, NBC’s miniseries based on the Book of Revelation may seem the latest signpost on the road to Armageddon.
“Revelations” premieres less than two weeks after the death of Pope John Paul II. Meanwhile, the right-to-die battle waged over Terri Schiavo echoes in the series, in the character of a Miami girl who is declared brain-dead after being struck by lightning — then is witnessed speaking the word of God.
But judged as television, not an omen of the End Times, “Revelations” isn’t much of a revelation. Instead, it makes for pretty standard popcorn fare. If the end of the world really is near, you might consider spending your limited time on something better than this creepy, gloomy show.
The only hour of the six episodes made available for review (airing 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday) sets up “Revelations” as a good-vs.-evil slugfest packed with turgid dialogue and lots of lightning and thunder. It’s a divine twist on “The X-Files,” complete with skeptic and believer in an uneasy partnership.
Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman) is a Harvard professor and renowned astrophysicist, the ultimate secularist for whom any question has a scientific answer.
He has been sought out by Sister Josepha Montifiore (the comely Natascha McElhone), an Oxford-educated nun convinced that Massey can help her prove the second coming of Jesus Christ — who just might be an infant miraculously saved from a shipwreck in the Greek isles.
Sister Jo approaches Massey at a pivotal moment. He is reeling from the ritualistic murder of his 12-year-old daughter at the hands of Isaiah Haden (Michael Massee), a demented satanist who ate the girl’s heart and now predicts the triumph of dark forces in the end.
And the end may be just around the corner.
“I know, it sounds preposterous,” allows Sister Jo when recruiting Massey’s help. “But as a fellow scholar I can tell you that all the signs and symbols set forth in the Bible are currently in place for the End of Days.”
Want to bet Massey will buy into that?
“Believe whatever you want to,” he scoffs at Sister Jo, whereupon she fires back, “Deny whatever YOU want to.”
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Frederick Schmidt, a biblical scholar at Southern Methodist University, calls “Revelations” the latest pop-culture agent of “speculation that veers away from theory into superstition.”
A similar assessment comes from Jerry B. Jenkins, who with Tim LaHaye co-authored the hugely popular “Left Behind” novels, chronicling the fate of those stranded on Earth after Christ lifts the faithful up to heaven at the end of the world. Jenkins has described “Revelations” as “a mishmash of myth, silliness and misrepresentations of Scripture (which) seems to draw from everywhere and nowhere.”
But why not? Entertainment is entertainment, and that’s the overriding mission of “Revelations.”
“It isn’t necessarily preaching anything,” acknowledged “Revelations” executive producer Gavin Polone, who added, “I don’t think there’s going to be some church that says, ‘Yes, what’s going on in this television show corresponds to what we believe.”’
Even so, when the producers and stars met with reporters in Manhattan, they had a lot to say about humanity at the brink.
“The news that we take our morning coffee with really makes us realize that anything can happen,” said executive producer David Seltzer, who created and wrote the series. “And not only that, all the signs and signals of the Bible in regard to the End of Days really are in play.”
These days, what’s truly in play is religion-flavored drama. The TV industry, long blasted as godless, now seems eager to cash in on moral values, and to share the bandwagon with such profitable hits as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code.” Networks are developing hard-edged series with religious themes, and will surely crank out more if the signs are favorable.
So now all eyes are on “Revelations” — edgy, dark, macabre — to see what its airing portends. Will it transport its audience? Earn renewal next fall? Spawn a slew of similar shows?
These answers, unlike so many others, should be quickly known and beyond dispute. In the end, TV’s gospel is according to Nielsen.
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