Revelations (review)

A Dan Brown Christ-mess

Oh, how can I possibly resist Apocalyptic cheese like NBC’s Revelations? It’s goofy Jesus stuff and it’s ridiculous prime-time “drama.” It’s movie actors slumming on TV and it’s a finely calculated mercenary attempt to get all those consumers of The Da Vinci Code back in front of the boob tube, where they belong. What’s not to have a love/hate/despairing-for-the-culture relationship with?
Episode 1 (first airing: April 13, 2005)
It’s the end of the world as we know it… and Bill Pullman is fiiiiiine. Of course, it’s way too dark through most of this premiere episode — of a miniseries? of an ongoing weekly series? only God and NBC execs know for sure — for adequate drooling, but I’ve got a good imagination. Not only is he as completely adorable as always (once in a while the lighting comes up to allow confirmation of this), but his Harvard astrophysicist, Dr. Richard Massey, is alluringly tormented — his daughter was killed by Satanists! — and he’s totally secular. Yeah, baby: I’d do him because he’s cute and he’s rational!

Of course, this is Revelations, not The Carl Sagan Skeptic Squad Files, so Pullman (The Grudge, Rick) will eventually have to learn the error of his evil ungodly ways, probably somewhere around Episode 5, to give him enough time to fully repent before the Antichrist completely takes over the world. And the world’s hottest nun since Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music will show him the path to having his soul bathed in the sweet bloody crucified love of Baby Jesus. Sister Josepha Montafiore (Natascha McElhone: Solaris, Laurel Canyon) — I didn’t even know they made nuns with cheekbones like that, though the supernatural quality of them may indeed be proof of the existence of a god — thinks the end of the world is nigh, and for some bizarre reason, she turns to Massey for help. Because everyone knows that atheistic Harvard science geniuses generally enjoy proving the Bible right… you know, as a hobby.

I’d love it love it love it all as kitsch — Pullman actually gets to say, to the loon responsible for his daughter’s death, “I should have killed you when I had the chance” — if I didn’t know that some people want to use this kind of dark the-world-is-doomed fantasy as the basis of our entire society. And you know that screenwriter David Seltzer (Dragonfly, The Omen) is playing to that demographic: the sweet baby reincarnated Jesus floats into the story on the wreckage of a sunken ferry in the middle of a violent storm… just like Elian Gonzalez. (Or, the baby could be the Antichrist — stay tuned!) But it’s just pure dumb luck that Seltzer happened to include a little girl zapped by lightning into a persistent vegetative state — unless maybe Jesus whispered into his ear last year or whenever the heck he was scribbling this down that Terri Shiavo’s desiccated near-corpse would just so happen to become a Republican cause celebre in the weeks before the series premiered. If only we hadn’t removed poor Terri’s feeding tube, she probably would have started speaking in tongues and channeling Bill Pullman’s dead daughter, too.

They do say that God works in mysterious ways, after all. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be all that interested in TV ratings, but you never know. On the other hand, perhaps Seltzer or one of those NBC execs made a deal with the guy who works in the basement…

Coming up next week: more stuff too dark to see what’s going on, and too boring to care about…

posted 04.14.05

Episode 2 (first airing: April 20, 2005)
So when people ask, “Have you found Jesus?” they’re generally speaking in a metaphoric sense. But not here: Nope, Natascha Nun and Bill Astrophysicist are on a quest to find the little baby from the floating ferry wreckage. They’re off to Greece, where they talk to old Eastern European ladies in babushkas and visit crumbling churches, and all I can think of is: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. Is the Baby Jesus hanging out with a caveman and the Three Bears? Is he under attack from a giant Abe Vigoda roc? Cuz this is all just as much a silly fairy tale as that, even if it’s a dark fairy tale — I mean, damn, there’s a significant percentage of the viewing audience for this thing that is actually looking forward to the “confrontation between good and evil that will scorch the very face of the earth” that this is all heading to in Episode 6. The order of wacky nuns of which Natascha is a member actually wants this ultimate showdown to happen. In one of this episodes “lighter” moments, Natascha reveals the one earthly temptations that haunts her: “I’d like to wears something red sometime.” And I’m thinking, sister — er, Sister — you’re gonna get your chance, though blood tends to dry a pretty ugly brownish.

Anyway, the assumption about the ferry baby seems to be that because he appears to have been a virgin birth — with a cloistered nun as his mother, no less — that he must be Jesus, though I don’t see why Satan couldn’t organize such a thing for his offspring, either. He’s powerful, right, this Satan guy? But there’s a lot of assumptions about things Jesus can and can’t do that are kinda weird here: like, Natascha’s nuns are on the outs with the Vatican because of their radical idea that Jesus has returned to earth, the idea being that this suggests that the Pope is no longer the only conduit through which God can speak if you can just walk up to the kid and say Hi. But wouldn’t Jesus, if he still likes the Pope as a friend even if they’re no longer exclusive, have, like, a cell phone with John Paul Benedict on speed dial? Surely Christ Almighty could get unlimited night and weekend minutes, and with rollover, too.

I dunno, it just seems like a very tortured, roundabout kind of theology, especially when you have to get signs through a coma girl who’s speaking bits of the Bible. Which Bible, is what I want to know. King James? Good News? Or is it Revolve, that sort of Cosmo Teen Bible for girls? Maybe she’s just babbling about what a totally hot guy the first Jesus was and not giving real clues to Bill and Natascha about where to actually find the new Jesus at all.

Still, a show that comes right out and says that fashion models are Satanic can’t be all bad. Plus, I’m looking forward to the inevitable result of Natascha’s wondering “could god and the devil be differentiated by DNA?” Which is, of course, CSI The Vatican. I know Grissom would have some good comebacks for Natascha’s continual denigration of science. Bill just looks at her like she’s delivered a devastating blow when she says things like “[Jesus] wasn’t a scientist so he knew that some questions have [no answers].” Grissom would sneer and bend over his microscope, getting on with the holy DNA sequencing, in such a way that his very posture would exude contempt for her convenient acceptance of science when it suits her purposes.

Coming up next week: Bill Pullman does not die at this time…

posted 04.21.05

Episode 3 (first airing: April 27, 2005)
So what’s with the wheelchair atheist Gimli anyway? Poor John Rhys-Davies has been tooling around the opening moments of each of these three episodes so far, lecturing properly godfearing impressionable young students about how god ain’t anywhere to be found and arrogantly deflecting pious questions about how obviously said god is everywhere from those upright young Christians. And he doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything, except that he’s clearly a heathen godless pagan academic — surely the worst kind of heathen godless pagan — who’s due for a philosophical smack upside the head that’s even worse than the one Bill Pullman’s got coming.

It just doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do to a guy in a wheelchair is all.

I like, though, how Gimli talks this week about “the true diabolical nature of time” cuz it seems like he’s referring to Revelations itself. Jeez, could this drag itself out any longer? Someone put it out of its misery already. I can’t stand to see a TV show suffer so, never mind how the audience has gotta be suffering. I thought it was gross, at first, how the devil guy in jail was biting off his own fingers, and then it occurred to me that gnawing off one of my own appendages — you know, just for variety, for something to do while sitting in front of the tube — mightn’t be such a bad idea after all.

Bad ideas are all over this episode. Like, did your mom ever say to you, all sarcastic like, something akin to, “If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Cuz my mom did. I guess Bill Pullman never asked his son that, considering how the kid jumps of a bridge with that Satanic Web site girl. Or else the pull of the Web and/or Satan is just so great that it overcomes even the impending wrath of the ‘rents.

I love how this show just totally telegraphs everything it’s gonna do. Like Natascha Nun said she wanted to wear something red, and here she gets her chance. So when the TVs in the show make ominous warnings about terrorists attacking an “Ecumenical Peace Council,” does that mean we’re gonna get some actual action soon?

Coming up next week: someone wake me up for the fire and brimstone…

posted 04.28.05

Episode 4 (first airing: May 4, 2005)
Is it me, or is Revelations increasingly feeling less like an actual narrative dramatization and more like just highlights from one? Half the stuff in this week’s entry feels like we missed important setups: Oh yeah, didn’t we mention, Atheist Gimli and Bill Pullman know each other, work together and stuff. Oh yeah, those characters who probably have vital information about where Bill Pullman’s son is whom we’ve never said so much as boo about before? They’re in witness protection, and we can have Bill run right over there and question ’em and stuff. You know, like if we need some action or something.

It’s also extremely weird how the previously-on-Revelations announcer doesn’t seem to be able to draw the distinction between what’s happening in the real world where Revelations is just a cheesy miniseries that’s keeping people from watching Alias and what’s happening in the fake world of the miniseries itself, where they keep promising the apocalypse and it keeps not happening. After the wrap-up of all the nothing that’s come before, the announcer intones ominously, “And now, as the end of the world draws near, Revelations continues.” Well, no. Here, where Revelations is continuing, the end of the world is not drawing near. Or is NBC genuinely aiming for the crowd who thinks The Rapture Index is a valuable and educational resource?

Does someone involved here have an actual sense of humor? I wondered when the satanic guy who kidnapped Bill Pullman’s son — he’s gonna be a virgin sacrifice at the upcoming birth of the Antichrist; poor kid: how mortifying to think that soon the whole world might know he’s still a virgin — told the cop his name was “Hal Clement,” like the science fiction writer. Was that a bit of a joke? Probably not: these minions of Satan are really into tire irons and beating people to death, it seems, and I dunno, but I would have expected somewhat less humorless thuggishness. Didn’t these people see The Omen? All they should have to do is narrow their eyes and glare balefully, right? But then again, the head Satan guy, the one in jail? He’s got it right, grandstanding for Court TV viewers during an appearance before a judge — now that‘s insidiously evil and something more like I expect from a servant of the Prince of Darkness.

Oh, and there’s two other really funny things in this episode, though I’m probably the only one who laughed: The sonogram of what’s inside the woman “raped by beasts”? That is some kinda baby picture, all cute and horned and all — brings a whole new meaning to calling a kid a little monster. But my very favorite moment of the entire series so far, probably, is one of the single greatest lines ever uttered on TV: “I’d rather avoid the attention of turning a nunnery into a slaughterhouse.” Someone is having fun with us. I hope.

Coming up next week: “miracles from hell” and “satanic combat”? woo-hoo! finally…

posted 05.05.05

Episode 5 (first airing: May 11, 2005)
Ahhh, there’s Bill Pullman, staring off in the sunset over an ancient stone bridge in Rome or Prague or whatever the hell picturesque old city he’s in… How romantic… Oh, damn: he’s there with a nun.

What in heaven and hell have I gotten myself into with this miniseries? Nothing exciting is happening, and there’s no sex even to distract from all the nothing happening. I almost got excited when, at the beginning of this episode, we got the parental warning — I thought something awesome and inappropriate for young eyes was finally gonna transpire, like that satanic combat we were promised. But no. It was just a tease, like they realized people were about to give up and figured they had to drag us back in somehow. But I bet I’m the only person still watching this damn thing.

I think the producers know this and are just pulling a massive practical joke. “It’s all there: the birth of the Antichrist,” says Bill, and then, the punchline: “It’s written in Braille.” Say what? Satan’s minion and his homies singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”? Oh, someone is pulling our collective leg, right?

In retrospect, I can only guess that it was the killing-the-bunny thing that prompted the parental warning, wasn’t it? Satan’s boy can pull his fingers out and that’s fine, but don’t let the kids see Peter Rabbit buying the farm.

Coming up next week: the finale? oh please let it be over…

posted 05.12.05

Episode 6 (first airing: May 18, 2005)
That’s it? They’re kidding, right? That quote at the beginning of this episode, it should have been all “And ye shall hear rumors of wars, and of exciting miniseries starring Bill Pullman, and ye shall know these things to be the lies of the devil.” Where was the “satanic combat” we were promised? They didn’t mean Bill having a badly staged fistfight with the Satan’s-general guy who escaped from jail, did they? After all this apocalyptic end-of-the-world supernatural stuff, it’s just gonna Bill Pullman beating the crap out of the dude? Booorrring!

Where was the raining hellfire? Where was the leprosy and locusts? Where were the plagues of boils and frogs, or boils on frogs, or boiling frogs, or whatever? Also, I believe we were promised a “confrontation between good and evil that will scorch the very face of the earth.” I thought that meant that the birth of the Antichrist was going to come rather earlier than in the last five minutes of the whole damn six hours. No wonder it’s been feeling like nothing’s been happening — this whole thing has been one giant tease for Revelations 2: Stuff Finally Goes to Hell.

What happened to the woman who was raped by beast and pregnant with the little monster with the horns? Wasn’t that the Antichrist? Why not? What’s gonna happen to that kid when he finds out that he has to deal with the kids in kindergarten making fun of his forked tail and he can’t even smite them or turn them into a pillar of salt or something?

So we have the Antichrist born, with Sauron or Count Dooku or whoever the heck that was presiding over the event, and Baby Jesus living in the desert (again). Was this all just to get us to the point when the earth starts getting scorched?

“It’s over. Thank God, it’s over,” Bill says at the end. Except it obviously isn’t. I’m terribly afraid that a sequel is prophesied, is preordained, and we mortals are helpless to do anything about it. It’s enough to turn me into a TV atheist.

posted 05.19.05

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