The last time he defied gravity, Judge Brett Cullum was rewarded with an intense crushing sensation in every one of his bones, followed up by a week of "head repeatedly bumping into the ceiling" syndrome for good measure.
Ode to a flying nun:
The flying nun…
Back in the '60s, sitcoms were all about flights of fantasy: Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, The Addams Family, and Gilligan's Island. All of these shows were huge hits. Ttelevision likes to copy its successes, so The Flying Nun was created by ABC to join Bewitched in its prime time lineup. In 1967 Sally Field (Places in the Heart) had come off Gidget, and was reluctantly cast as a young nun with a gift for flight. None of this was supernatural; it was all a case of wind, drag, and the novice's combination of a huge head piece coupled with her small weight. The Flying Nun was a cute, lightweight fantasy piece about how attitude can overcome anything, even altitude and gravity. The show hasn't been seen much in syndication, so fans should be sky high about The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season hitting the shelves.
Facts of the Case
Sister Bertrille (Field) flies in and out of trouble when she accepts a post as a novice nun teaching kindergartners in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Not only does she naturally come by her free spirit, but her weight combined with her hat allows her to fly. None of this goes over well with the old school mother superior (Madeline Sherwood, The Changeling) who runs the convent by the book. She's concerned about the changes her young charge will be able to effect with her youthful verve and strange ability. Luckily, Sister Bertrille has an advocate in Sister Jacqueline (Marge Redmond, The Trouble With Angels) who appreciates her fresh take on things. Also backing the aerodynamic sister is a local playboy and club owner named Carlos Ramirez (Alejandro Rey, Dallas) and Sister Sixo (a young Shelley Morrison, best known as Rosario on Will and Grace), a Puerto Rican nun studying English slang with comedic results. The convent of San Tanco will never be quite the same again, as miracles begin happening every day.
The concept was taken from a novel called The Fifteenth Pelican, and the show simply cranked out the high flying gimmick every week, married with simple stories and singsong musical interludes. The best thing going for The Flying Nun is the cast. Somehow Field and the acting company make it more fun than it ever should have been. They can't make it smarter than it is, but they make us believe that a nun can fly. Field is genuinely sweet and likable (really likable) in the lead role. She tweaks her Gidget persona, and we see her growing up. Still, there's nothing here to indicate the power she would show in the next decade in her Oscar winning role of Norma Rae. Field accepted the role merely out of a fear she might not work; a job was better than sitting around unemployed waiting for her next big break.
The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season packs all thirty episodes of the show's initial year including the hour long pilot. It's a whole lot of "nunsense" crammed on to four discs housed in a cardboard sleeve with two discs in each plastic slim case. The show itself looks dated, but the presentation is clear enough to recommend it. The sitcom was shot on film, which gives it a soft look, but the colors seem brighter than what I've seen in syndication airings. Sound is simple mono from the original source. The features are slim, but there is a nice interview with Sally Field who frankly discusses how she donned the habit and began flying around Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough, in this set you can catch cameos by other "future" big names such as Dabney Coleman (9 to 5), Rich Little (vocal impressionist seen in Dirty Tricks), and Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H). It's a nice package fans will appreciate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Flying Nun is all sugary sweet, and sometimes you feel like injecting it with a strong dose of insulin to get it less saccharine. It has an cloying, desperate amount of optimism mixed with silliness, as well as some truly grating musical numbers in almost every episode. This was a conservative show for the '60s, designed to be Disney type entertainment for the whole family. It reminds me of Highway to Heaven or Touched by an Angel with Field converting people to higher moral ground each week through her giggly faith and ability to keep her feet off the ground.
The concept was goofy. Even though it was a success, the series became a favorite punch line for comedians across the country. The show debuted at a time when sex, drugs, and rock and roll were the order of the day, and along came this relic of a skit based on a nun who flew around by her hat. Even forty years later it seems silly and antiquated by any standards. Sister Bertrille is never allowed any complexity or mood other than relentlessly happy and willing to help. Field wasn't happy with the show, though she never shows it on camera. Still, even her Gidget character seemed more human and worthy of her young acting skills than this trite formula.
The Flying Nun has such a freaky premise that it's worth a look for the kooky sight of Sally in a habit soaring over Puerto Rico. You'll stick around for the rest of the episodes because the cast is so strong and for their easy watchability. Still, the gimmick gets old too fast, and I soon noticed nothing was ever getting deeper or more complex than the first flight in the pilot. The show becomes The Sound of Music with a nun singing to a bunch of Latin orphans for no other reason than to make everyone happy. If you can roll with that kind of sunshiny sentiment, then The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season is for you. If you prefer something more bitter and jaded, rent the final disc and watch Sally Field bitch about the whole experience.
Guilty of being sweet enough to send viewers in to a sugar coma. The Flying Nun: The Complete First Season should be great for anyone looking for a family comedy about singing nuns who can defy gravity.
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• Interview with Sally Field
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