Judge Brendan Babish opts for the girl.
Will their destiny involve a walk down the aisle—or a journey into the Catholic priesthood?
The five-part mini-series God or the Girl marks the highbrow Arts & Entertainment channel's foray into the reality television game. But with a sensationalistic title that seems more apt for a trashy Fox program, one wonders whether A&E is now employing T & A to lure in more viewers.
Facts of the Case
Of the many Christian denominations, Catholicism is one the few (only?) that forbids its clergy from marrying. As such, the decision to become a priest not only entails committing to God, but forsaking women. God and the Girl follows four young men who are going through Discernment, the period during which one struggles with the decision whether to join the seminary or to be fruitful and multiply.
God and the Girl contains five 45-minute episodes spread out over two discs. The four young Catholic men who are featured are Dan, Joe, Steve and Mike. All four seem perplexed and agonized over the decision of joining the priesthood. Prominent among their reservations is the chastity stipulation. Of course, if this were a Fox reality series the boys would be taken to strip clubs and wet t-shirt contests to ratchet up the girl part of the equation. Thankfully, A&E steps aside and simply follows the men as each goes through their own rituals in the Discernment process: Joe attempts to reunite with a former fling; Steve ministers to peasants in Guatemala; Mike has a heart to heart with his girlfriend; Dan carries a giant wooden cross for 20 miles.
Of course, a much-discussed factor in these men's decisions is the recent spate of sex abuse cases that have racked the Roman Catholic Church. Steve mentions that a friend asked why he would enter a profession in which people would assume he molests children. Steve answers—with justifiable indignation—that changing that perception is what propels him towards the priesthood. But it is not only the scandals that have caused the current shortage of seminary students in America. The Roman Catholic Church's insistence that its clergy remain celibate is not only an enormous sacrifice, but it is also a stipulation increasingly incompatible with America's hedonistic culture.
For many Americans, myself included, it is hard to imagine any profession that would be worth relinquishing the prospect of marriage and family. It would be easy to dismiss these young men as kooky, and certainly some of their actions (such as Dan leading prayer groups in front of abortion clinics and strip clubs) strain my ability to empathize. However, even with this disconnect, these young men exhibit such ardor for their faith that it is hard not to become emotionally involved with them and their decision. Steve, who abandoned a lucrative job and steady girlfriend to become a college missionary, comes across as a particularly conscientious and selfless individual. In one of the more moving segments of the series, he travels to Guatemala to minister to migrant workers and their families and is profoundly changed by the poverty he finds there.
Like most reality shows, God and the Girl builds towards a dramatic climax. However, unlike most reality shows, God and the Girl does not offer cash prizes or a new spouse. Instead, these young men are choosing to eschew riches and romance altogether. As such, the young men's decision is far more intriguing and emotionally involving than any on The Apprentice or The Bachelor (especially since most Bachelor couples don't even get married anymore).
Though your own religious affiliation will certainly color the way you interpret God or the Girl, this is an enriching series for the secular and religious. The show may even be more edifying for non-religious viewers, who will likely have never had this kind of in-depth access to deeply religious individuals. Still, this is a show that is ultimately not so much about spirituality, but sacrificing for your convictions. Even those who have little or no respect for organized religion will be moved by the selflessness and introspection these young men exhibit here.
God and the Girl was shot on video with natural lighting, so the picture is understandably soft and occasionally dim or bright. However, the deficiencies in picture are never distracting. A&E has generously included three substantive extras in this DVD set. "Priestly Wisdom from Father Mark" is a concise and convenient primer on the Roman Catholic clergy. The bonus mini-episode chronicles the Discernment period of Tom, a shy young man from Colorado. Though Tom appears to be nice and earnest, he is rather dull and it is clear why he was excised from the series. Lastly, there are six deleted scenes that total 34 minutes. While nothing of great substance happens here (unless you count Dan downing 21 shots of root beer on his 21st birthday), they do provide some worthwhile moments of irreverence.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Further credit must go to A&E for resisting the urge to pick a firebrand Christian who would simply curse America's heathen society and predict further natural disasters to punish us for our wickedness. Those Christians are over-represented in the media, and serve as horrible ambassadors for the religion. All subjects in God and the Girl are well-spoken, thoughtful and kind individuals.
Most reality shows are like junk food. You may enjoy the viewing experience, but the show's vacuous, manufactured drama will only be temporarily retained in your short-term memory banks (does anyone remember who married The Littlest Groom?). Amongst the chocolate and cotton candy of Survivor and Fear Factor, God or the Girl offers a far more rich and fulfilling viewing experience. Long after you watch this mini-series you are going to remember and be affected by the spiritual journey of these young men.
Not guilty, my son.
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• Mini-episode with additional cast member
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