Last year, one of my favorite TV shows was “Mad Men” on AMC. The attention to detail in the period show and the acting was absolutely top notch. I have really been looking forward to this season and there are some plot elements that make me hopeful for where the show is going. Don Draper has been showing some signs of remorse over his philandering ways.
Unfortunately there is one plot element that has had me scratching my head a few weeks ago and now has me wondering if I will continue with the show.
A week or two ago they showed Peggy, a former secretary who has moved up the corporate ladder to become a junior ad person, at mass. Last season, after having an affair with a married man, became unknowingly pregnant giving birth at the end of last season. The showed her refusing to hold her baby indicating that she would give the child up for adoption. This season, we found out that Peggy’s baby is being raised by her mother and sister. (The details of custody are fuzzy).
Peggy’s mother and sister are practicing Catholics trying to get Peggy to reform her hard living ways, albeit in an occasionally heavy handed manner. So a few weeks ago they showed her at mass (the pre-conciliar form as the show is set in the early 60’s). Now, as I mentioned, the show is known for getting the details right. Most of the time.
They showed the priest turn to the faithful with communion and say “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbum, et sanabitur anima mea.” Once, twice, and three times. Right on, thought I. Then a fourth time. Oops. Five. Six. Sev… What is going on here?
Apparently, somebody thought that this prayer is the only thing a Catholic priest said in 1962. So much for the legendary attention to detail. This mistake, however, was only a small gaffe that elicited a chuckle from my Mother and I. This week a new development involving a young Jesuit seems more insidious. Fr. James Martin does a good job setting the scene.
Last night I was surprised to see Colin Hanks (son of Tom) stride confidently onto the scene in a Roman collar… On last night’s show, Peggy, hungover and slipping out of a Sunday Mass, meets a visiting priest, the young Father Gill, who mentions that he’ll be dining at her sister’s home. The family fawns over the young priest who tells them of his time in Rome, and being in the Vatican at the same time the pope is in residence. To hammer home their adulation of the priest, the family is shown snapping photos of the young cleric.
At the end of the meal, Father Gill somewhat too eagerly offers Peggy a ride to the subway, and looks, as screenwriters say, “meaningfully” in her direction after she gives him some tips on his homilies. (Keep it simple and make eye contact, she says sensibly.) Father is clearly entranced by Peggy, and expresses dismay when, on another visit, he’s told that she’s not at the family home.
Later, Peggy’s sister tells the priest in the confessional about Peggy’s child. And at the end of the episode, at an Easter Egg roll, the priest hands Peggy an Easter Egg, while staring at her child, and says to her, “For the little one.”
First of all, what is it with these Hanks men taking these anti-Catholic roles? Find something else to do please? The scenes of leering and inappropriate glances followed by breaking the seal of the confessional seems pretty over the top, even for a Jesuit. This episode leave Fr. Martin asking, “Given the vagaries of television I suppose we should be grateful that he’s not a pedophile. But is the only way that television can make a priest interesting is by making him not a very good one?” Well, is it?
Given the quality of last season, I will give the show a temporary benefit of the doubt. However, if it takes the easy and banal route of showing this priest in some further inappropriate behavior or some other clichéd anti-Catholic plot development, the show will have lived up to its name. I will then be a mad man.
I will let you know how it turns out.
August 19, 2008 at 6:01 am
I noticed a few gaffes as well. It was especially irksome that he kept referring to his sermon. I know Catholcis use that term but most often the “sermon” is referred to as a homily.
Like you I got the feeling that my days of viewing the show were coming to an end as I see the “affair with a priest” coming like a freight train. There are better things I can do with my time than watch another fictional priest go bad. How boring.
August 19, 2008 at 12:42 pm
An early tip off to careless attention to detail was the fact that the prayer before dinner didn’t start with the Sign of the Cross.
August 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm
I am by no means an expert on this, but I believe that homilies and sermons are actually different animals. Homilies are a direct explanation of the scripture that was just read whereas a sermon treats on general principles, whether moral or theological.
I am also under the impression that much greater emphasis has been given to homiletics over the last 40 years but that before the council, sermons were much more common. So I am not sure that this is a mistake.
Perhaps someone else with greater knowledge in this area can clear things up.
August 19, 2008 at 1:34 pm
Thanks for explaining the gaffe during Mass. It seemed strange to me, but what do I know, having been an 8 year old Lutheran in 1963.
The literary conceit of the introduction of Fr. Gill gave me a very bad feeling. I didn’t think (I could hope, but not really think) that this would introduce a plot line involving a conversion of heart for Peggy.
August 19, 2008 at 6:24 pm
I have never heard of this show as I stopped watching AMC when they began putting commercials on during their movies.
Whenever I see a priest character on the telly or in movies, I always assume that they will turn out to be pedophiles or some guy just killing time waiting for “the girl” to come along. I don’t think most showbiz script writers know what else to do with them. Really, really sad.
As for the gaffes, there are two groups portrayed by modern Hollywood that they almost never, ever get right. Catholic priests and the military. Perhaps because they don’t have much respect for either.
August 19, 2008 at 7:11 pm
It’s a story….a work of fiction. It could be anti-Catholic, if say, something “bad” the priest did was explained as something organic to the nature of Catholicism or the priesthood. So far we have not seen this. Perhaps we will, but so far, we haven’t.
But it is about one, young – apparently anxious-to-be-hep-and-with-it priest. Who knows how it will turn out?
And Patrick, your comment about the prayer – the point was that this one Catholic woman (Peggy’s mom) disapproved of his improvised prayer. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to imagine a woman who’d thought of grace before meals as a formulaic prayer for decades to disapprove of something different.
A little too uptight on this one.
August 19, 2008 at 7:40 pm
Stay tuned. I’m sure it’ll get worse in a hurry.
August 19, 2008 at 8:19 pm
anon – to quote CS Lewis’s chapter heading from Mere Christianity, “We have cause to be uneasy.” This show is only one show, but it follows the dozens of other shows and movies that consistently blow it on faith, and specifically clergy… Let’s just say we’re not holding our breath for this to turn out like “7th Heaven.”
August 21, 2008 at 2:49 am
You are correct about the difference between homilies and sermons. Homilies are the newer form and if this was in the 60’s the priest would have been giving a sermon.
August 21, 2008 at 4:06 am
In the excerpt of Fr. Martin’s commentary you provide, Fr. Martin seems a little extreme, as if he’s trying to find fault and there is no evidence of the many positive traits of Fr. Gill’s character. Fr. Gill’s wants to deliver an effective sermon and that in itself is laudable because he’s concerned about being good at his calling. I really respect the character for recognizing that he could improve and asking Peggy for help. I sometimes have trouble doing what Fr. Gill did, setting aside pride and openly discussing an inadequacy in the hope of being better. Further, Fr. Gill was friendly, open and did not get upset or flustered when Peggy’s mother didn’t approve of his initial offering of grace. Perhaps I didn’t see Fr. Gill as a negative stereotype because I felt so much pride in the positive aspects of his character?
Of course there is sexual tension between Peggy and Fr. Gill, two interesting, attractive people of about the same age. All humans, Roman Catholic clergy included, have these feelings; taking religious orders doesn’t make sexual urges magically go away. The writers of the show aren’t anti-Catholic for pointing out the obvious. My hope is that Fr. Gill redirects this energy into giving Peggy the spiritual help she needs to find a more grounded path in life and heal the broken relationship she has with her son. I agree that if their relationship takes a sordid turn, that would be a negative depiction of a Roman Catholic priest and a boorish entertainment. I think the “Mad Men” writers are smarter than that and I hope they prove me right.
To answer Fr. Martin’s question “is the only way that television can make a priest interesting is by making him not a very good one?” I would say obviously not because I see so many positives in this particular portrayal. I agree that the situations portrayed in the show could take a turn for the worse and that some of the details were wrong, but I disagree that the overall portrayal of Roman Catholicism and Fr. Gill was negative. Based on what we’ve seen, I feel that saying Colin Hanks’ role is anti-Catholic is a extreme reaction and totally inappropriate.
Negative portrayals of Roman Catholicism are like a slap in the face. By taking swipes at Tom Hanks, Colin Hanks, and expressing disapproval of the writers because of wrong details in the show we are simply slapping back. I believe the correct response is not to hit back, but to turn the other cheek. I don’t believe that complaining, finding fault and taking swipes at our critics supports the example of kindness, understanding, humility and welcome that has been set for us.
When we call some one or something anti-Catholic we have publicly stated “You are my enemy.” and that’s not a good way to win a genuine conversion in their attitude towards us. It is right to engage our enemies, but we must engage them in ways consistent with our faith. When we complain and criticize when we should welcome and embrace, we are destroying our faith from within and that is truly anti-Catholic.