The Varieties of Religious Experience: streaming edition
May 7, 2021 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I really like shows about people who are serious about religion. Snowflakes within.

The programs I like have characters who are seriously religious, but are not cartoon versions of religious people. Characters can be imperfect, but they shouldn't be just awful. I am definitely not looking for shows that are trying to convince people that any religion is the right one. Religion should be integral to the character's lives, so I'm not looking for something like The Waltons or The Simpsons where people go to church but it doesn't affect their lives much.

The shows I've loved are Call the Midwife, Srugim, Shtisel, Churchmen, and Corpus Christi (Polish movie).

I quit watching Unorthodox because I felt the religious characters were more cartoonish and also because I read several pieces by people formerly from that community who felt it was unfair.
I liked The Good Place, but it is not really what I'm looking for here.
I've sort of assumed I wouldn't like Big Love because it seems like it's sensationalizing one aspect of the Mormon religion, but I may be wrong.
And I've assumed Touched by an Angel is too sentimental, but again, I could be wrong. The only thing with angels I've ever really liked is the movie Wings of Desire.
I really liked the first season of Ramy, but the first episode of the second season had two scenes of Ramy sitting on a toilet, and I'm way too old-fashioned to be good with that - I'll probably give it another chance later.

I can't really tolerate violence or apparently people sitting on toilets.
posted by FencingGal to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think Touched by an Angel is what you're looking for at all. You might like the movie The Two Popes.
posted by HotToddy at 6:37 AM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

You mention Big Love. Did you watch Big Love? I really like Big Love. There is a major drop in quality in season 4, but it hasn't stopped me from watching the series a few times over. I think it might be just what you're looking for. Plus it's got some of my favorite actors in the cast.
posted by phunniemee at 6:39 AM on May 7, 2021

Technically it's television, so I'll suggest the Dekalog. Only three or four of the films include characters who are overtly religious, but religion is (I suppose obviously) a theme. (The "A short film about. . ." extended versions may also be of interest.)

Father Brown is a rather silly mystery show, but the religious aspects are quite sincere. Or so it seems to me, as a secular person.
posted by eotvos at 6:39 AM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

posted by dianeF at 6:50 AM on May 7, 2021

Seconding Father Brown as a good cozy mystery show about a Catholic priest in the 1950s. As eotvos mentions, it is a bit silly, but his beliefs are treated seriously and not just as a plot point.

Cadfael is set in a 12th century Benedictine abbey. I haven't watched it in a while and I remember it being more historical than religious, but it still might fit the bill.
posted by Garm at 6:56 AM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ida (2013) (also on the blue) is haunting and gorgeous.
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 7:10 AM on May 7, 2021

Bear with me here: Teenage Bounty Hunters. (Netflix, sadly canceled after one season.) From this review:
It’s in Teenage Bounty Hunters’ simultaneously affectionate and clear-eyed portrait of white Southern evangelicalism that the show does its most original work. Blair and Sterling are surrounded by hypocritical adults who mouth religious platitudes while glorying in outright racism and misogyny: One early villain is a local church leader who hires and then beats a sex worker. But the twins are also surrounded by well-meaning adults who are genuinely trying to live up to the tenets of their faith, with varying degrees of success, and in their various failures, they spotlight the failures of the systems in which they are living. And as the girls try to confront their growing disillusionment with the grownups all around them, they do so while maintaining a sincere religious faith to which the show never condescends.
It's also hilarious.
posted by gaspode at 7:12 AM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

And also beautiful but much more light-hearted is Ma nuit chez Maud (1969), in which nothing happens but long discussions on Jansenism and marriage.
posted by trotz dem alten drachen at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Season 2 of Fleabag, besides being wonderful TV, is about a relationship between a woman and a priest and his relationship with god and being a priest is really interesting.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:36 AM on May 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Have you seen Rev.? It's a light comedy about a Vicar in London with occasional crises-of-faith but still trying to do the right thing.
posted by Think_Long at 7:42 AM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I loved loved loved the first season of The Young Pope (I haven't caught season 2 yet). I think the pilot episode is a little shaky but it picks up from there.
posted by muddgirl at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Not sure where/if available but Vicar of Dibley is very funny and sweet.

I haven’t seen it myself but I’ve heard good things about Little Mosque on the Prairies.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:17 AM on May 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Rev and Vicar of Dibley are two British comedies about vicars, both of which treat the religious (and pastoral) aspects quite seriously but are pretty funny. And Rev also features Olivia Colman.

Thirding Two Popes.
posted by altolinguistic at 8:21 AM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 has a lot of deeply religious characters who engage with their religion in different ways. It is about aliens though!
posted by chaiminda at 8:46 AM on May 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Derry Girls - a comedy about students at a parochial school in Northern Ireland in the 90s during the Troubles. Religion is important to the setting of course, but the characters are also engaging with it individually in the ways that teenagers do.
posted by yarrow at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

Yeah, Father Brown. The mystery aspects are quite silly, but that's because they're usually just setups to make a point about forgiveness or grace or sacrifice or some other Catholic virtue. But it's also not preachy. The characters have flaws, some of which are quite sinful, which gives it a nice sense of realism. There are also a lot of bits of cultural Catholicism (e.g., the entire character of Mrs. McCarthy); it's clear that a lot of the writers and actors have actually spent time around Catholic churches. The world is believably Catholic, by which I mean that it's not just a show with Catholic characters, it's a show about Catholicism.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oddly the first TV series that comes to mind for me is Six Feet Under. Religion is not the main theme, but it's a topic that comes up not only in the overall theme of death and dying, but also in the lives of several characters.

Movies that come to mind: Doubt with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Apostle with Robert Duvall.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:38 AM on May 7, 2021

Little Mosque on the Prairie is a good sitcom about religious people (main characters include an Imam and an Anglican priest); I don't know if it's officially streaming, but it's available on YouTube here. Many of the story lines are based around cultural conflicts between and within the respective religious communities, but in a well-rounded way. The only really stereotyped character is the Islamophobic white guy (like a mini-Rush Limbaugh).

If you can find The Vicar of Dibley, that's another nice sitcom where religion is an important part of the main characters' life (being, after all, a vicar).

I would agree that Touched by an Angel (or the similar but earlier Highway to Heaven) is not what you're looking for: they are both shows about angels helping people, but not about religion at all (the shows are a bit vague on which version of angels they are, though are obviously produced within a culturally Christian society).
posted by jb at 10:17 AM on May 7, 2021

+1 for The Young Pope (the second season didn't quite do it for me though)

Ramy - depicts a Muslim-American community, also about life as a first-generation immigrant.

If you're open to films: Menashe is a nice slice of life of Hasidic Brooklyn.

It's been awhile since I watched Big Love, but I agree that it eventually declines in quality (I forget which season I stopped watching) though before that it's fairly nuanced and gets at some tensions within the community.
posted by coffeecat at 10:31 AM on May 7, 2021

I will nth Father Brown and second Cadfael. Cadfael is definitely historical but the emphasis is on historical religious practice (well, and solving mysteries) and how that religion affects the main character's life as well as the lives of other people in his community receives a good bit of focus.
posted by darchildre at 10:46 AM on May 7, 2021

eotvos, reminiscing on Dekalog: One still makes my blood run cold, over a decade after watching it. Definitely recommend.
posted by Carouselle at 11:36 AM on May 7, 2021

The Israeli show Shtisel is streaming on Netfilx and is a great soapy melodrama on the love-life woes of a young Haredi man dealing with his family and religious obligations.
posted by Theiform at 11:40 AM on May 7, 2021

Ah, saw that you mentioned Shtisel already. Also streaming on Netflix is the Turkish miniseries Ethos, which brings together a wide range of people from different socio-economic backgrounds in Turkey, including a religious housecleaner (and her family, still based in the Anatolian village she came to Istanbul from) -- and the local Imam who advises them.
posted by Theiform at 11:43 AM on May 7, 2021

Three movies:


The Rapture

Breaking the Waves
posted by dobbs at 11:48 AM on May 7, 2021

I have to mention short-lived early-2000s teen drama Joan of Arcadia, where the main character is getting messages from God. It is much better than it had any right to be given the premise.
posted by Jeanne at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Anglican and edgier version of Father Brown is Grantchester.
posted by rip at 1:10 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

another vote for the young pope (although i haven't watched the second season - aka the new pope - yet)
posted by inire at 1:33 PM on May 7, 2021

A darker one: The Handmaid’s Tale. Not so much for the religiosity of Gilead, but for June’s faith, which surfaces more and more as the show goes on.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:13 PM on May 7, 2021

Although most of the action is secular in Brideshead Revisited (the original miniseries - can't comment on the unseen remake) it features a family with a few very Catholic members. (Guaranteed: No toilets, although the novel has a scene in a Brideshead bathroom with some remarkable plumbing fixtures.)
posted by Rash at 4:55 PM on May 7, 2021

Another vote for Derry Girls. There is a moment in season 2 that made me laugh so hard I almost choked on my drink, and then immediately texted my mom and aunt (who both watched it too) to retell.

Very good. Religion is central but also non-central in a way that I really love.
posted by kellygrape at 5:02 PM on May 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy The Disciple, which is currently on Netflix. It's arguably more about musicianship, self-mastery and dealing with artistic failure, but spirituality and religion are interwoven inextricably throughout. It's also gorgeously shot, meditative and often transfixing. There aren't really any cathartic breakthroughs -- quite the opposite really -- but it's one of the most honest portrayals of spiritual and artistic struggle that I think I've seen on a screen.
posted by vverse23 at 5:09 PM on May 7, 2021

Yet another vote for Derry Girls.

Also, The Leftovers. Religion is very important in this show, though it skews away from conventional religion. But every character’s faith is treated very seriously.
posted by ejs at 7:01 PM on May 9, 2021

Hi, sent you a memail.
posted by watercarrier at 4:42 AM on June 4, 2021

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