Amateurish acting and syrupy spirituality so hamper some faith films it can be hard to take their messages seriously. For Christian entertainment company Redeem TV to venture into crime dramas, then, seems foolhardy—and to claim the characters on its show Vindication “far exceed [those] of the network crime dramas” (Law & Order, The Rockford Files) surely epitomizes hubris, right?
Yes and no.
Vindication’s Detective Gary Travis (Todd Terry) doesn’t have the charisma of cynical Detective John Munch or of mellow gumshoe Jim Rockford. But convincing acting and authentic characters who turn to Scripture for insight make compelling viewing. Neither flashy nor preachy, Vindication tells relatable stories about regular folks.
So far, the half-hour shows have focused little on police work. Instead, an apparent crime serves as a backdrop for a family in chaos. In Episode 1, a married man on the brink of an affair with a co-worker is accused of murder. In Episode 2, a teen girl suffers the fallout of sharing a nude photo with her boyfriend. In Episode 3, a father of two, hounded by business troubles and a critical wife, disappears. As Travis questions family members, their answers flash back to scenes of domestic turmoil. He seems more shrink than sleuth.
The show’s themes make it unsuitable for young children, and the high volume of low-cut dresses should give other viewers pause. In all, though, it’s a well-acted, refreshing take on the genre that could prove to be a measure of vindication for the faith-film industry.
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Space Age traditions
The Mandalorian continues digging into intriguing worldview themes in Season 2
by Megan Basham
The Mandalorian returned to Disney+ in October, and fans will be glad to hear that—at least so far—the show hasn’t departed from its family-friendly, spaghetti-Western-in-space formula that made it such a galactic success.
At first glance, Season 2 seems to break little new ground. At each far-flung planet Mando travels to in his quest to reunite the Child (aka Baby Yoda) with his own kind, he finds yet another person he must help before he can ride—er, fly—off into the star-scape. But look closer and we see the series digging further into worldview themes the first season introduced.
In the third episode, for instance, he meets other Mandalorians who have adapted their religious practices to modern customs, namely by taking their helmets off. Mando must decide whether wearing his armor is fundamental to his belief system or simply a rigid and unnecessary burden of tradition. That the series is taking this idea seriously in its plot and character development demonstrates how much smarter it is than most shows at the PG level.
More than anything, The Mandalorian’s huge fan base continues to prove how hungry the market is for high-quality entertainment for all ages.
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The wrong stuff
A new dramatization of the space program is more soap opera than adventure
by Marty VanDriel
Astronauts are heroes—skilled, brave, adventurous, bold. They fly into the highest heavens and have “slipped the surly bonds of Earth, … and touched the face of God” (in the words of pilot and poet John Gillespie Magee, which President Ronald Reagan used after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger).
When Tom Wolfe wrote a series of articles that turned into the nonfiction book The Right Stuff in 1979, he captured this spirit of adventure, bravado, and competition that animated and inspired the test pilots who became astronauts in the 1950s and ’60s. They were confident they had the right stuff to be heroes. Unfortunately, the National Geographic TV series (streaming on Disney+) of the same name is a disappointing mishmash that focuses on rivalries between astronauts and sordid behavior, leaving viewers pitying these early space explorers more than admiring them.
Episode 1 launches right into the bitter rivalry between square, straight-laced John Glenn and partying womanizer Alan Shepard (at least, according to the portrayals in this series). The race to be the first American in space has driven a wedge between these two, and Shepard feels no need to disguise his hatred for Glenn. The narrative then flashes back to the beginnings of the Mercury program, when NASA recruited from the ranks of the bravest and most skilled test pilots to select the seven men who would be America’s first astronauts.
We meet each through their flaws. While skilled and brave, they are hard-living, hard-drinking, unfaithful to spouses, and immature. The exception is Glenn, portrayed as a Christian with high moral standards and a loving marriage. But the series shows him to have a large ego and an enormously competitive drive to be the first man in space, perhaps at the expense of others.
The beginning of each episode reminds us that “this dramatization, although fictionalized, is based on actual events. Dialogue and certain events and characters have been created or altered for dramatic purposes.” Viewers can only guess which of the scenes of infidelity, partying, back-stabbing, or fistfights actually occurred and which were added for these “dramatic purposes.” It all plays much more like a soap opera than a serious portrayal of an interesting period in NASA’s history, and its blasphemous language and unnecessary intimate scenes are further marks against it.
Americans can be proud of the accomplishments of the space program. The “space race” with the Russians was a chance to prove that a free society could accomplish greater things than a totalitarian regime. This version of The Right Stuff does nothing to add to these chapters of history, and with its mixing of real and imagined scenes, is not edifying, inspiring, or enlightening.