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Leading the gullible

Nothing can save Netflix's Messiah from its many drawbacks

ISIS troops surround Damascus, pummeling the city with rockets and bombs. It seems only a matter of time before they pour in and take over. A mysterious long-haired figure appears, assuring the growing crowds that they will be saved from destruction if they just believe that God will save them. From nowhere, a violent sandstorm swells up and buries ISIS trucks, tanks, and weapons, forcing the fighters to flee for their lives.

Messiah, a 10-part Netflix miniseries rated TV-MA, is from executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It follows Al-Masih, an enigmatic prophet, on a journey from Damascus, through Israel, and on to the USA, gathering more and more followers who thirst for his message of peace and are willing to do whatever he suggests. Is his message truly peaceful or a sinister plot to destroy the social and political fabric of the Western world?

This is not a series I recommend, not just because of disturbing violence and coarse language. More seriously, characters speak about Christianity and Jesus in such a mocking and disrespectful way that it is hard to witness. Scenes where a CIA agent and her Israeli rival ridicule the true Christ and His ministry, comparing Him to a street minstrel or charlatan, are shameful. Yes, we know these are unbelieving characters and perhaps in a potential Season 2 they will change, but the thoroughness with which they express their disgust with Christ and his followers is explicit and profane.

Why write about it then? Christians should know what our fellow citizens are watching, because entertainment informs and influences worldview, and much of the content of this series portrays followers of the Lord as gullible or corrupt. 

While Jews and Muslims seem skeptical, naïve Christian characters like the Rev. Felix Iguero blindly follow their new leader. Iguero never opens his Bible to see if the claims Al-Masih makes align with Scripture and the clear prophesies of the true Jesus about His return.

Actor Mehdi Dehbi (as Al-Masih) has perfected the art of sitting perfectly still, staring into space with a mystic glow in his eyes. His favorite way to get his followers even more entranced is to take their faces into his hands and intone that they have a special job to do and that they will know what that job is when the time comes. Beyond preaching peace, Al-Masih mixes vaguely Christian sentiments with platitudes about being true to oneself. None of his message sounds at all inspiring in a way that would justify the crowds who follow him.

By the end of the 10-part show, viewers are not yet clear on the nature of the title character. Is he divine or a sinister human? I for one do not care to find out, and hope Episode 10 is the end of this sorry series.

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Eric McCandless/ABC/via AP

From left: Alex Trebek, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter on the set of Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time
Eric McCandless/ABC/via AP

Television

Who is Ken Jennings?

Jeopardy! crowns its GOAT player

Ken Jennings became Jeopardy’s “Greatest of All Time” champion on Tuesday evening. He won three of the four contests in a series that began last Tuesday. About 15 million viewers—the largest television audience drawn by a non-sports program in the past four years—watched each of the four nights of competition.

Jennings, who holds the record for the longest Jeopardy! winning streak—74 games in 2004—defeated Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer, who held records for most dollars won.

The win was far from inevitable.

“The clues get more complex in these tournaments,” Jennings recently told the Television Critics Association. “That’s got to be fun for the writers.”

That fun was obvious in categories like “JEOPORTMANTEAU!,” which pushed contestants to come up with a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others. The correct question for “Sentient creature like Olaf or Frosty” plus “the No. 1 Kosher wine brand in America” was, “What is Snowmanischewitz?”

Jennings showed his prodigious knowledge on challenges like, “He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy.” Jennings correctly answered, ”Who is Iago?”

Holzhauer, a professional gambler, brought an all-or-nothing strategy to “Daily Double” questions, and TV producer Rutter was often quickest to the buzzer. But Jennings holds the record for the highest average correct responses per game in Jeopardy! history: 33, including tournaments and special events. He was consistent throughout the tournament, and won big on Daily Doubles during the last contest.

The biggest star of the night was long-term host Alex Trebek, who has been fighting cancer. Jennings, who won $1 million, said he particularly wanted to be in the tournament to be reunited with Trebek: “Just the idea that you’ve got a chance to be associated with your favorite show one more time, kind of a capstone of Alex’s career, you don’t want to screw with that.”

Rutter did not get the right answer to the Final Jeopardy question Tuesday night, but the answer he wrote out wasn’t wrong: “You’re the best, Alex.”

Dustin Messer and Michael Malament are graduates of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

Share this article with friends.

Eric McCandless/ABC/via AP

From left: Alex Trebek, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter on the set of Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time
Eric McCandless/ABC/via AP

Television

Who is Ken Jennings?

Jeopardy! crowns its GOAT player

Ken Jennings became Jeopardy’s “Greatest of All Time” champion on Tuesday evening. He won three of the four contests in a series that began last Tuesday. About 15 million viewers—the largest television audience drawn by a non-sports program in the past four years—watched each of the four nights of competition.

Jennings, who holds the record for the longest Jeopardy! winning streak—74 games in 2004—defeated Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer, who held records for most dollars won.

The win was far from inevitable.

“The clues get more complex in these tournaments,” Jennings recently told the Television Critics Association. “That’s got to be fun for the writers.”

That fun was obvious in categories like “JEOPORTMANTEAU!,” which pushed contestants to come up with a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others. The correct question for “Sentient creature like Olaf or Frosty” plus “the No. 1 Kosher wine brand in America” was, “What is Snowmanischewitz?”

Jennings showed his prodigious knowledge on challenges like, “He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy.” Jennings correctly answered, ”Who is Iago?”

Holzhauer, a professional gambler, brought an all-or-nothing strategy to “Daily Double” questions, and TV producer Rutter was often quickest to the buzzer. But Jennings holds the record for the highest average correct responses per game in Jeopardy! history: 33, including tournaments and special events. He was consistent throughout the tournament, and won big on Daily Doubles during the last contest.

The biggest star of the night was long-term host Alex Trebek, who has been fighting cancer. Jennings, who won $1 million, said he particularly wanted to be in the tournament to be reunited with Trebek: “Just the idea that you’ve got a chance to be associated with your favorite show one more time, kind of a capstone of Alex’s career, you don’t want to screw with that.”

Rutter did not get the right answer to the Final Jeopardy question Tuesday night, but the answer he wrote out wasn’t wrong: “You’re the best, Alex.”

Dustin Messer and Michael Malament are graduates of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

Share this article with friends.

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