Patrick Walsh has been in the TV business for a long time. However, with his new show, “Living Biblically,” he’s excited to do something new and bring something to the world of sitcoms that’s been considered taboo for many years, religion.
The writer and producer, best known for his work on sitcoms like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “2 Broke Girls,” teamed up with “Big Bang Theory” star Johnny Galecki to create a series that tackles religious themes while simultaneously welcoming audiences of all creeds and backgrounds. “Living Biblically," based on AJ Jacobs’ book “The Year of Living Biblically,” focuses on a main character named Chip who, in an effort to become a better man before the birth of his first child, decides to live his life to the literal letter of the Bible.
“I was looking to write a show, and you can either pitch your own idea or kind of hear what the town has available. I was just hearing a lot of pitches that all sounded vaguely the same. You know - young people dating or a guy moves back in with his parents, what have you. I met with Johnny Galecki, and he had the rights to this book and said he wanted to do a comedy about religion and I couldn’t believe it,” Walsh told Fox News in a phone interview. “Especially on a major network, it’s just not done. There has not really been a comedy about religion, to my knowledge.”
While Walsh, who wrote the premiere episode of the series, is excited about the idea of bringing religion to primetime, the controversy that one could encounter when faith is not lost on him.
The pilot episode, which garnered positive reactions from viewers on social media, took great pains to not turn people of faith or non-believers off with its premise. Walsh said the series had a consulting priest and rabbi that were honorary members of the writing staff to help get the scholarly details right. However, the creator hopes to speak to secular people and how religion comes up in their day-to-day lives as well.
“That was the intent, to do a show that was not preachy and off-putting to people who do not practice religion, but also very respectful and welcoming to those that do. A big part of my pitch was that 84 percent of the world aligns itself with religion, and yet there’s nothing on television for people of faith,” Walsh said. “The only times you hear it mentioned is things like Bill Maher, which is extremely critical, and the other end of the spectrum are movies like 'God’s Not Dead' and 'Left Behind,' which are successful, but I think they’re so pious and solemn that they’re off-putting to a general audience. They’re usually just successful amongst religious people.”
One character that helps the show strike a balance is Chip's wife Leslie. In another break from traditional sitcom structure, the main character is happily married, something the newly-engaged Walsh says was subconsciously inspired by his own life. In the premiere, Leslie is depicted as a supportive partner who works in medicine. As a result of her profession, she is an atheist and has a lot of trouble believing in any of the things that Chip was raised learning as literal gospel.
She’s worried about how Chip’s pious lifestyle will affect her way of living and whether or not it will extend to how they raise their child - questions the writer believes have been asked by every couple, but are never shown on TV.
“I thought it would be cool to show an atheist woman and a very devout man who are married, but are communicating and listening to each other and respecting each other, even though they believe in completely different things,” he said. “It was very important to me to not make her the typical sitcom wife and make her nagging all the time and asking why he’s doing this and that. I don’t think that's interesting and I also don’t think that’s true to most people’s relationships.”
Walsh, who was raised Catholic and has a father who teaches theology, says there are similarities between his relationship with faith and Chip’s. The hope is that an audience will relate to the tug-of-war between his religious upbringing and the way he lives.
“I was raised Catholic and, you know, I would say much like Chip, I had probably become lapsed, and a big part of that is, you know, moving out to L.A. and away from my family. I just stopped the traditional aspects of it, like going to mass every Sunday and all that stuff,” he said. “But it stays with you, in good ways and bad. Catholicism, for example, stays with you in terms of guilt. But, a positive way of looking at that is, the lessons you learn through religion are good, positive lessons that stay with you your entire life.”
He hopes “Living Biblically” will open up a dialogue around the topic of faith.
“I think you learn so much more about other people, other cultures and other faiths by just talking with them, laughing with them and learning about each other. It’s another goal of the show, to just open up this dialogue around religion, because people seem so scared these days to talk about those big topics. Politics, religion and all that. I think we would all benefit from doing a lot more talking and a lot more listening.”