Saturday, April 30, 2005

Gettin' Your Jesus fix with your Saturday Breakfast

I was getting ready to go to work this grey Saturday morning and did some channel surfing in the hopes of finding some good old-fashioned cheesy kid's programming. After flitting through the obligatory infomercials and Pokemon cartoons, I settled on the Trinity Broadcasting Network for said fix. And (bad pun alert!) thank God I did.

I'd known about Bibleman, the children's series starring former Eight is Enough/Charles in Charge star Willie Aames, for a few years, but finally got to watch an episode today. The show's a dual knockoff of the '60's Batman series, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Aames plays the title character, a former millionaire who finds Jesus and decides to become a superhero. Bibleman runs around in plastic body armor and tights (extremely reminiscent of Shaquille O'Neil's superhero garb in that action classic, Steel), waves a lightsaber, and quotes the bible with monotonous regularity. His sidekicks, Biblegirl and Cypher, help Bibleman thwart evildoers.

Today, Bibleman and his homies fought the Wacky Protestor, a dead ringer for Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis' pre-Buddy Love character) in The Nutty Professor (get it?). The WP's mission was to turn the Holy Heroes against one another with fake satellite feeds that convinced each hero that the others were--zounds!--saying mean things about each other.

Of course, it's crap. Like a fifty-something accountant slapping on a backwards baseball cap and cranking some 50 Cent in his Camry, Bibleman tries to be Hip, Irreverent, and appeal to The Kids but just looks out-of-it and ridiculous in the process. No kid in his or her right mind would put up with the somnabulent shuffling that qualifies as "action" here. But while there's nothin' but nothin' here for any child (unless they've been really, reeeeallly bad and are in need of some punishment), grownups can chortle derisively at the former Tommy Bradford shoehorning his paunchy corpus into leotards and parroting Proverbs as only an ex-coke addict-turned-born-again-Christian can.

After Bibleman came an episode of Davey and Goliath, a stop-motion animated series from the '60's commissioned by the Lutheran Church and produced and animated by Gumby mastermind Art Clokey. The central premise has a boy named Davey and his dog Goliath experiencing various faith-based adventures as they blunder down the road to righteousness.

In this particular episode Davey organized a bell choir for his local church with his pastor's blessing, and recruited many of his friends to help. Davey's Bell Choir eventually learned a rip-roaring version of "Kumbaya", with Goliath adding accompaniment. Now, this may not sound exciting, but Clokey interjects his distinctive visual sense into the seemingly prosaic world of a small religious community in Everytown USA, and all sorts of little touches culminate into one major brain-fry. Jonathan, Davey's token-African-American grade school buddy, sounds like an insurance company CEO, and all of Davey's friends think Davey's nuts because he's continually having conversations with Goliath and insisting that the mutt can talk. Of course, Goliath really is talking to Davey, but only Davey hears words; everyone else hears barks and howls.

Like all interesting art, you can view Davey and Goliath on multiple levels. Clokey's visual work here is more muted than in Gumby, but still interesting enough to draw in even the most cynical viewer--it sure beats the hell out of Bibleman's generic and tedious vomitorium of neon and pastel. The animator was definitely sincere about his work on the series, and at face value, the show provides a refreshingly irony-free and un-preachy bit of do-unto-others-good-citizenship-tutelage.

Alongside the sunny moralizing, however, the whole recurring "Davey's talking to the dog again" subplot serves as a pretty potent (and not very flattering) metaphor for unconditional (read: blind) religious faith. Maybe Davey and Goliath is a just a Junior Bible version of Mr. Ed on Electric Kool-Aid. Or maybe, when Davey treats every bon mot that topples out of his pooch's mouth like some gem of Socratic philosophy (even when Goliath's just being a goofy mutt), Clokey's making an incisive commentary on the lemming-like tendency of some Christians to read profundity into even the most absurd of Old Testament passages. Dog, after all, is God spelled backwards.

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