Lucifer and 8 other shows with (sort of vaguely) religion-adjacent themes
Faith may be important to believers, but it also provides rich pickings for writers and producers of series, movies and musicals. Streaming platforms Showmax and Netflix offer a whole host of irreverent comedy-drama titles loosely related to religion for those who are going to hell anyway.
Here are some of our favourites, available to stream in South Africa.
When a bored Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) decides to take a holiday from Hell, he chooses Los Angeles as his vacay destination.
There, he opens a nightclub, hooks up with an LAPD homicide detective and starts helping the team solve murder cases. The series got off to a tame and iffy start when it was born on Fox, but after the network cancelled at the end of three seasons, Netflix picked it up and lit a fire under it. Season 5, Part 1 (eight episodes) lands on 21 August 2020.
Jesus Christ Superstar 2000 (Netflix)
Stage musical power couple Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber created this rock opera in 1970, bringing it to the Broadway stage a year later. It’s sung throughout with no spoken dialogue. Although there have been dozens of stage adaptations, it’s only been made into a film twice, this being the second version.
Based on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’s life and focused on a disgruntled Judas, this musical spectacular is always going to be controversial.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Netflix)
If you’re on the hunt for irreverent entertainment, look no further. Brian Cohen is a Jewish man who happened to be born on the same day as – and next door to – Jesus Christ. As a result, he’s constantly being mistaken for the Messiah, which can be a bit annoying. Released in 1979, it created a huge stir but ended up being the fourth-highest grossing film at the UK box office that year.
Fun fact: former Beatle George Harrison provided financing after EMI Films pulled out.
Perry Mason (Showmax)
The Americans’ Matthew Rhys has his next big role as the eponymous Perry Mason, formerly a criminal defence lawyer in the 80 books that gave him life, here a down-on-his-luck private investigator with divorce issues and a drinking problem.
He’s hired for a sensational child kidnapping case, which strays into the church territory when evangelical preacher Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) delivers a rousing and mostly improvised sermon during a funeral.
Says Vanity Fair of this origin story: “It shows us how Rhys’s Mason – rumpled, exhausted, and adept at worming his way into rooms he shouldn’t be in – transitions from a freelance investigator with a worthless piece of farmland to a lawyer with his own firm.”
Televangelists, let’s face it, have a less than stellar reputation. This comedy series tackles it head-on with a family that prays together and stays together – but makes sure to rake in the dollars along the way.
Widowed patriarch Eli Gemstone is played by John Goodman, and he has three bickering offspring; they all have opulent lifestyles thanks to the tithing and donations of their congregations. Big churches are big business, and there’s competition out there in the crusade to win souls.
Dermot Mulroney plays a rival pastor, and Walton Goggins (The Shield, Justified), Eli’s estranged brother-in-law, is recruited to lead a new ministry.
The question on millions of minds is “where do I go when I die?”. Based on simple Christianity (or Hotel California), it could be heaven or it could be hell – the “good place” or the “bad place”.
Kristin Bell plays Eleanor, who lands up in the former, designed and run by the “architect” Michael (Ted Danson). But it soon transpires that she doesn’t fit in and it appears a terrible mistake has been made.
But why would she bring this to anyone’s attention and risk being downgraded to the other final destination? Because maybe, just maybe, this is already someone’s messed up idea of hell…
The New Pope is the sequel or second season of The Young Pope. It’s tricky to write about The New Pope without spoiling the first season, so we’ll keep it brief.
Jude Law’s Pope is out of commission in this season, so a new pontiff has to be appointed, and that one is played by a languid John Malkovich. Let’s just say that neither of these Popes is what you would imagine the Holy Father to be.
The Two Popes (Netflix)
In this biographical drama, Pope Benedict XVI is played by Anthony Hopkins, and Cardinal Jorge Mario is played by Jonathan Pryce. That alone makes it worth watching.
All these Pope stories illustrate the role that politics plays in the Vatican, and among the men who wield the power in the Church.
And now for a more serious pick. Series and films with their roots in religion are as numerous and diverse as the religions themselves. This is Netflix’s first Original series to be mainly in Yiddish. Shira Haas plays Esty, a young Jewish woman from an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, who runs away to Berlin.
There, she finds her estranged mother and embarks on a journey of embracing a secular life that goes against everything she has ever known. The series has eight Emmy nominations for 2020, including “big” categories Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for Haas.
“The quasi-documentary aspect of Unorthodox might feel gratuitous or gawking were it not key to the series’ delicately balanced tone,” says The New Yorker.