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Televangelism

Andre & Hulk
Big Deal: Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan are just two of Wrestlemania's oversized macho men.



How 'Wrestlemania' tangles with the apocalypse, 'NYPD Blue' preaches the gospel and 'Touched by an Angel' makes the good old Good Book read like a bad paperback

By Kelly Luker

ALTHOUGH THE PAST COUPLE of generations have managed to avoid organized religion like a plague of boils, the truth is we still live in a Judeo-Christian nation. Yeah, yeah, we're not dissing you goddess-worshipers or Druids, but everything from the Constitution to the national anthem resounds with biblical imagery. So why should TV be any different?

Themes from the Old and New Testament are human themes: Temptation, The Fall, Grace, Redemption and Mystery. But leave it to those weekly hack writers to bang out bitchen' takes on the Garden of Eden, the Crucifixion and, of course, the apocalypse.

No one is too fallen, too flawed, too stained with sin for redemption--that's the main message of the New Testament and the theme recently revisited by Touched by an Angel. For the intelligentsia out there too hip to watch, a brief synopsis: Three angels--Monica (Roma Downey), Tess (Della Reese) and Andrew the Angel of Death (Richard Dye)--go about helping people live (and die) under the watchful eye and guidance of You-Know-Who. A weekly foray into treacly and transparent plots, the writing sucks and the acting's not much better (except for that of marvelous Della Reese). Not that any of those flaws keeps me from watching, well, faithfully, week after week, invariably reduced to a blubbering heap when angel Monica's halo lights up and she reminds this week's sad sack that "God loves you."

Touched deserves credit for at least saying the "G" word on prime-time TV. But given that polls show 90 percent of Americans believe in God, you'd think they could find at least three or four creative teams to write about the Big Guy (or Gal) a little better than this.

Paradoxically, the heart of the gospel consistently beats in NYPD Blue, a show reviled and boycotted by the Christian Right. For followers who still paint Jesus as a blue-eyed blonde and actually believe He preached condemnation of gays, it probably makes sense to judge a show on a few bare buttocks and a sprinkling of salty words. But for the rest of us who enjoy the basic Christian message as conveyed by saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it can be witnessed a-plenty through the struggles of Detective Andy Sipowicz, one terribly flawed--and refreshingly real--human being.

Modern-Day Parables

PLAYED WITH ASTOUNDING empathy by Dennis Franz, Sipowicz is the Old Testament's Suffering Job with a twist: Andy never had much faith to begin with. He battles the bottle, the murder of his son and his inherent racism and sexism with little dignity, just like the rest of us hairless apes. But each time the hand of God weighs seemingly heavy on him, grace and reconciliation eventually follow. Sipowicz loses everything behind his alcoholism, but gains it back--more or less--with intermittent sobriety. His son is murdered, but a new son is born. After lashing out at the "pissy bitch" of a district attorney, Sipowicz finally gets to know her and, eventually, marries her.

Crime is merely a convenient present-day backdrop for this age-old human drama that plays out each week. Just like Noah's voyage didn't have a hell of a lot to do with moving a zoo across the ocean, these modern-day biblical parables penned by the talented hand of television writer David Milch and produced by Steven Bochco have little to do with cops and robbers. Milch, an ex-junkie who's no virgin to the rougher corners of life, has consistently avoided adding more crap to flush through TV toiletland in favor of painting subtle textures and hues of real life.

If NYPD Blue covers everything from the book of Job to the gospels, it's left to Hulk Hogan, Brutus Beefcake and The Undertaker to read chapter and verse from the book of Revelations. Ain't nothing on TV better shows the black-and-white division of Good and Evil than WCW Nitro Monday, the latest incarnation of Wrestlemania. Huge, steroid-ripped creatures improbably draped in Spandex and glitter face off under the screaming approval or boos of thousands of blood-hungry fans.

There is always a storybook tale at work to explain the demonic hatred of one tag-team of wrestlers for the other. Perhaps Legion of Doom have shown themselves to be bullies, and it's left to New World Order to teach them bullying is wrong. Maybe the Smoking Gunns, Billy and Bart, made cruel jokes about the mother of Well Dunn's Steven Dunn, and the Well Dunns must now show the Smokings that mockery is wrong.

When tempers and taunts reach a fever pitch, the wrestlers playing God and Satan heave themselves at each other, body-dropping and eye-gouging their way to the Final Judgment. Invariably God wins, the fans go crazy and all is back to order in the universe. Ahh, if life were only like that. But that's why we love wrestling. In a world where injustice often goes unchallenged, evil usually out-trumps good and they never, ever catch the thugs that ripped off your car stereo, it's refreshingly satisfying to see someone representing every satanic force in life finally getting the snot slapped out of him.

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From the Sept. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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