This is not your father's father Preview: Father Ray of ABC's 'Nothing Sacred' may have his doubts, but he never loses his faith.

September 18, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

People who believe Catholic priests and saints are the same thing may very well find "Nothing Sacred" infuriating.

But those who realize that priests are people, too, with the same flaws that bedevil all mortal men, should find plenty to like in this well-acted, thought-provoking series debuting at 8 tonight on ABC.

Because the show depicts a parish priest who expresses doubts about his vocation, acknowledges the inherent conflict that pits the church's teachings against the concept of free will, and employs an avowed atheist as his church's business manager, some conservative Catholic organizations are crying foul and threatening to boycott the show's sponsors.

Catholics needn't worry. Father Ray may not be the paragon of virtue portrayed in such films as "The Bells of St. Mary's" (although a boxing scene between the priest and a problem student at the school harks back to a similar scene in that 1945 film). But he's not lapsed, either, or a heretic.

He's a man who decided to devote his life to God. While he sometimes questions that decision, and while he's not always totally comfortable with church doctrine, his devotion remains. It may waver, but it never breaks.

"Nothing Sacred" wastes no time in letting viewers know Father Ray is not your stereotypical priest. Rolling over in bed, he slaps on a blues CD to help him wake up, stumbles through a room strewn with dirty laundry, drops shaving cream in his coffee. He then puts on his priestly vestments and says early-morning Mass before an audience of one -- a fellow priest.

Next thing he does is get in a shouting match with a yuppie lawyer afraid neighborhood property values will plummet because of the homeless people who call the church's steps home.

Father Ray's response: "Go fax yourself."

And tonight's premiere wastes no time is getting Father Ray in trouble. The church isn't collecting enough to keep its soup kitchen open. He explodes at a zoning hearing, challenging an opponent to step outside. He's supposed to preach on Thomas Aquinas' "Proofs for the Existence of God" -- a book he's not sure he understands, much less agrees with -- during this week's homily. And his confessional remark to a young woman who says she's considering an abortion -- "I can't tell you what to do, I can only tell you what the church teaches" -- is secretly tape-recorded and sent to his superiors -- who aren't happy.

"God had better show his face around here pretty soon," Father Ray says as the frustrations mount.

He spends the hour moving from one trial to another, most temptingly when an old flame shows up to challenge his vows of chastity.

Kevin Anderson, with his cherubic face and curly hair, makes a very human -- and very appealing -- Father Ray. As his mentor, Father Leo, Brad Sullivan gets to impart all kinds of sage advice, often containing more than a hint of sarcasm (asked if he believes in hell, Father Leo replies, "After we sent people there for eating meat on Fridays, I began to have my doubts"). Ann Dowd has fun playing a feminist nun, Sister Maureen, while Scott Campbell as Father Eric has the unenviable task of counterbalancing Father Ray's cynicism.

"Nothing Sacred" is being praised as one of the season's most promising dramas, and tonight's premiere shows why. Viewers who give the show a chance may find a priest who's a lot more devout than they've been led to believe.

Series premiere

What: 'Nothing Sacred'

When: 8-9 tonight

Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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