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‘Living Biblically’ review: Likable stars, intriguing premise, bad execution

Jay R. Ferguson plays Chip, who decides to

Jay R. Ferguson plays Chip, who decides to try to stick to the Bible's rules in the new CBS series "Living Biblically." Credit: CBS / Sonja Flemming

THE SERIES “Living Biblically”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT’S ABOUT To lots of people, the Bible means everything. To some, it means nothing. That alone turns a sitcom about a man living “to the letter” of the Good Book into quite the tune-in magnet — but also a minefield. Don’t make fun of it! Don’t take it too seriously! Maybe, y’know, just don’t.

But TV did. (You knew it would.) The bestseller “The Year of Living Biblically” by New York writer A.J. Jacobs has been adapted to the multicamera audience format by writer Patrick Walsh (coming off “2 Broke Girls”) and sitcom-directing kingpin Andy Ackerman (“Seinfeld,” “Becker,” “The Great Indoors”).

Their main man, Chip (Jay R. Ferguson), is a lapsed Catholic who needs something solid to lean on after losing his lifelong best friend. His sudden urge to go Bible-centric confuses not only his pregnant wife (Lindsey Kraft), but also the relaxed priest (Ian Gomez) whose confessional he invades, plus the priest’s “God squad” rabbi bar buddy (David Krumholtz, soon assigned the line “If you need to snip-snip, you can Yelp me.”). Equally baffled at movie critic Chip’s Manhattan workplace are jokey pal Tony Rock and stern boss Camryn Manheim — at least until an annoying colleague gets meted a biblical punishment that yields a surprising result.

MY SAY While this sincere-yet-sassy attempt may not come off as a mortal sin, it’s hardly a heavenly series. The premiere is push-push compressed, contrived and aggressively “cool” with its pop culture name-checks. Two later episodes provided to critics do calm down some, but still don’t match the genuine attitude and genial appeal of stars Ferguson and Kraft. The series works overtime to place itself in a “real” world and treat faith earnestly, yet undercuts itself by resorting to every sitcom trick in the TV book.

And that’s a shame, because such a valuable opportunity to foster (some) common ground on such a tricky subject doesn’t come along every year, let alone every week. The show’s promising elements keep getting plowed under by the nagging network sitcom clock, always ticking toward another joke already.

BOTTOM LINE Likable stars, intriguing premise, lagging execution.

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