Call the Midwife: The seven-season (and counting) British series tells the story of several midwives and is based on the journals of Nurse Jenny Lee (real life Jennifer Worth) who joins them to begin her career. Like most shows on this list, the main character doesn’t know what she’s getting into, as suggested by the opening line of the theme song: “Why did I even start this?” The midwives, a mix of Anglican nuns and laywomen, live together in East London during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and share a mission to deliver the babies of their working-class district, Poplar. The show is unique in that it is female-centric, and therefore provides a refreshingly different take on religious life. The show engages a wide range of themes, such as the dramatically changing times of post-war Britain, birth control, modernization, vocational discernment, discovering sexuality, and living in community. After seven seasons, it can sometimes get a bit formulaic, but each episode still grabs you in. Available on Netflix.
Broken: While only one season of six episodes, Broken features a masterful performace of Sean Bean as Father Michael Kerrigan, a parish priest in an unnamed, post-industrial town in northern England. The extremely intense drama is an emotional roller-coaster and is not for the faint of heart. As Father Kerrigan continues to suffer from the after-effects of his own childhood abuse – which reach their height for him at the moment of consecration in every Mass he celebrates – he tries to do right by his community and parishioners. While most around him regard him as a great priest, Kerrigan struggles with a lack of self-confidence that often results in needless tragedy. This is a real look into the life of a parish and its pastor in the same vein as 2014’s Calvary, but offers (usually) a dose of redemption when the viewer needs it most. A balanced view of the good, bad, and ugly of the life of a priest and wonderfully acted. Available on BritBox.
The Churchmen (“Ainsi Soient-Ils”): The three season series follows five very different young men after they enter the prestigious “Capuchin” diocesan seminary in Paris. These include: Yann, the eager and young scoutmaster from the country; José, recently released from prison for a violent crime; the quiet but seasoned Guillaume; Emmanuel, who is hiding an unbearable secret; and Raphael, the wealthy young man who seems to fail at everything but making money. The Churchmen explores all the themes you can think of in religious life, or were too afraid to ask about: falling in love, Vatican politics, the fear of “secularism” and the siege mentality it creates. The show is brilliant in that it avoids the extremes of painting the church, or religious life in general, as either untouchably pious or hopelessly corrupt. Rather, it fleshes out the human experience at the core of religious life in all its nuance and complexity: in particular, how these young men come to terms with their own pasts and desires, even when they would rather not. Full of surprises and beautifully shot, this is a no-holds barred drama that inserts the viewer into the seminary as it explores these men’s spiritual and emotional journey towards the priesthood. Available on Netflix.
Father Brown: The latest iteration of G.K. Chesterton’s beloved detective Father Brown is now in its sixth season. Somewhat similar to his character in the books, the “easily forgotten” Father Brown gains a reputation for solving tough crimes as he corrects the mistakes of the frustrated police, who usually arrest the wrong suspect. Though not the most street-smart character, Father Brown is gifted with a brilliant mind that allows him to see each case in ways that everyone around him misses. Father Brown travels with an entourage of Catholic friend-employees who help him solve the crimes, along the way giving nods to the history of Catholicism in the UK as well as adding to the comic relief. Amusingly, the TV show is set in the 1950s, although the stories were written between 1910 and 1936. Following around this very unique kind of priest makes for most entertaining viewing. Available on Netflix.
Rev.: Only three seasons (though more may be in the works), this light-hearted show centers around an Anglican parish priest and his fraught move to London from his country parish. The priest, Reverend Tom Hollander, tries his best to adapt to life in the big city, but is often confused and easily overwhelmed. Everyone around him, on the other hand, seems to have their lives neatly together. In the end, Hollander has to learn that he doesn’t have to try so hard: he’s best when he’s simply himself. Supporting characters (a lawyer wife, the parish school headmistress, local Archdeacon, and parishioners) keep the show fun with their understated British shade and low-key Catholic jokes. (One running joke is that Hollander’s assistant will run off and “go Catholic” like the previous pastor.) Look out for the cameo of Liam Neeson as God in the third season. Available on BritBox.
…and remember to binge responsibly.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user mxmstryo.