'By the Book' TV Show Delivers Laughs and Some Depth – A Review

 On Friday Oct. 6th, the 168 family attended a Live Taping of "By the Book." The new CBS show is based on a non-fiction book by AJ Jacobs called, “The Year of Living Biblically.”  Following is a review of the show from a faith and family values perspective.

Series co-stars include: Jay R. Ferguson, Camryn Manheim, David Krumholtz, Ian Gomez, Tony Rock and Lindsey Kraft

The “Living Biblically” author wrote the book as he was trying his own social experiment/publicity stunt; to live in accordance with the Bible's teachings as close as possible for an entire year, while working at Esquire Magazine.  Jacobs is famous as a writer for “Celebrity Deathmatch” (1999-2002) and My Life As an Experiment (2011).  

Is "By the Book" the next big biblical show? Has Hollywood has got religion?  No, but there were things to like about it.

According to Deadline.com, after the November 2016 presidential election, broadcast networks vowed (both publicly and privately) to better reflect the lives and values of people in the Heartland (formerly "Fly Over States").  

The two hottest themes this pilot season were military dramas and religious projects, they said.  What?

If this is their olive branch to reach out to disgruntled conservative values viewers, they have a ways to go to understand their audience.  Making shows for just half the people means you make half the profits.  Until recently that was enough and the Fly Over states did not matter much to Hollywood.  That is changing.


I wonder how many jokes there are? Maybe there are 20 types of jokes and the others are all variations.  Georges Polti says there are only 36 dramatic situations.  Hopefully there are more jokes than there are dramatic situations. The world needs to laugh.

And laugh we did. A live taping is a fascinating, educational experience.  But, live TV has a formula and this show definitely follows suit.

I kept getting the feeling I’d heard much of this material before in other sit-coms. I recognized some of the usual suspects behind the camera, vets of Seinfeld, Gilmore Girls and The Odd Couple.  Director Andy Ackerman has directed 72 TV shows including Seinfeld (1994-1998), The New Adventures of Old Christine (2006-2010) and Wings (1991-1994).

Notably absent from the show was a scene in a church. Their main problem solving set is THE BAR, where Chip, the rabbi and the priest meet.  The conclusions about our society are inescapable; a biblical show without a church.

Yes, there were off color jokes I could live without.  As the crew worked, I remember being happy that they were going to do another take of one bit with a particularly unfortunate sexual reference in it. On the new take, I heard them voice a different joke on the front end, but the same unfortunate reference was left in number two.

They did not leave themselves the option to easily run the scene without the crude sexual quip. Thus, they negated the family audience, why?!

Chip Curry (Jay R. Ferguson) and Lesile Curry (Lindsey Kraft) have a sweet relationship, but she is not quite sure about this new “Biblical Stuff.” Their routine includes the natural, healthy questioning of God by non-believers, i.e., “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

And, a la “Liar, Liar" with Jim Carrey, Leslie really, really likes the fact that now, post Bible, Chip refuses to tell a lie. 

Some of the funniest jokes come from this, as he has to own up to his “white lies.” Yes, I think your your feet are cute, “if you are a Hobbit.” Thus, the show tackles another deep question; is it ok and in fact smart to tell white lies in our society?

It got really interesting when they set up the premise of the show and question of adultery. The priest said, “You can’t live biblically.”

“I’m going to try,” said Chip.

“But you’d have to stone adulterers.”

Later, Chip sees his office coworker out on a date (not with his wife). I won’t give you the spoiler, but one of the encouraging things about this show is it that it does point to biblical truths.  From the adultery implied, lessons are learned and positive directions are hinted at.

Obviously, the show isn’t deep enough to delve into the new covenant and proclaim forgiveness to all, including adulterers, through Jesus Christ.  That’s your job as a Christian. But the show does provide opportunities for discussion.

One of our guests was quite disturbed and saddened by the jokes and the timbre of the show (especially the crude sexual exploits of the warmup comedian, who entertains the audience during the downtime).

“Have you watched network TV lately,” I asked her?  This is the best we may get from secular producers until we demand better or better yet, until we produce the shows ourselves with a Christian worldview.

And that my friends, is why we exist as 168 Film. And you should support us in this effort here. www.168film.com/donate

On a technical note: I noticed that this show is different from other sitcoms in its reliance on background actors. They really give you your money’s worth as far as these folks are concerned. It's a really packed and happening bar set. 

The warm-up comedian made what was easily his funniest joke of the night with our very own Tea McKay (168 Film’s Best Actress of 2016 and Star of “Unbridled”).  Unfortunately, I cannot show you, because they don’t allow cameras in the tapings.

She had worn a lovely black and white checkered shirt, which was quite similar in coloring to the wardrobe of a guy named Bob, who had been up earlier to try to win one of the prizes they offer to audience members.  

The warm-up was riffing on the fact that they had the same shirts and here she was, but Bob had disappeared, ergo he has obviously become a woman.

In summary, I went in with low expectations, hoping for the best and planning to cheer them on.  It was better than expected.

Is it going to enlighten people to the truth of the Bible? No, but it will make them think, using the Bible as a reference, and this is far better subject matter than many of the vapid scenarios out there in TV land. 

I for one am glad the show is on the air. 

I encourage you to check it out and more importantly to contact CBS to tell them how you feel about the show.  Through your correspondence, the show can be steered to, as they have stated is their goal, “better reflect the lives and values of people in the Heartland.”

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