TV review: CBS miniseries ‘Dovekeepers’ is no Easter treat for believers

Sam Neill as a first-century Jewish scholar in "The Dovekeepers." (Photo courtesy CBS)

Sam Neill as a first-century Jewish scholar in “The Dovekeepers.” (Photo courtesy CBS)

By John Mulderig Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — Not every TV show related to Passover or Easter counts as a holiday treat. And so this year provides another example of paschal-season programming that viewers of faith should receive with considerable caution.

Despite being set in an era close to biblical times, the miniseries “The Dovekeepers” features characters who repeatedly flout the Sixth Commandment while also eroding the first of God’s laws in a disturbing way.

That’s all the more surprising since this adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s popular novel — which airs on CBS Tuesday, March 31, and Wednesday, April 1, 9-11 p.m. EDT each night — is produced by the faith-boosting team of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett.

In the aftermath of the Roman siege of Masada, Jewish warrior-turned-Roman-historian Flavius Josephus (Sam Neill) interrogates two survivors of that epic struggle: Yael (Rachel Brosnahan) and her friend, mentor and former nanny Shirah (Cote de Pablo). As Neill, in his history-based role, channels the suave nastiness of 1950s Hollywood stalwart James Mason, the duo of fictional figures recount their life stories.

The amorous adventures they share with the scholar are sufficiently wayward that audience members committed to traditional values will likely echo Josephus’ weary indignation when he asks, well into the running time of the first episode, “Yet another pregnancy out of wedlock?” The narrative, however, both excuses and romanticizes the adultery in which both characters have by then engaged.

The religious atmosphere of the drama, moreover, is tainted by alien occult elements, including rituals inspired by superstition rather than revealed truth.

Known as “the Witch of Moab,” Shirah inherits from her vaguely wiccan mother a fondness not only for quasi-scientific herbal medicine, but for the use of talismans as well. And she advises Yael to appease the ghost of her lover’s recently deceased but enduringly offended spouse by means more reminiscent of a coven than a synagogue.

Viewed from a contemporary context, Shirah’s witchy tendencies are apparently supposed to represent some first-century, pioneering version of feminism. What they really amount to is a betrayal of her Jewish heritage.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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