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'God or the Girl' Charts Sacrifices of Aspiring Priests


And now, to the small screen. In a new reality series starting tonight, four seminary graduates decide whether to take a vow of celibacy and enter the Catholic priesthood or pursue the women in their lives. Here is Hollywood reporter/writer, Andrew Wallenstein, with a review of God or the Girl.

Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (Television Critic; Co-host, Square Off): There's something so crass about the very premise of God or the Girl. I mean, you have to question their very suitability for the clergy if they're willing to expose such a private matter, right? And what's with that title? God or the Girl sounds like something on Fox, only that network would probably lock the aspiring priests in a bunker with prostitutes.

But to my utter shock, God or the Girl is a fascinating character study that opens a door to a process you just don't get to see, and that's exactly what reality TV should be. It works primarily because the four young men in the show are thoughtful souls, not the usual parade of exhibitionists that flock to the genre. The cameras, in effect, serve as their confessional, giving vent to their deepest doubts. In this scene, Dan DeMatte talks honestly of his struggle to contain sexual feelings for his girlfriend.

(Soundbite of televisions show, "God or the Girl")

Mr. DAN DEMATTE (Actor): (In God or the Girl) Of course, I'm attracted to Ali. She's a very gorgeous girl, and, of course, there's times that I just want to go up and hug her and kiss her, and that's lusting after her, and that's something that-it's sick and it's disgusting, and you don't want to feel that lust.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: What I found even more amazing than the openness of the show's subjects is that many of the priests who serve as their mentors also participate in the show. It struck me as odd at first, because who wants to see their future ranks waffling in indecision? But the more I thought about it, I realized it's actually a pretty savvy public relations move for the Catholic Church. What better way to disperse the cloud of allegations over child abuse than to highlight a group of guys, who seem to be struggling with very typical heterosexual impulses?

At one moment in the show, another aspiring priest, Steve Horvath, addresses this elephant in the room.

(Soundbite of television show, "God or the Girl")

Mr. STEVE HORVATH (Actor): (In God or the Girl) When I made the decision to leave the business world to become a priest, a close relative of mine said, oh, why're you going to do that? Everyone's going to think you're a child molester. Aren't you worried that somebody's going to associate you with the scandals? And I basically said, your attitude is exactly why I want to do this.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: God or the Girl doesn't shy away from questioning the motives of its subjects. Take Joe Adair, whose devotion to the Lord gets equal camera time with his obvious personal problems. His mother is clearly pressuring him to be a priest, and he appears to be downright phobic when it comes to women. Where his neurosis end and his spirituality begins isn't quite clear.

True, God or the Girl probably only scratches the surface of these individuals. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating insight into the psychology of religious fervor.

BRAND: God or the Girl premieres this Sunday on the cable channel A&E. Andrew Wallenstein is the co-host of the new show, Square Off, on the TV Guide channel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.