I recently finished watching the AppleTV series Physical. In the series, Rose Byrne plays a self-loathing bulimic California woman in the early 80s who becomes captivated by the new aerobics movement. Her husband, a former college professor, is running for political office against a wealthy Mormon man who owns a successful business. The Mormon man and his family feature prominently into the storyline, and it was fascinating to see how Mormon life in early 80s California was written and portrayed. **LIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW**
I’d like to go through the portrayal of these Mormon characters, and discuss whether these are an accurate reflection of Mormons in general or or early 80s Mormons in CA specifically.
When the “Mormon” family is first introduced, they are eating in a fast food restaurant. While sitting at the table with their burgers and fries, they pause to say a verbal prayer over the food. I have very seldom seen this kind of behavior from Mormons. I’m not going to say never, but it’s rare in my experience. I did recently see a table full of Mormon missionaries at a taco place who all said a verbal prayer as a group before digging into their meals. I raised an eyebrow at that because it’s just not been my own experience. Most people I know would just eat in a restaurant and save prayers for at home. A few might say a silent private prayer, then eat. Public verbal prayer in a restaurant has to be somewhere around 2% of the total Mormon population. Maybe it used to be a bigger thing, or maybe the writers are mixing up Mormons and Evangelicals.
How common is vocal restaurant praying among the Mormons you know? Was it more common in the early 80s? Does it matter what type of restaurant?
Bless This Mess
Several times, the Mormon wife says “blessed” (with two syllables). That sounds, to me anyway, like an Evangelical thing, particularly a Southern Evangelical thing, and not at all Mormon. In fact, many Southern Evangelicals moved to California in the 70s and 80s, which is why there’s such a large Evangelical population in California. This one just felt like lazy writing to me.
Do you hear Mormons saying “bless-ed”? Is it regional, if so? How common is it?
What Happens When We Die?
Later in the series, the Mormon wife is concerned that her husband is depressed over his father’s death from many years ago. She refers to the death as (I might get the exact wording wrong here) his dad “being called home to his father.” That also doesn’t sound like Mormon talk to me. It sounds maybe Evangelical. Then again, it’s not inconsistent with Saturday’s Warrior which was full of non-doctrinal bullcrap and was super popular at the time.
Do you hear Mormons say “being called home” in reference to what happens when we die? (I tend to think it’s usually more of what work they have to do on the other side, not a returning to a pre-earth state with God. No rest for the wicked, nor for the Mormons).
The Bishop Will See You Now
The Mormon wife sets up a “counseling” session with their bishop. This part is wild to me. So seldom do we get to see inside of a marital counseling session, but a Mormon one, as written by some Hollywood type? Yes, please! The couple sits down with a man who clearly has a “not professional clergy” vibe. He greets them, and the wife explains her concerns for her husband. The bishop then talks to the man about things, the man answers his questions, they both are kind of shrugging away the wife’s concerns about his increasingly erratic behavior, and then the bishop turns on the wife asking how their “marital relations” are going, and why don’t they have more kids, and maybe that’s what she should be focused on (!). Let’s be honest; that’s probably not something we are going to see in many bishop’s counseling sessions today, but in the early 80s? Not surprising, really. That was when the Church briefly flirted with being anti-birth control until 99% of the members basically told them to get stuffed.
How realistic does this counseling session sound to you? Turning the tables on the wife seemed completely plausible to me, but the “having kids” thing feels like an artifact of the past, potentially an accurate one.
Many Are Called
The other thing I noticed was that there was no mention of this wealthy, middle-class couple having callings which seemed completely unrealistic to me. Someone I asked about it elsewhere mentioned that they might have a do-nothing stake calling. That does seem possible, but still. They have a LOT of free / family time for Mormons. They should be a lot busier serving McDonalds orange drink in the park to broods of Mormons, IMHO, or playing ward basketball. I have no follow up question on this one, other than to say that I think in general outsiders do not realize how much time per week ward callings often take up for Mormons, particularly back in the 80s. It’s a lot.
Whenever I see Mormons portrayed on TV shows, I always evaluate how “accurate” I think it is, whether the tone is right, the lingo, the motives, etc. In this case, I would still give it a 7 out of 10, despite these minor quibbles. Usually, shows only have a character on briefly who is Mormon, and it’s not a main character, so it’s either unimportant to develop the character, or it’s a caricature. The absolute worst portrayal of a Mormon character on a TV show was on Homeland (IIRC) in which a young FBI recruit, a female BYU grad, is told to strip down to her underwear (black bra and panties, hmmm) and told that as an undercover agent, she will have to do sexual things to stay in character, possibly even girl-on-girl, and was she OK with that. She “professionally” without batting an eye said, “Yes, absolutely sir. No problem.” LOL! As if! Also, let’s get real. I find it implausible that this is routine FBI procedure for day one with new recruits. Instead, I suspect it’s routine Hollywood horndog writer room wish fulfillment. I did an actual spit take. It kind of ruined the show for me, the fact that they were so lazy about writing this one throwaway character.
- What Mormon TV portrayals have you seen?
- How accurate were they?