“The Sisterhood” on Lifetime Television for Women episode 1.
Reality television shows about women are built on types: The Brat, The Slut, The Crazy, The Schemer, and The Gold-digger. Usually the women start in one role and then trade or combine roles (See: Teresa Guidice on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” The Materialist, now, a prison sentence for fraud awaiting her arrival, The Anti-Materialist), all of which provides “the drama.” Watching the women as they snarl and spit and backstab their way into one slot or another is the whole point of these shows. (Well, that, and listening to women on the Real Housewives franchise explain that the Bentley and the Gulfstream and the nannies and the haute couture and the plastic surgeon on speed dial really mean nothing, NOTHING, compared to the simple joys of home(s) and hearth(s), and, oh, yeah, children.)
So, how do you make a successful reality show about five young women, whose age’s range from 21 to 27, discerning life as religious sisters? Like an MGM 1940’s war movie cast, you make sure the types are easily identifiable from the beginning.
Claire, 26, is a church musician from Illinois (the Midwest slot) who has spent the last five years in a considered single life, praying to know God’s will and learning how to navigate a life in which dating and courtship have no part. She seems kind and smart and healthy and mature, so we probably will not see too much of her in the weeks ahead.
Enter Christie, 27, (Asked how she spells her name, she chirps, “’Christ,’ with an ‘ie’) who fills the California slot. Christie is a flirt, and she eagerly tells Claire during their first meeting about her romance-novel “visions” of Christ in which they are dancing and he is introducing her to his mother, “just like a boyfriend.” Christie seems sweet and very young, so the producers are probably counting on her for a lot of teenage-type drama, even though, chronologically, she is the oldest woman in the group.
Then there’s Eseni, 23, from the Bronx (city slot), who, the producers let us know (and know and know and know) has a SERIOUS boyfriend. She is disarming in her honesty, recounting the turmoil in her home after her father had an affair and fathered a child out of wedlock. She’s looking for the order and calm she believes is to be found in a religious community. If she becomes a sister, she won’t have to face the same heartache as her mother has done. But, as Eseni and her companions have clearly never read either the Rule of St. Augustine or the Rule of St. Benedict, both if which spend a lot of time on conflict within the community, we can count on her being disabused of the notion that life in the convent is without its own stresses and disappointments.
That leaves Stacy, 26, from upstate New York (snow-belt slot…okay, I made that one up) who pursued a career as an actress, but has found that “only time with God” brings her peace (even if she does say her favorite image of Christ is one in which he “looks like a handsome surfer dude,” an image which brought me a headache.) Like Claire, she seems to have done some serious discernment first, so we probably won’t see much of her, either. (Unless joining “The Sisterhood” is just a shot at a television career, in which case, look for Stacy to take over the series.)
And, finally, there’s Francesca, 21, who fills the Sopranos/Goodfellas slot as an Italian from New Jersey. She’s shown with her familia, eating, of course, and with her dad, driving and crying (he’s driving, she’s crying) on their way to the Carmelite St. Teresa Convent. She’s also very young, but I think Francesca provided one of the truest and most illuminating moments in the first episode. Told that the women should remove all their makeup in order to better concentrate on the work at hand (prayer and contemplation) Francesca freaks out. She has acne and is anxious about being seen, or filmed, without her concealer. Makeup is a kind of armor, as well as a crutch, and she is asked to put it away. This, I think, gets at the heart of what’s being asked of her: to live life without the crutches – cell phones and computers and fashion and television and medication and alcohol — that most Americans use to wake up, work and fall asleep. We want to be distracted from reality. She is being called deeper into reality. Not television reality, but the reality of the Incarnation and the Cross.
The most interesting people on the show are not the young women but the sisters who welcome them into their lives. They are not camera-ready, these women, but their plain devotion to God and to one another and to the elderly and infirm they serve is captivating. We want to know more about them, even as we suspect reality television doesn’t have the ability to understand or tell their stories.
Stay tuned for our recap of Episode 2. Like this review? Please support us.