It Seemed Like a Good Idea: Divine intervention fail

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Seems like you can't go wrong with a show that features the clergy. I mean, jeez, The Flying Nun ran for three seasons! Plus, there was 7th Heaven, Sister Kate, Nothing Sacred, and Have Faith, among others. Granted, the last two are relatively forgotten now, but still, the idea is a perennial seller.

Well, most of the time.

If ever a show needed divine intervention, it was the forgotten sitcom Nun of the Above, which aired for what seemed like 10 seconds back in 1982.

The show starred Betty White as Sister Mary Tyler (in case you forgot what hit show she used to be on, I presume), a spunky, good-natured nun who, in the first five minutes of the first episode, dies in a car wreck. A laugh riot, right?

At the Pearly Gates, St. Peter (Pat Harrington, Jr., on loan from One Day at a Time) tells her that Father Duncan (Dick Van Patten) needs her help running the church's children's center, so "The Boss" said to send her back. Alas, it's only as a spirit that--since this is a sitcom that needs instant joke potential--only Father Duncan can see and hear.

Now while the stars are perfectly fine here (I'd watch Betty White in almost anything), everything else falls flat. It easy to see why not one of my colleagues had any recollection of this misfire. I don't know if they toned it down because they were afraid of offending the church, or if the main writing staff went on vacation shortly after the pilot, but in the few episodes to air, things went downhill fast.

In a last-ditch effort, they introduced a nemesis to Sister Mary Tyler in the form of Mr. Scratch, an agent from "down there," played by Orson Bean. As an agent of evil, he tried to foul up things for Sister Mary Tyler and Father Duncan. While Bean and White had great chemistry, the problem was that no one needed to foul things up for them--they managed to do that themselves.

After six episodes, Nun of the Above closed its Pearly Gates and disappeared into obscurity. Betty White rebounded with The Golden Girls, for which she won an Emmy in 1985.

While a DVD release is unlikely in the extreme, it would be interesting for Sarah Michelle Gellar fans to see her in her earliest TV role (she was mostly known as the cute little girl in the Burger King commercial that called out McDonald's by name). She played one of the kids in the children's center, but she didn't have many lines.

Don't go looking Nun of the Above up on the site--check your calendar instead. You're welcome, TV.com.

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