Like “The Bachelor,” But for Jesus: “The Sisterhood” Episode 1 Recap

If there were a Venn diagram showing the intersection of expertise of reality television and Catholic nuns, I would be sitting right in the middle of it.

In addition to spending the past three years reporting and writing a book called If Nuns Ruled the World, I’ve spent more than a decade as an entertainment editor, chronicling the reality television industry.

I bear the burden of having helped to create the media sensations of both Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. For that I will probably be judged one day. I can only hope that my time spent reporting on the brides of Christ neutralizes the amount of BS I have introduced to the world.

So I’m personally fascinated by the new reality show, “The Sisterhood” which debuted on the Lifetime network last night. Produced by Shannon Evangelista and Eric Evangelista, the folks responsible for giving us “Breaking Amish,” the show follows five young women as they allegedly discern to become sisters.

The women they’ve selected are camera-friendly (i.e. pretty) and spunky, and after watching the first episode I think one of them may actually end up becoming a sister. The others may end up on the next iteration of “Big Brother.”

The introductory episode, “I’m Not Ready,” is, as the title suggests, all about the young women not being ready to become nuns. I stopped counting tears after the first fifteen scenes, and in many ways it’s reminiscent of the first episode of “The Bachelor,” where we see the women tell their stories and try to offer a little nugget about why they’re perfect for the dashing gentleman. Only in this case, that dashing gentleman is Jesus Christ. Will “The Sisterhood” turn the nuns into the Kardashians of the Catholic Church?

In the first episode we meet Eseni an aspiring model partial to form-fitting rompers and Louis Vuitton purses, as she is telling her boyfriend Darnell that she might want to become a nun. Eseni’s dad left their family when she was nine for another woman and she always coveted the “simple” and drama-free lives of the sisters she knew.

“Growing up I thought maybe I should be a sister,” Eseni says. “They don’t have drama and their life is so complete. Then I met Darnell.”

Darnell is not cool with this.

“If you do become a nun then we done?” Darnell says while wearing a chaste white tank top.

Christie introduces herself by saying that you spell her name like CHRIST, but with an I and an E at the end. She loves flirting and tells us that she keeps having visions where she’s shamelessly flirting with Jesus. Her friends worry whether she’ll be able to keep her love life in check long enough to become a nun. “I intentionally don’t seek out guys, but I still date them. It just happens,” she tells us.

Claire, a parish music minister, is the one who may just come out of this as a sister. She has seriously been contemplating the vocation for more than five years and has been living as a single woman in preparation. She is the only one who dresses modestly before entering the convent. We can tell that Claire is skeptical of her new friends, but open to helping them on their journey.

Stacey had lifelong dreams of being a Broadway star. Now she gets to be a star on reality television, which these days is the next best thing.

Francesca is just 21 years old, wide-eyed and excited about everything. She loves saying “Wow!” Her parents are worried that if she enters the convent they may never see her again. Personally I’ve never heard of a convent where you’re never allowed to see your parents again, but this is a big sticking point for them.

In each week’s recap of “The Sisterhood,” we look at reality (for the sisters and nuns and the young women who are looking to join the vocation) and REALITY (the lens that reality television necessarily puts on their “docu-series”).

I’m no curmudgeon here. I want the world of sisters introduced to a new generation of young women who don’t know nearly enough about what happens beyond the habit. But I want it to be done right. Here are some of the things that made me skeptical in episode one.

REALITY: Nuns are made in 6 weeks!

The show introduces the five women by saying that at the end of six weeks of convent working and living “they will face a choice…follow their calling and become nuns or go home.” In reality, the discernment process takes years, sometimes as long as seven or ten and the women go through stages where they gradually enter into religious life. It isn’t a do or die scenario.

REALITY: Nuns are mean!

This show does nuns yet another disservice by perpetuating stereotypes of older Catholic nuns as knuckle-rapping kill-joys, something I’ve worked hard to dispel. The nuns that I know are some of the most gracious, loving and funny human beings I have ever met. “The Sisterhood” portrays them as angry tyrants as they take the young women’s cell phones.

REALITY: Nuns can’t wear makeup.

“Would Jesus make me take my makeup off?” Francesca wails as Mother Mark tries to tell her that she needs to forego her beauty routine. Some of the nuns I know use plenty of makeup, they own hairdryers and hair straighteners. Some don’t. It’s a non-issue. They are modest, but they live in the modern world.

REALITY: Nuns can’t wear regular clothes.

The sisters we see in “The Sisterhood” are Carmelites who still embrace the traditional habit. I imagine this was specifically chosen for dramatic effect since seeing nuns in street clothes (chinos and sensible shoes), doesn’t make for great television. But in reality most nuns don’t wear the habit any more. They can wear pretty much whatever they want within the boundaries of simple modesty.

Summary: The producers of “The Sisterhood” know what to do to create good reality television, but the first episode distinctly lacks much of the true reality of the discernment process to become a sister. Let’s see what happens next week.