TV Review | God Bless America 1.1

Canadians have not forgotten the name Ralph Benmergui, inasmuch as Friday Night! with Ralph Benmergui gave him his infamy.  The show is still seen as the nadir of Canadian late-night talk shows, although haters of The Hour and/or Open Mike with Mike Bullard would disagree.

Lately Benmergui has found his niche on VisionTV, working with director Allan Novak on shows like Ralph Benmergui: My Israel and 5 Seekers.  God Bless America (VisionTV: January 19, 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT) is Benmergui and Novak’s latest project, a six-episode documentary series about how religion intersects with United States politics.

It took me a few viewings of God Bless America‘s first episode to understand what Benmergui and Novak are driving at.  The episode specifically targets the “evangelical right” and its influence on American politics.

God Bless America‘s strength is in underlining the relationships between religion and politics while not denigrating religion itself.  It demonstrates that certain groups within the evangelical right, like Liberty University and the Center for Christian Statesmanship, have become organized and established enough to influence the secular world.  In their view, church and state have a symbiotic relationship and should not be separate.

The first episode of God Bless America has its problems.  A Toronto rally concerns the non-arrival of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.  He was to protest the debut of Alistair Newton’s play The Pastor Phelps Project, only to be detained at the U.S.-Canadian border.

This is juxtaposed with an anti-gay demonstration held in Denver, Colorado at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.  Benmergui tries to frame the issue as “Canadians are gentler than Americans,” which is misleading.  He’s comparing a local play to matters of international importance.

God Bless America bothers me in another way.  Richard Nixon was the first U.S. President to say “God bless America” during an April 30, 1973 speech.  Benmergui has it wrong when he says Nixon resigned “within days of uttering those words.”

The 1973 speech concerned the resignations of Nixon aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, as well as the dismissal of then-White House Counsel John Dean.  Nixon wouldn’t resign until August 9, 1974.  Fudging the date of Nixon’s resignation like this is just sloppy research.

God Bless America is a decent effort by Benmergui and Novak, although scattershot in its approach.  Later GBA episodes focus on topics like the religious left and creationism versus evolutionary theory.  The series is not nearly as well-executed as it could be given its central concept, but it’s worth a look.