A determined nun teams up with a grieving astrophysicist to explore whether Earth is approaching "the end of days" in "Revelations," a six-part limited series premiering at 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.
Bill Pullman ("Independence Day") stars as Dr. Richard Massey, a Harvard professor who has immersed himself in his work following the murder of his 12-year-old daughter at the hands of a satanic cult leader, Isaiah Haden (Michael Massee, "24").
Massey receives an unexpected visit from Sister Josepha Montafiore (Natascha McElhone), a nun who seeks his aid in studying some puzzling phenomena that seem to fulfill many biblical prophecies concerning the end of the world.
Initially rebuffing her, Massey discovers Sister Jo is also working through a sharp personal loss - her younger sister died in a mass suicide compelled by a self-proclaimed new messiah - and warily joins her on her quest to understand the "signs and wonders" that seem to be piling up around the world
Written by David Seltzer, who also penned the 1976 screenplay to "The Omen," "Revelations" might naturally seem to be an attempt to cash in on the booming field of apocalyptic literature typified by the "Left Behind" series of thrillers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Seltzer, however, insists he had a very different focus in mind for the NBC series.
"I haven't read any of the "Left Behind' series, because we aren't dealing with that aspect of the Bible at all," he says. "I probably would not have gone there because it has been so thoroughly mined. The subject of those books, the Tribulation, involves something that I do not know whether I could handle in a credible way. It's something that, frankly, I find very complicated in my own mind - certainly in terms of how to render that on television."
Nevertheless, he thinks "Revelations" will appeal to anyone who shares a growing unease with how world events may seem to be playing out.
"People seem to be very nervous as to where they are heading, for the sake of their children and their children's children," he says. "I think it's time to explore the relationship to the "hereafter' and the "now,' and whether there is a part that mankind can play at this time to forestall the nuclear bubble breaking and the world coming to an end.
"I think the idea that the "end of days' is coming has been fomented by various reasons over the centuries. Today we are looking at 35 wars going on in the world presently, any one of which could become a flash point that could end our lives, and with all the geological and social and political events lining up with what the book of Revelation says are the end of days, it's time to start taking it seriously."
For her part, McElhone talked with and read books by men and women of the clergy and said she was surprised to discover contemporary religion is not as "stagnant" as she had thought.
"It was refreshing to discover that religion post-2000 isn't all like that at all, even from people very far up the hierarchy," the actress says. "There are priests and cardinals who don't believe in literal miracles like the loaves and fishes. They believe that these are symbolic stories rather than literal ones. I thought that opened it up to a much larger audience."
While the events of the first episode are generally grim, Seltzer says the good-natured banter that evolves between Massey and Sister Jo helps break the prevailing tension from time to time. Don't look for any hanky-panky, however.
"I'd say there never has been a sexier nun on television, nor a more charming guy," Seltzer says, "but I'm not going to do anything to bring the Vatican or anybody else down on our head. But I am so enjoying as the hours go on the growing familiarity and affection they have for one another, their ability to almost read each other's minds and realize that they really are on a parallel course and they're closer than they ever thought. As for any (romance), though, I won't titillate you, because that doesn't happen."
And fair warning: While hour six will end with some closure, Massey and Sister Jo may continue their investigations together.
"There will be a conclusion or a resolution to the character arcs and a conclusion to their specific quest on the show," Seltzer explains. "But the door is open because the world hasn't ended, and there are a million stories to tell in search of evidence that we are in the end of days."