Former Baywatch TV star and Playboy magazine playmate Pamela Anderson will star as the Virgin Mary in an hour-long comedy sketch titled “A Russell Peters Christmas,” set to air next month on Canada’s CTV network.
The broadcast, which is declared to be “an irreverent twist on the Christmas special making it unlike anything viewers have seen before,” is already causing a buzz on the Internet for its unconventionality. A backlash from the Christian community is expected as well.
Promotional stills of the upcoming special hosted by comedian Russell Peters reveal a fully clad Anderson in a long white robe and headscarf, which is contrary to her usual risqué attire. Anderson is seen looking dotingly on baby Jesus alongside Joseph, played by Peters.
The show promises to be “tastier and more dangerous than a cup of spiked eggnog” and will pay “tribute to the holidays with a mix of stand-up, sketch, stop-motion animation, and musical performances,” say producers.
It will also feature singer Michael Bublé, SNL alumnus Jon Lovitz, Ted Lange, and comedic actor Faizon Love, among others.
Pastor and writer Tom Nalesnik asks in his article with the Boston Liberal Christian Examiner, aside from the peculiar casting, how long could popular culture go on ridiculing and disrespecting the Christian faith?
“No doubt, numerous people will express their ‘collective outrage’ over the TV special,” Nalesnik penned in The Examiner. “But that’s the knee-jerk reaction, especially from more conservative church members. What if we dig deeper?”
Nalesnik, who is a pastor at the United Church of Christ, said he found a few lessons to be learned from the upcoming special.
“Often we Christians take things way too seriously. To the point that far too many portraits have been painted over the centuries depicting Jesus as a serious, grim, humorless man of God.”
“We could all use a few more smiles when retelling the Christmas story,” he shared.
Additionally, Nalesnik said he believes that like the Jewish tradition of “Mishnah,” where Scriptures were interpreted with “some bit of playfulness in order to make a point,” it was okay to do the same sometimes today as well.
“Since our early faith involved oral tradition, storytellers often played with the biblical stories to add entertainment value,” he stated.
“But the question is, will Russell Peters be doing his comedic send-up of Christmas in a positive way, or is he simply going for cheap laughs, in order to deride and mock the Christmas story? If his intent is to put down the faith, then that is certainly unfair and uncalled for, and worthy of outrage,” Nalesnik said.
However, the show’s synopsis appears to imply that Peters would be doing the latter more than hoping to tell a “positive, entertaining” story of Jesus’ birth; after all, it was detailed to be “an irreverent twist on the Christmas special.”
Nalesnik points out that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with irreverence. “Even Jesus used satire and irony to make his point, at times.”
But the deeper issue for him was if the Peters’ special was another example of how pop culture, “through its put-downs and bad jokes, [was] increasingly casting Christianity in the role of an irrelevant, outdated, unnecessary vestige of old-fashioned beliefs?”
“If that’s the case, we Christians need to look seriously at our own faith, and ask whether we should all be finding new ways to make it more relevant to today’s generations-instead of blaming young people for their candid appraisal of what it means to be a Christian,” he commented.
John Mark Reynolds, director of Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute, also commented on the upcoming special, telling The Christian Post that the Christmas story would survive any reincarnation, even Peters’ version.
“If the story of the Incarnation could survive me in Dad’s bathrobe as a juvenile shepherd, it will surely survive Anderson as Mary,” he stated. “In God’s divine comedy, human history, will roll on.”
Reynolds said that Anderson’s upcoming role as Mary actually encourages him, contrary to others who responded with disfavor.
“On hearing the news that Pamela Anderson was selected to play the Mother of God most of us were encouraged that Ms. Anderson even knew the story,” he said. More importantly, Reynolds reminds viewers that the former Playboy model is not Mary.
“Actors are, as Sir Ian Mckellen reminds us, paid to pretend. He was not Gandalf and Anderson is not the Blessed Virgin,” Reynolds said.
“A Russell Peters Christmas” airs Dec. 1 at 9 p.m. ET.