Oprah Winfrey's first scripted dramatic series "Greenleaf" attempts to pull back the veil on the black megachurch, giving viewers a look at the messy mechanics that sometimes turn the wheels of these behemoths.
While the purpose of church should be to focus on Jesus, "Greenleaf" comes with no shortage of family and church drama — from jealousy to infidelity — which begs the question: Is the show simply another drama backdropped by a church setting? Does it edify the body of Christ? Is it secretly copying one megachurch in particular?
As The Christian Post reported earlier this month, Winfrey called Biship T.D.Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, to assure him that the "Greenleaf" series is not based on him, his church or any other megachurch in America.
"I spoke to T.D. Jakes and said: 'I just want you to know I'm doing a show about a megachurch and the only resemblance to you is that our main character is called Bishop and you're a bishop.' And he says, 'I'm happy to hear that because I've heard some things about it …'" Winfrey recounted in a Q&A, according to Eurweb.
The media mogul added, "I said, 'I just want you to know, from my lips to your ears, I have nothing but deep respect and regard for the Church. I, Oprah Winfrey, am going to do nothing, ever, that disrespects the Church.'"
Whatever other questions about the intent of "Greenleaf" that might loom within the minds of viewers, one thing is immediately apparent about the Greenleaf family: they are wealthy. Very wealthy.
Bishop and Lady Mae Greenleaf run their Memphis-based Calvary Fellowship World Ministries like the heads of a ruling family, flying to their desired destinations by way of a private jet, which according to Lady Mae's standards, is "rickety" and could stand an upgrade.
The Bishop has a penchant for congregants with money, founding a group known as the Bishop's Roundtable for members who contribute $10,000 or more above their tithes.
Bishop and Lady Mae's three children, Grace, Jacob, and Charity, along with their own families, all live within the same, sprawling compound — a perfect receipe for disaster, or good TV — depending on how you see it.
Each family is quietly fighting their own demons.
Prodigal daughter Grace (Merle Dandridge), whom some family members say has a worldview that's contrary to the Bible, is slowly wading back into ministry while at the same time doing her own private investigation into the possible rape of a young girl by her uncle Mac — the Bishop's brother.
Played by Lamman Rucker, Jacob's ailing marriage to wife, Kerissa, is dying a slow death — and it won't likely be helped by his sizzling affair with his father's secretary.
Charity's husband, Kevin (Tye White), just might be gay. Perhaps a baby would be a good distraction. The couple tries to get pregnant and they succeed.
And, to top it all off, the church is being audited by the FBI.
When it comes to the look of the sanctuary of Calvary Fellowship World Ministries, co-executive producer Winfrey and creator, co-executive producer and writer Craig West ("Lost," "Six Feet Under") have decided to present a version of the black megachurch that seems to ignore the modernity embraced by many others — where the senior pastors dress down in jeans, plaid shirts or hoodies on occassion to deliver sermons that are broadcast over jumbo-tron screens.
Instead, "Greenleaf" has thus far stayed true to a traditional-looking church sanctuary, which is fine, but simply feels somewhat outdated.
Nevertheless, the "old school" feel of the church sanctuary is just as effective as its more modern-looking contemporaries with its arched stained-glass windows, where Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) is a traditionally-dressed clergyman, donning a flowing black robe accented around the shoulders by a purple shawl.
The ever classy and underutilized actress Lynn Whitfield ("Eve's Bayou," "The Josephine Baker Story") sparkles as Lady Mae Greenleaf, a woman who simply won't budge on her high standards and is used to getting what she wants. She won't settle for anything less. She shines — then again, there are few times that one can recall when Whitfield doesn't.
Winfrey and Whitfied are the two big names who anchor this drama. The show marks Winfrey's reunification with Whitfield since the media tycoon's role in the 1989 ABC series about the lives of black women living in an inner city housing project, "The Women of Brewster Place."
Winfrey recently told The Christian Post just how important church is in the black community.
"I grew up in the black church. I wouldn't be who I am without it ... " she said. "It's the nurse, doctor, lawyer, psychologist, our therapy, nurturer, support, it's our rock."
"Greenleaf" airs at 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on the OWN network.
View a series teaser below: