Prosper: What does public faith look like?

Prosper: What does public faith look like?

Having watched the new series streaming on Stan, like apparently the rest of Australia, on the surface it seems what is most appealing about the presentation of a hierarchical megachurch is it’s hypocrisy. At first I thought are creators Matt Cameron (The Clearing, Secret City) and Jason Stephens (Lambs of God, Upright) just feeding the average Australian what they already think of institutional religion?

It becomes very clear even after the first episode however, that while the show is inevitably modelled on a well known global megachurch — its tax avoidance, unfortunate run-ins with the media and very fallible and public mistakes — at its heart it is looking at what authentic faith in the face of public scrutiny looks like.

The fictional megachurch is UStar, a burgeoning church with aspirations to go global. On the eve of UStar poised to begin its LA launch, Cal Quinn (Richard Roxburgh) the head of UStar has his past come back to haunt him in the face of a churchgoer Rosa (Brigid Zengeni) whose life has literally fallen apart from drug addiction, and ends when she washes up on a Sydney beach after taking her own life. The fallout from his decision to be Rosa’s spiritual counsellor goes off the rails very quickly and draws the attention of his wife Abi (Rebecca Gibney) and his own drug addiction.

This scandal threatens to topple a very precarious house of cards and sends ripples and ramifications through the whole Quinn family who are involved in various aspects of the Quinn empire (sorry Church). You quickly come to believe through the many story strands of this excellent drama that the familial machinations of the plot are drawn from that other very successful family drama Succession. There’s the oldest son who is never quite handed the keys to the kingdom, another son who altruistically lives out his faith running a homeless shelter and the daughter who runs the burgeoning worship song catalogue which they note at one point keeps the church going.

All these story strands feel very familiar, and it is easy to draw comparisons to actual events, but the beauty of the storytelling lies in the fact that we are often faced with the question – what does authentic faith look like. Is it in son Jed Quinn’s (Jacob Collins-Levy) view that helping the homeless and actually being on the front lines living out your faith as a follower of Jesus? Absolutely. Is it in Juno (Andrea Solonge), Rosa’s daughter, who has lost her mother to drug addiction and is slowly drawing toward faith to comfort her and to find the answers she seeks? Indeed. Is it in father Cal’s self-serving self-righteousness in the face of his deeply troubled past and very public missteps? Perhaps not.

What is undeniably the most interesting part of this series though, is that for Australian television this feels like a first. It’s the first time we have seen faith (in all its forms, warts and all) unfolding on our screens. Granted, this has been developed with American distributor Lionsgate and so has the global appeal of the megachurch it seems to draw at least its most superficial story ideas from, but it’s excellent storytelling as well.

Performances from all the cast are excellent and its refreshing to see a cast of fresh faces, but also to see Gibney and Roxburgh together after many years. The show has been extensively researched which is why it wears the obvious comparisons to Hillsong on its sleeve, but even the Gospel songs performed in the series are written by none other than Tim Fin, leaving no doubt this is appointment television.

Over its eight episodes there are some shocking revelations, which again owes a debt to that other premium drama Succession, which itself has claimed to be based on the power struggles wihtin the Murdoch family.

It may be easy on the surface to see this as a hypocritical look at yet another institutional megachurch hiding scandals and secrets, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll see that its examining what authentic public faith looks like (the good the bad and the ugly) and that’s what makes it worth your time.

All eight episodes of Prosper are currently streaming with a subscription to Stan.


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