Trying to Make Sense of ‘The Flying Nun’

Nope, sorry, impossible. Nobody can make sense out of THE FLYING NUN. Not even its loyal viewers back in the day. (None of the Team TVWriter™ minions was even born then, so we’re not responsible for this show’s unbelievable popularity. Nopers. Not even a little:

Sorry, old-timers, but TV Past ain't always better than TV today
Sorry, old-timers, but TV Past ain’t always better than TV today

by Pilot Viruet

From 1967 to 1970, ABC aired a strange little sitcom called The Flying Nun. The very existence of this show, which I discovered in passing just a few years ago, doesn’t make much sense at first. The title reads like a throwaway joke from an episode of 30 Rock, which routinely took clever potshots at NBC (and television in general) by expertly creating fake, empty programs that revolved around a hilariously straightforward title. The Flying Nun would surely fit right in with the fictional shows Tank It or, more appropriately, God CopThe Flying Nun isn’t a punchline, though. It was a very real show, and even a somewhat successful one, that spent three seasons detailing the adventures of, well, a flying nun.

To be clear, she can’t actually fly. The premise, which is based on the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Ríos, is as simplistic as it is silly: Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) is able to “fly” when the wind is right, thanks to a combination of her low weight (under 90 lbs) and her cornette. There are no explicit supernatural or divine elements at work, just Bertrille’s small frame and high wind speeds. After breaking up with her boyfriend, Bertrille decides to become a nun and moves from New York City to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she lives with fellow nuns in a convent.

Throughout the series, Bertille converts people, solves mysteries, catches robbers, and helps orphans. Throughout the series, Bertille regularly flies around. Sometimes it’s necessary, like when she flies out to sea to help guide a lost fisherman to fish, but other times, she flies even when a simple ladder would suffice, like when she just needs to retrieve a kitten from a roof.

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2 thoughts on “Trying to Make Sense of ‘The Flying Nun’”

  1. I was around when this show first aired, but it was that period when my father wouldn’t allow a TV in the house, so I have only seen a few episodes in reruns. The last one I saw on cable just last year was about the larger nun organization re-designing their habits, so the headpiece didn’t have the wings. A major crisis! She wouldn’t be able to fly any more! It all worked out happily in the end.

  2. The Flying Nun was unique such that it was the first time in prime-time network history that a female-driven TV show featured a weekly religious character, specifically of the Catholic faith. Gene Kelly had a brief run playing the lead in the TV version of Going My Way a decade or so before on ABC. But that show was not a hit…and it did not reach the mainstream success of The Flying Nun, which was also the first series since Going to display on screen religious icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on a weekly basis. In fact, the representatives of the Catholic Church served as consultants on the series. Weekly religious characters would not again appear on ABC until decades later with Nothing Sacred, a failed drama series about a significantly non-traditional priest. But this time, the Catholic Church was not involved in consultation. In fact, many of the faith protested the series…which, in my opinion, was a misstep because there was potential to introduce the Catholic faith to many millions in the mainstream in a very positive, and realistic way. Unfortunately, ABC caved to the fearful critics, and Nothing Sacred was cancelled. In the end, Nothing Sacred was essentially presenting a priest who loved God, loved his flock, his community, and his job…and he was merely dealing with it all in an extremely honest and truthful way. The Flying Nun did that, too – but with a fanciful and core-comedic premise.

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