Who's Excited For A Miniseries About Tragic Hero Jerry Falwell Jr?
Deadline reports a new "scripted series" is in the works about Jerry Falwell Jr. It'll be based on Vanity Fair reporter Gabe Sherman's article about the evangelical family scion's "Unlikely Rise and Precipitous Fall at Liberty University."
"Yes, there’s a sex scandal, one that consumed the life of Jerry Jr and his wife Becki, but what’s most surprising is the insight and empathy that Gabe brings to their very human struggle to be true to themselves,” promises Michael London, a producer who will work on the series with Sherman.
Who asked for this, exactly?
Because we've covered Falwell, particularly his legal troubles, for a few years now. We wrote about the pool boy, sure. And the yacht where he drank "black water" and photographed himself with his pants half off. But we also wrote about the personal trainer who came to own a gym thanks to a sweet sweet deal from Liberty. We wrote about his unfortunate habit of talking about his sex life and sharing boudoir photos of his wife. We wrote about Brandon Ambrosino's famous Politico piece describing a culture of fear and self-dealing at Liberty.
And we wrote about lots and lots of lawsuits. Falwell suing Liberty for wrongful termination and defamation, allegedly in cahoots with the Lincoln Project. Falwell un-suing Liberty. Liberty suing Falwell for breaching his contract, alleging that he got them to give him a huge one-time salary boost while concealing the fact that his life was about to implode. Falwell countersuing and demanding the return of various items, including a gun.
So we were perhaps less sympathetic than Gabe Sherman, who described the Falwell saga as a "Shakespearean drama about fathers and sons and the burden of legacy."
Put simply, no one forced Jerry Falwell Jr. to do any of this. The guy has a law degree from UVA, and if he didn't believe in the mission of his father's school, he and his wife could have done literally anything they wanted. He chose to put himself in charge of an institution which preached abstention from sex and alcohol, and he enforced a moral code which cast homosexuality as deviant and discouraged women from reporting sexual assaults.
So it rubs us just a little bit the wrong way when a reporter tours Falwell's stately home and describes him as looking like "a prosperous country lawyer turned gentleman farmer" without interrogating where that prosperity came from.
And if a journalist is going to quote Jerry Falwell Sr. saying that “God sent him to me just in time ... He is more responsible, humanly speaking, for the miraculous financial survival of this ministry than any other single person," it might behoove said reporter to note that it wasn't God who saved Liberty from financial ruin. It was Uncle Sam, in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of federally subsidized student loans.
It was Jerry Jr. who sent out racist tweets that prompted several Black athletes to transfer out, though. And Jerry who put the school behind Donald Trump in 2016. It was Jerry who tried to get the FBI to investigate his own board members and everyone who ever reported on him. He can take credit for all those things!
In fact, you can miss us entirely with this babe in the woods business about a guy who ran his school like a "real estate hedge fund" and somehow accidentally stumbled into owning a gay hostel because he was so desperate to make friends:
Now, well before this point, you might have wondered why Jerry and Becki would buy a seedy hostel with a pool attendant they had known for only a few months. Granda said it was because they were a throuple. (Again, the Falwells deny this.) But take the sex out and it still shows questionable business sense on Jerry’s part to invest millions in an idea hatched by a college kid. One explanation for this catastrophic error in judgment is that Jerry and Becki didn’t have many close friends who weren’t ultrareligious. In Miami they were refugees from the evangelical world and were starting their social lives from scratch. Of course, having an affair and doing business with a pool attendant the same age as their kids crossed all kinds of boundaries that should have been glaringly obvious to everyone involved. Becki said she simply lost control: “This new life was so different for me.”
Because it might well make for good TV to have a character trying desperately to live up to his family name and getting led astray. We all love a good narrative arc about a tragic hero brought low by a too-heavy burden and the temptations of the world. But getting rich by peddling homophobia and a morality you neither believe nor adhere to doesn't make you a tragic hero, it just makes you an asshole.
And PS, every person in this story is up to their eyeballs in litigation. Nobody in their right mind is going to cooperate, much less tell a reporter the truth. So whatever Sherman et al. come up with is guaranteed to be a work of fiction.
Hardest of passes, thanks.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.