The Flying Nun was a sitcom produced by Screen Gems for ABC, based on the now-forgotten book The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. The sitcom ran for three seasons, and produced 82 color episodes from 1967 until 1970.
The star was a young Sally Field (post-Gidget), who played a spunky novice nun assigned to the San Tanco Convent (Daughters of Charity) in Puerto Rico. As a novice, Sister Bertrille, as she was called, wore a white habit robe with a heavily starched winged cornette.
Due to some Artistic License – Physics that beg suspension of disbelief, Sister Bertrille was so petite that she was able to fly in a slight breeze. "When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly." And once the breeze caught her cornette...
Every week Sister Bertrille would solve a new problem for the people of San Juan, due to her ability to fly. The modern viewer needs to recognize that Sister Bertrille belongs to the 1960s image of the idealized adolescent who is Closer to Earth, a Friend to All Living Things, Wise Beyond Their Years, and capable of feats no longer possible for the clueless, unintentionally corrupted, uncreative older generation; otherwise, the viewer might wonder how this novice can be more effective and nurturing than all the middle-aged experienced nuns at her convent.
It should also be noted that flying amongst nuns is an unusual habit.
Tropes featured include:
- The Alleged Car: The junky station wagon the convent owns. As Bertrille says in "Old Cars for New," "It ran... sometimes... downhill... if we pushed it." It turns out to be a rare Marmon 1914 phaeton.
- Baseball Episode: "The Big Game".Reverend Mother Plaseato: We shall... pray... for your eyesight, Mr Umpire!
- Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Funny Foreigner Sister Sixto. Although technically not a foreigner since she is Puerto Rican.note
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Played with in "A Ticket For Bertrille." Bertrille takes one of the orphans with her when she runs some errands. She repeatedly commits minor traffic violations, which the local policeman keeps letting her get away with. But she starts to worry that the orphan is learning that it's okay to break the law, and insists that the policeman give her a ticket. Then Carlos sees him giving her the ticket and flies into a rage, and everything snowballs from there.
- Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: As much as Carlos complains about Sister Bertrille getting him into trouble, he feels worse without her around.Carlos: When she's around I tell her to get lost, but when she does I go looking for her!
- The Casanova: Carlos Ramirez, who was raised by the nuns as an orphan, owns a casino, and frequently gets swept up in Sister Bertrille's schemes.
- Christianity is Catholic: Played straight in that the show involved nuns in a convent who were truly Catholic, with the varying degrees of ages. The show's technical consultant was part of the U.S. Catholic advisory office for radio and television at the time and helped make the setting and the characters (save the flying part) authentic and believable. The show was well received by Catholic Church officials.
- Cover-Blowing Superpower: Sister Bertrille really tries to avoid showing people she can fly.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Usually, as is typical in a convent. But in one episode, an old boyfriend who fears his rejection caused Sister Bertrille to become a nun refers to her by her birth name of Elsie.
- First-Name Basis: Most of the nuns address Carlos as Señor Ramirez. Sister Bertrille, being a very close friend, is the only one who calls him Carlos.
- Foreign-Language Tirade: Carlos occasionally slips into these when particularly frustrated with Sister Bertrille's latest mess.
- Friend to All Living Things: Sister Bertrille, who manages to befriend a pelican, a parrot, orphaned hawk eggs, a monkey, a cow, and a dog throughout the series.
- General Ripper: Captain Daniel J. "Do or Die" Dolger in "The Puce Albert," where Ramirez is called to reserve duty by the Marine Corps, and Ramirez is suspiciously regarded by Capt. Dolger, the Reverend Mother's cousin who plans to have Ramirez court-martialed, and to make matters worse, while in the middle of war games maneuvers, he thinks that Sister Bertrille is some new-fangled type of aircraft and thinks that the Reverend Mother is working with the enemy as part of a conspiracy, and it takes a tough job of convincing him, as well as a timely wind, to convince Capt. Dolger that Sister Bertrille is for real, and he recovers enough confidence to win the war games and commend Carlos.
- Give Me a Sign: Carlos's nearsighted uncle is convinced he's going to die in a week after seeing a giant white bird flying above him. Guess who the 'bird' was....
- Hat of Flight: Oddly enough, not a magical hat.
- Honest John's Dealership: In "Old Cars for New," Bertrille wants to trade in the convent's broken-down station wagon and goes to "Money Back Hernando," whose sign reads "The Most Honest Used Car Dealer In All San Juan." He swindles her, and others, repeatedly throughout the episode.
- Hypno Fool: One episode has a dentist (Bernie Kopell) cross this one with a bizarre "Freaky Friday" Flip: He uses hypnosis to make Sister Bertrille and the Mother Superior think they're each other. Hilarity, of course, ensues when a visiting Father (Paul Lynde) is observing the convent.
- I Know You Know I Know: Lampshaded in "Happy Birthday, Dear Gaspar," when Captain Gaspar Fomento gets word of a birthday party for another Gaspar (a young boy with whom he shares a birthday), and finds out that the party is for Gaspar the boy and the nuns contemplate having a party for both Gaspars:Mother Placido: Why don't we just invite Captain Fomento and make it a party for both Gaspars?
Sister Jacqueline Well, wouldn't the Captain feel he was just an afterthought?
Sister Sixto: But he's coming anyway.
Sister Bertrille: No, he knows that we know that he thought the party was for him, and since we know he knows what we know, how can we possibly ask him? Isn't that what you meant, Sister Jacqueline?
Sister Jacqueline: Uh... it is?
Salazar: It's already 5:30, Captain. Maybe you made a mistake after all.
- Later on, when Gaspar and Sgt. Salazar are waiting in the police office:
Captain Fomento: I have seen the cake, Salazar. I have seen the preparation. I know there is a party for me, and they know that there is a party for me. But even though that I know that they know that I know, I--
Salazar: Captain, my wife is waiting dinner, she's called three times, can we finish this tomorrow?
Captain Fomento: We will finish it today! Or tomorrow will be too late.
Salazar: Tomorrow, I may not have a wife.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: In "The Crooked Convent," after Carlos wins the television which he donated to the raffle and won with one raffle ticket, when Carlos asks Captain Fomento if he suspects a crooked bazaar, Fomento mentions that it was Carlos and not the captain who suggested that the raffle was crooked.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: American-born Miko Mayama, of Japanese descent, played Carlos's adopted Korean daughter Kim Ching, and Ramon Diaz understands the Korean language, with Kim speaking a few lines.
- Latin Lover: Carlos Ramirez.
- Malaproper: Sister Sixto was prone to this, though she usually had some explanation for the mix-up.Sister Sixto: If at first you do not succeed, you cry, cry again.Sister Bertrille: That's not "cry," it's "try."Sister Sixto: No, you make them feel sorry for you. You know, if we did much more crying, I think it would be easier to sell the bed.
- Mythology Gag: In "With Love, From Irving," Sister Bertrille adopts an injured pelican (or, well, vice versa), in what appears to be a callback to the original short story in which a nun joins a group of pelicans.
- Narrator: Episodes are usually introduced by Sister Jacqueline, although some episodes are set up by Carlos, and even a few by Reverend Mother Placido herself.
- Never Win the Lottery: In one episode, Sister Bertrille returns a lost lottery ticket to a poor couple, who come to believe the ticket is blessed to win after accidentally witnessing her flying off.
- Nuns Are Funny: Much of the series' raison d'être.
- Odd Friendship: Novice nun Sister Bertrille's closest friend is Carlos, an agnostic playboy who owns a casino.
- Personality Swap: In "The Return of Father Lundigan," featuring Paul Lynde as Father Lundigan, Sister Bertrille and Reverend Mother Placido are accidentally hypnotized by a dentist, with the Reverend Mother (behaving like Sister Bertrille) believing she can fly, and Sister Bertrille (taking on the Reverend Mother's role), trying to be the sensible one in charge.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Sister Sixto.
- Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Carlos's cousin Luis, when participating in a play in "Hello, Columbus," says, "Most gracious and radiant Queen. He takes her hand."
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Despite being old fashioned and somewhat strict, the Reverend Mother is a generally kind and reasonable woman who genuinely wants the best for Sister Bertrille and the convent.
- She Is All Grown Up: In "Papa Carlos," Carlos's foster daughter from Korea, Kim Ching, comes to visit. He's expecting her to be a little girl, because that's what she is in the picture he has, but she's a beautiful young woman.
- Smurfette Principle: Inverted with Carlos as the only male in the main cast, unless you count Captain Fomento from Season 2 and Carlos's co-workers.
- Thieving Magpie: In one episode, a crow takes off with a $5,000 donation check made out to the convent.
- Title Drop: The page quote in episode "Operation: Population," as Sister Bertrille gets a lift while demonstrating a pogo stick to a young boy.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Carlos and his cousin Luis, both played by Alejandro Rey in a manner reminiscent of The Patty Duke Show.
- Unique Pilot Title Sequence: It shows Sister Bertrille walking with her welcoming party back to the convent.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: Sister Bertrille's opening title quote: "Whoever heard of a flying nun?"