Premiere Date:  October 22, 2006, 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT)
Genre:  Reality/Documentary-Drama
Rating: TV-PG
Run Time:  60 min. (Five-part series – 60 min. each)
Creator/Distributor:  TLC (Discovery Communications, Inc.)

Five men walk into a monastery:  a marine, a cynic, a former Satanist, a recovering alcoholic and an ex-con. …

Now there's no need to wait for the punch line here.  Because this is no joke.  In fact, these five men are at the crossroads in their lives.  And they've come from all walks of life to The Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico to get answers to spiritual questions.

Never before has this Benedictine monastery opened its doors like this to the outside world.  But the 30 monks who live there have agreed to take on these men as a special project and help them in their quest to find God during a period of 40 days and nights. 

In the premiere episode of "The Monastery," TLC's new five-part series, a question is posed to viewers:  Who will change most – the men or the monks?  Next, short introductory confessionals from each of the five men set the scene.

Initially, the marine, Alex Nicoll, from Phoenix, appears to be the chief troublemaker in the bunch.  At only 23, he's already lived enough for one lifetime after serving in Iraq and losing his leg in his final skirmish.  The self-described "punk" is curious and looking for direction.  After watching just one episode, I truly believe his heart will soften and he will find it.

Alex makes fast friends – and mischief – with Jon Willoughby, a paramedic and fireman from Flint, Michigan.  As the "doubting Thomas" of the quintet, Jon must decide whether he is "for God or against him," as one monk challenges him to do.  He waivers from the get-go.

There's also recovering alcoholic Tom Kramer, who seems to be the project participant who might be most ripe for change.  The once successful Hollywood comedy writer lost everything to the bottle and eventually became homeless.  A lapsed Catholic, Tom wants to know if God can make him happy and if he should give faith a chance once more.  He comes across as the group's "conscience" and is definitely the most discerning and contemplative thus far.

Not that much camera time is yet given to the last two participants:  Warren Huber, a former Satanist and aspiring Episcopal priest who's also pursuing a physics degree; and William Morales, an ex-con and gang member who's now a youth worker at his neighborhood YMCA in Boston.  Perhaps episodes two through five will shed more light on their life interiors.

After arrival at the monastery, all five men are immersed into a world where solitude, prayer, work and worship are the rules, among others from St. Benedictine.  It seems as though most of monastic living, apart from the eight daily church services, is done in silence.  Tom complains to the camera about not knowing when and where he can talk:  "You gotta pray just to understand the rules … it can drive you crazy." 

Later, when not understanding why he must chant so much in worship and why it takes so long, the "disciplinarian" monk, Brother Joseph Gabriel, explains to him that liturgy in the monastery is like the secular liturgy of football.  "So … I should think of Gregorian chants as a football game," muses.  "God's football game."  (I'm not a football widow, but I think the monk has a point here.)