Too often Christians complain there is no Christian content on TV or film. When there is something we should get behind of, many choose to instead ignore it (Fireproof, Courageous) or criticize it altogether (Passion of The Christ).
A couple years ago (and yes, I do mean “2”) a program took cable by storm: The Bible Series. For those unfamiliar with it, it was a mini-series of 10 episodes covering the Books of Genesis to Revelations. It was an outstanding achievement. Cable ratings were through the roof. In a time of digital downloads and piracy, The Bible Series smashed and set DVD and Blu-ray sales records! Hollywood was stunned.
More “Bible” Demanded
Of all of the major broadcasting networks, NBC, a network known to produce Christian-offending content, green-lighted a follow up 12-episode mini-series called A.D. The Bible Continues (Or “A.D. The Series”). As the name suggests, it “picks up” where The Bible Series left off, so to speak. The mini-series actually covers the aftermath of Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion all the way to the events of Acts 10. Along with the mini-series, a companion show was simultaneously released titled Beyond A.D. It's a talk show where pastors, scholars, cast, and crew get to talk about the Biblical and historical background of each episode. I attended the last taping of said show that aired on Sundays on NBC at 9am PDT. (Watch Beyond A.D. online here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7X9oFs1IoyprxVjDzxqD4w)
The show started real strong, but the ratings for the new series were not as high as The Bible Series. Though it was billed as a “mini-series”, the show’s creators Mark Burnett and Roma Downey left the option for NBC to order a second season. Deadline.com broke the news last week that NBC was not renewing the series for a second season, however, the series’ producers are intending to use season two as a launching platform for their new digital media channel It is expected to debut sometime late in 2016. Unfortunately, it would also mean show could be recast. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so long as we could enjoy another season of this great series!
A.D. The Series Synopsis
After Jesus (Juan Pablo di Pace) is arrested, Peter (Adam Levy) and the other disciples go into hiding. Only John (Babou Ceesay), Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung), and Mary the mother of Jesus (Greta Scacchi) follow the arrested Jesus from the trial before Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), to the trial before Pilate (Vincent Regan), to ultimate crucifixion and burial. The followers of Jesus grieve over the loss of their leader while in hiding. As they wonder whether or not Jesus is who He said He was, Caiaphas the High Priest gives a sigh of relief now that Jesus is no longer a threat to the Temple.
All, however, is not well. Joseph of Arimathea (Kevin Doyle) gave up his tomb for Jesus to be buried in. By doing so a prophecy from Isaiah the Prophet is fulfilled adding fuel to the fire of the Jesus supporters. Caiaphas demands Pilate seal the tomb of Jesus and place guards on duty to prevent the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus. Caiaphas fears that if the disciples attempt and succeed in stealing the body, they will create the illusion that Jesus resurrected from the grave as Jesus foretold he would. Pilate does as Caiaphas suggests.
The disciples hide in Jerusalem plotting their escape from the Romans and Temple guards, but Peter convinces them to stay at least three days.
Jesus (Juan Pablo di Pace) ascends to heaven.
On the third day, Mary Magdalene finds the tomb open, the Roman guards nowhere to be found, and the body of Jesus missing. She reports back the news to the disciples who believe Jesus’ body was stolen. The High Priest Caiaphas is upset at the news of the open tomb as well and orders the corpse of Jesus to be found quietly. Pilate silently prepares for a Jewish uprising if the followers of Jesus get word that the tomb is empty.
The disciples again plan to leave Jerusalem but the resurrected Jesus appears to them. Jesus gives instructions to the disciples to wait and prepare to change the world. After Jesus leaves them, the Holy Spirit arrives empowering the disciples to carry out the Great Commission: preach to the world the good news that Jesus is Lord and Messiah and lives. The disciples do so in the face of certain death making new enemies and allies in the process. Their bravery and boldness in the face of persecution are the early days of the Church.
After I got over the different cast and entirely different narrative of A.D. The Series (more on this later), I became engrossed by the production of the show. The actors all played their respective characters very well. I must give a special shout out to Emmett J. Scantan for his savage then caring portrayal of Saul of Tarsus!
Vincent Regan and Will Thorp as Pilate and Cornelius respectively.
The series explores the social, geographical, and political climate of Christ's time, and the hardships the disciples had to endure for the faith. Too often we forget the Easter story does not end with Jesus resurrection. After that moment is when the adventure truly begins for the disciples and the Church is born. Seeing the history of the Church retold through the eyes of the Pilate and Caiaphas gives more weight and understanding to the conditions in which Jesus lived. It is easy to criticize Peter for denying Jesus, but why was that something so “simple” for him to do? It was not easy. He was trying to save his own life. That’s what was at stake. To be a believer in the time of Christ was to be threatened with imprisonment or death. The series excelled at depicting this struggle.
Standout moments of the show also include the powerful scenes of Divine Intervention such as when Christ resurrects, the Holy Spirit arrives, and when Angels help the disciples. The imagery coupled with the moving music by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer make for emotionally charged sequences. Episode 11 is perhaps the most emotional of them all. Unfortunately, the last episode ends abruptly so it’s a bit of a cliff hanger. I’m not pleased the show ended the way it did when a little editing trick could have given closure to the series in the likely event we don’t ever get the follow up season. Still, that’s a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.
Criticism and Inaccuracies
Like many fans of The Bible Series, I was confused as to why these cast members were different from The Bible Series. A.D. The Series was billed as a sequel to The Bible Series after all (“The Bible Continues”). Then I wondered why the first episode was devoted entirely to the trial of Jesus and subsequent execution. The original series covered the Bible in 10 hour-long episodes. This one spent an entire hour on a couple of chapters of the Gospel. Did we really need a recap of this since we were supposed to “continue” The Bible Series?
Adam Levy as Peter
The marketing department did not do a good job conveying this series was not exactly The Bible Series Season 2, rather, that it was a mini-series based on the Book of Acts. I know the network and producers were all trying to build off the goodwill of the previous series. Sadly, that did not work for many. The ratings show that after a strong start, the numbers dropped every week to ultimately close at a tied-series low rating. NBC then decided not to order a second season.
There were some groups that did not like the show’s emphasis on violence. Some fictional characters introduced met violent ends that critics say was used as an excuse to make the show darker, and bloodier than it had to be.
Other groups were offended that the show did not follow the Book of Acts to the letter, and instead created fictional situations, or exaggerated certain real conflicts for the purposes of entertainment.
Lastly, as is the case with most Christian productions, there were some inaccurate portrayals of characters that, in some instances, were demeaning of the actual real people they’re based on. The Apostle Stephen (Reece Ritchie), for example, was shown as a young, hot-tempted, arrogant man when the Bible clearly states he was popular for his alms to the poor, and wisdom of The Scriptures. Also, Cornelius (Will Thorp) was portrayed as someone that did not serve God but gets saved at the end. The latter part is true, but we also know from the Bible he was a righteous man.
The list could go on but in doing so I risk spoiling some otherwise excellent moments of drama.
In Defense of A.D. The Series
The Bible has been source material for Hollywood for over a century. Some of Hollywood’s most memorable works do stem from the Golden Age. Those great Bible epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and The Greatest Story Ever Told are universally loved and praised, but each have their share of inaccuracies. There are a ton of other Bible story adaptations since the Golden Age of Hollywood. Some Bible stories came in the form of made-for-TV movies, cable movies, and ultimately miniseries format. Most cases are a rehash of the same stories but told with better acting and production values.
One of my favorite Bible adaptations is The Visual Bible: Acts from 1994. It literally only used the New International Version as its dialogue. So if critics of A.D. The Series want something truly pure and to the letter, I recommend that series.
Some of the critics of the miniseries made it seem like this was Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, or worse yet, that abomination of a production staring Jon Voight, the made-for-TV movie Noah’s Ark. Not even non-Christians could defend that latter production. Other critics try to argue that A.D. The Series focused more on violence and fictitious settings like Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings.
A.D. is among the best and most beautiful adaptations of The Bible to date. The series was not meant for children. It was targeting the older audience. The cruelty and brutality of the time were barely even portrayed as much was implied in the series. The show was on broadcast television after all. The Bible Series was considerably more violent than this, and the time of the Bible was a very violent time. The criticism against the violence is akin to those that judged The Passion of The Christ for being too graphic. Some secular publications labeled that movie as the “most violent movie ever” completely ignoring all the horror movies since the slasher flick era, and overlooking all the gory torture porn of the new millennium.
The issues with the show – even glaring ones that bothered me the most like the portrayal of Stephen – are not enough to detract from the awesomeness of this show. I feel the series paid respect to the source material and highlighted actual historical events. I do admit the uneven final episode and truncated finale was a terrible way to end the series. Even with more plot lines to carry over to the next season, the showrunners should have been smarter in closing out the freshman season with something that had more closure while still leaving room to continue. All in all, the series is still one that must be watched to be appreciated.