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I have to admit there’s something a little strange about reviewing a series based on the Bible — like I’m going to critique the plot developments?
As the title suggests, A.D. The Bible Continues, from executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, picks up where History’s 2013 series The Bible left off. Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) is put to death by order of the Roman Empire. In an age where everyone is in a panic over spoiler alerts, it’s interesting to watch a series in which you know exactly what’s coming.
When you take on a familiar story like the Bible, you need to offer a reason for people to watch. A.D. doesn’t do that. There isn’t necessarily anything new to see here. The first two episodes available for review hit upon all the familiar iconic moments. Jesus implores, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” moments before his death. Peter (Adam Levy) denies Jesus three times. Thomas (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) doesn’t believe Jesus has risen from the dead until he is able to touch the nail wounds in his hands. Judas (Cesare Taurasi), guilt-ridden from his betrayal of Jesus, hangs himself. Those who paid a modicum of attention in religious education classes will recognize the lesser-known moments like Joseph of Arimathea (Kevin Doyle) retrieving Jesus’ body to place in a tomb or Jesus appearing to his disciples and helping them find fish.
A.D. does attempt to humanize all the players. Even those who believe probably haven’t given a lot of thought to how utterly devastating it was for the apostles to see Jesus put to death and how, of course, they doubted his prophecy that he would rise from the dead in three days. “Our faith in him has to be worth three days,” Peter tells the other apostles.
Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan) is a heartless tyrant, but he’s also someone trying to control a situation he cannot explain. As Jesus’ mother, Mary, Greta Scacchi takes over for Downey and makes you feel a mother’s pain over losing her son. Strangely, the only character who isn’t really given any depth is Jesus. He looks and acts as if he’s just stepped off a religious painting to smile beatifically at his followers.
The series attempts to bring to life the political climate at the time of Jesus’ death. Like Pilate, the high priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle) doesn’t want any chance of Jesus rising from the dead. He implores Pilate to place Roman guards outside his tomb. Pilate wants Jesus to be remembered not as a “handsome prophet with charisma but as a rotting pile of meat on the floor.”
The series also doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of not only Jesus’ death on the cross, but the murders that ensued as Pilate grew angrier and angrier that Jesus’ body could not be found. While it’s not necessarily more graphic than many other shows on TV, the explicit nature of the series definitely makes it something children cannot watch.
The second episode ends with Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his instructions to “go into the world and preach the gospel.” The opening two hours are so familiar that they feel more like a very long prelude to the actual series. My assumption is the next 10 episodes of this 12-episode series will hit upon the less widely known stories and characters.
It’s a smart move by NBC to premiere the series on Easter Sunday, although it faces competition from ABC’s annual airing of The Ten Commandments. But there’s something a bit unsavory about the blatant commercialization of the Easter story, starting with the tag line “the crucifixion was only the beginning.”
And while the production, filmed on location in Morocco, has a lavish, sweeping feel, certain aspects seem a little off. Sometimes it’s the modern-sounding dialogue; I’m fairly certain “long time, no see” and “sick joke” were not phrases used over 2,000 years ago. Sometimes it’s just confusing trying to figure out who everyone is. It might have been nice if characters either wore name tags or introduced themselves first. Sometimes it’s because 90 percent of the characters give earnest, pleading looks all the time. And sometimes it’s because the series is, for the most part, really boring — by far the greatest sin a TV show can commit.
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