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TV Series Review

The world could use more Jesus. But can it use more of Him on television?

Depictions of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have been a mainstay on both big and small screens since we’ve had screens to watch. His story’s been told and told and told some more, and a cynic might doubt whether another such retelling can possibly bring anything new to the party.

VidAngel has two words for that cynic: Wanna bet?

Pay As You Go

The Chosen is the product of two up-to-the-minute trends: Streaming networks and crowdfunding.

VidAngel, the entertainment content-filtering service that's endured a litany of lawsuits to shut its business down, is now trying to become a very family-friendly version of Netflix—filled with its own stable of original programming. But to create The Chosen, VidAngel's first scripted show (it also has televised a series of stand-up acts called Dry Bar Comedy), the fledgling streaming network has turned to its would-be fans for funding.

But rather than offer the usual perks of crowdfunded entertainment—everything from keychains to dinner with the cast—VidAngel offered them a share of the show itself. Officials from VidAngel say they won’t take a dime until the investors make their money back plus 20%. Now, more than $10 million in investments later (the largest amount ever raised by a would-be crowdfunded TV program), VidAngel has its show. Or, at least, part of one.

Because (presumably) the show is dependent on fans and investors financially supporting the thing, The Chosen’s distribution model is a bit different, too. It's not dropping episodes every week, like a traditional network. It’s not giving fans access to an entire season, as Netflix is wont to do. Instead, VidAngel is making four episodes available for purchase (though the first episode is also available free on VidAngel’s site). But they’re not being officially released, according to a recent press missive, ‘til November.

But if the show’s inception and distribution have been a little bit divergent, the show itself offers some new wrinkles, as well.

Of Scripts and Scripture

VidAngel hopes The Chosen will be a “multi-season series about the life of Christ,” which might strike some as a challenge: Movies that follow a given Gospel word-for-word run long, but there’s not enough in the text to stretch the story out for a Game of Thrones-like run.

So the show's producers have shifted away from strict fidelity to the text and into a more imaginative, extrapolated, extra-biblical narrative. It’s fiction, in other words¬—fiction that was inspired by and embraces Scripture, but fiction that nonetheless feels free to remove and (mostly) add elements as the story—not theology—demands.

The show’s makers, led by The Resurrection of Gavin Stone director Dallas Jenkins, clearly wanted this story to be a cut above your typical Christian passion play. They seem to be gunning for The Chosen almost to be a biblical Breaking Bad.

I mean that in the best of ways, incidentally. For viewers who approach Christian entertainment with a jaundiced eye, The Chosen gives us something different: a gritty, grimy, problematic Palestine filled with the unwashed and impure, giving the production a flavor of authenticity.

The episodes thus far hone tightly in on its ancillary characters—infusing them with dimension the Gospels just didn’t have time to give. Their lives don’t begin with the coming of Jesus: Fishers Peter and Matthew struggle with the Sabbath and fight to keep their boat out of hock. Pharisee Nicodemus tries to shove away his own spiritual doubts to more effectively lead his people. Prim tax-collector Matthew dabs his wrists with perfume to hide the stench of the streets. Jenkins and Co. have made the brave and, I think, smart move to dole out Jesus over time—to let these very real subplots begin to emerge before these characters' realities are completely upended.

The result? A show that’s more show than sermon, one that feels strangely taut and engrossing—even for those of us who know its ultimate end.

But naturally, The Chosen comes with caveats.

Again, the world given to us here isn’t the sanctified version we see in stained glass or many a movie about Jesus. While the content isn’t gratuitous, exactly, people step in dung, long to get drunk and engage in fistfights. Characters get hurt and sometimes die. The streets of Palestine can practically reek of sin. It all feels germane: Jesus came to save such a world as this, after all. But it can be a bit graphic.

The ambitions of The Chosen require a great deal of poetic license, shall we say—again, a work of fiction in service of this age-old tale. But sometimes, for the sake of its narrative or perhaps even through oversight, it can sometimes stretch or twist what we actually know of the Gospels. For instance: Most scholars are pretty sure these days that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute (contrary to medieval legend). But she seems to be one here. So would-be viewers who demand strict fidelity to Scripture may want to look elsewhere.

But for TV fans spoiled by today’s rich, complex television landscape but tired of its salaciousness; for viewers who love Jesus (or who just want to know more about Him) but are turned off by what they might see as shallow, saccharine piety; The Chosen might just scratch an itch they never even knew they had.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

April 17, 2019: "I Have Called You By Name"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Jonathan Roumie as Jesus; Erick Avari as Nicodemus; Shahar Isaac as Simon Peter; Noah James as Andrew; Ivan Jasso as Yussif; Paras Patel as Matthew; Brandon Potter as Quintus; Shaan Sharma as Shmuel; Lara Silva as Eden; Elizabeth Tabish as Lilith

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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