Review: "The Chosen" Looks Like a Hit
This new show about the life of Christ delivers the Gospel story with freshness and accessibility to the characters.
The Chosen aims to be the first-ever multi-season TV show about Jesus' life. So far, they've got half of season one in hand and funding in place for the remainder. Those first four episodes will be available as of next week, but Christian Film Blog has already had an opportunity to watch them.
The stated goal of director Dallas Jenkins, who also is on the screenwriting team, is to make Jesus accessible by letting the audience see him as those who knew him did. In these episodes, they are the characters of Simon Peter, Mary Magdalene, Mathew, Nicodemus and a group of local children.
"We're hoping that you can encounter Jesus in the same way and through the eyes of those who actually met him. And maybe be impacted in the same way."
Among the most powerful interactions is the one with Mary Magdalene, who is shown in her struggle with demon possession. Jesus, of course, frees her from the evil spirits, thus redeeming her and, in so doing, drawing the interest of Nicodemus the Pharisee, who is played convincingly by Erick Avari.
Jenkins and his team are all believers and strive to hold true to Scripture. But, to be clear, this is a dramatic endeavor, not a documentary, and as such features a good deal of extra-Biblical storytelling. None of that, however, detracts from or clashes with the Gospel narrative. And production elements and acting are, for the most part, done at a high level.
The Jesus character, played by American actor Jonathan Roumie, is a sympathetic and approachable one, particularly in episode three, which is focused on his interactions with children. Jenkins says "this is a Jesus that is just as much man as he is divine," and he largely strikes the right balance, though there is one scene we found a bit much: Roumie does a series of Bronx cheers to amuse the little ones.
In that same vein, the other characters and story lines are a bit earthy. Beyond the aforementioned demon possession, there is brawling, boozing, gambling, a passionate kiss, corruption and thievery, with a bit of Roman brutality mixed in as well.
Yes, viewers will get this lot warts and all. Simon, in particular, is "a sinful man," as he confesses on his knees to Jesus at the end of episode four. But that earthiness feels authentic and does open the way for plenty of redemption down the line, which director Jenkins "loves" and says is the reason "we're doing this show."
There were a few minor irritants from our perspective. First, there is a real mishmash of accents - American, British, non-native - and of cast ethnicities visually unreflective of first century Palestine. Second, there is Hebrew sprinkled throughout - Adonai, El Shaddai, Rabbi, Shabbat Shalom, Ima, et cetera - which will not be understood by the uninitiated, i.e., a huge part of the target audience since this project has evangelistic aspirations. Third, many of the indoor scenes are particularly dark, as in not well-lit; no doubt historically accurate - there is only candle light, after all - it is still a bit tedious, as even young eyes will squint to make out what's happening. The final thing, and all too common in today's TV/filmmaking world, is that the CGI backgrounds are fake enough to call attention to themselves. Mercifully, they are few.
Now, we certainly do not mean to nitpick The Chosen or cast it in a bad light. Jenkins and his team know their business and have put together a quality production. Furthermore, we believe it will be a big success with viewers and please the investors who helped make it the number one crowd-funded media project ever. So where does Christian Film Blog come down on The Chosen? We rate it an 8 out of 10 and recommend that you watch.
These first four episodes will be available, for a fee, as of next Tuesday on The Chosen website. There will be various purchase packages available, but we do not have a price list at this juncture. The full eight-episode first season, which will run on the VidAngel streaming platform, will not be ready until the fall. The exact date is still to be determined.