Most of us would say we have a good idea of who Jesus Christ is, and how productions about Him usually go. Shepherds in a barn, randomly calling people off the road to ‘follow me’, and a trek with a heavy cross. At least, those are the expectations I hold. But I watched The Chosen and was presented with a Jesus I’d never seen before.
The multi-season series is subtitled ‘See Him through the lens of those who knew Him’, and aptly so, because that’s precisely how He is shown. Rather than focus on Jesus’ life, it prioritises that of those around Him: Mary of Magdala, who is freed from a life of torment; Nicodemus, a religious teacher with hard questions; Simon Peter, a charming, self-centred rascal. Prior to their canonisation by religion, they were regular people living regular lives with regular problems. They were people, I daresay, not dissimilar to us.
These are details which are non-existent in time-constrained movies with skeletal storylines crudely pointing to the crucifixion
Each of them is lifted off pages of a book and brought to life. They are given their own story, friends, hobbies, and struggles. Matthew, for example, is a brilliant but ostracised revenue agent. He’s also on the autism spectrum. Those around him view him as an abnormal, unnecessarily germophobic pest, and understandably so. Early into the season he is pitted against Peter and Andrew, laying the foundations for future conflict when all three will be followers of the same Rabbi. His inclusion by Jesus into the fold is a touching act of compassion and acceptance of someone who everyone else misunderstood.
We witness these ‘saints’ laugh, cry, drift, and fail. There’s even a scene where Jesus and Peter team up to mock Andrew’s ‘four left feet’! These are details which are non-existent in time-constrained movies with skeletal storylines crudely pointing to the crucifixion. The beauty of this narrative told as a series is the opportunity it offers to delve deep into what possibly happened between well-known verses, and delve it does. It highlights people as they were back then and still are now: multidimensional, reasoning, unique human beings whose essences cannot be summed up in a few sentences.
Every line is relayed superbly, allowing us to form opinions of and attachments to fleeting characters, as we might with real people
The director, Dallas Jenkins, achieves what many fail to do in providing adequate screen time and character development for supporting roles. We grow nearly as familiar with detested Roman soldiers, querying neighbourhood children and sceptics as we do with the jolly band of disciples. Every line is relayed superbly, allowing us to form opinions of and attachments to fleeting characters, as we might with real people. Such scenes and episodes are, paradoxically, both a welcome breather from our main characters, and an absence of them which makes our hearts fonder.
The Chosen succeeds in another area where most renditions of early Christianity fail: portraying its Jewishness. Jesus and His first followers were Jewish. Justice is done to their heritage by careful inclusion of traditions and culture as appropriate to the time. Episode 2, ‘Shabbat,’ honours the Jewish day of rest and skilfully shows how its purpose remains unchanged, regardless of the opulence in which it is observed. Aside from that, interwoven in the English-rendered lines are Hebrew words like ‘eema’ (meaning ‘mother’) that add authenticity to the speech. If you – like myself – are a stickler for historical accuracy in period pieces, that’s another reason to watch this show.
Hollywood could learn a thing or two about diversity and audience awareness from The Chosen; its cast members are from all corners of the globe
Supposing season one had been a total waste of my time, the show would still stand as a record-breaker by virtue of existing. It is the #1 crowd-funded media project of all time. It’s also the first multi-season show about the ministry of Jesus. As if that’s not incredible enough, episodes are freely available worldwide from their app. Hollywood could learn a thing or two about diversity and audience awareness from The Chosen; its cast members are from all corners of the globe. Altogether, this made for an expectation-surpassing first season, and I can’t wait to see what future seasons have in store.