Christ has been the source of plenty of controversies when it comes to film and television. From Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, outrage is at every turn. However, I’ve always believed that this shouldn’t stop us from telling his story. He’s one of those rare figures who can transcend beliefs. Even if you believe his acts to be fiction, his message is still remarkable and essential to this day. After all, his preachings were primarily on the concept of love above all else, and the world could use a little more of that.
Dallas Jenkins’ 8 episode series “The Chosen” endeavours to tell the biblical tale once again, and does so with a paramount reverence and an abundance of kindness. The concept of this new retelling is that the perspective is primarily from the apostles of Christ rather than Jesus himself.
And of them, the primary 4 we follow are Simon Peter (Shahar Isaac), Mary Magdalene (Elizabeth Tabish), Matthew (Paras Patel) and Nicodemus (Erick Avari). We see each of them as they meet Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) for the first time, just as he is preparing to reveal himself as the messiah. He saves some, he redeems others, but all come to love and follow him. There is, however, another side to the story, that follows the Roman persecution of the Jewish people, and their slow discovery and disdain for Jesus.
As all this begins to happen, it quickly becomes apparent that The Chosen is a show fully prepared to express itself at a slow pace, and that’s totally fine. Yes, inevitably things do get bogged down, particularly when following Matthew, a tax collector shunned by his people, as he associates himself with some Romans. Still, for the most part, the show finds an entertaining and enlightening pitch. This is thanks to the work of two of the most important characters in the show, Erick Avari’s Nicodemus and Jonathan Roumie as Jesus. Their eventual canonical meeting is one of the best moments of the show, and of all the beautiful and impactful moments The Chosen creates one or both of these men generate it.
Roumie carries himself with such an apparent kindness and warmth that he is at times breathtaking. The humanity at the centre of the portrayal is so crucial to get right, and the performance is remarkably grounded and moving. I think he nailed it, and it is my favourite performance by anyone in the role. His finest moments come as the many individuals he heals begin to appear. The beautiful score begins to swell, and you know you are about to see something heart-warming
Avari is brilliant in a very different way. His debates on faith with the other Pharisee’s and Jesus himself are engrossing, and his arc of confronting the contradictions of his faith with what he believes Christ’s emergence means is the strongest of the show. It’s a performance unlike any I’ve seen him produce before and I would gladly see more of it.
This does highlight one crucial question to ask when reviewing this show: how much does it mess with the source material? I’m happy to report there are no egregious changes. The most notable differences see some figures take a step back so others can be more prominent, in particular, Nicodemus, who is likely in this show far more than in all of the Bible. Regardless, this is a faithful adaption, one that elects to provide more context than the Good Book itself provides, which was a good decision.
When it comes to independently funded series about Christ, there will never be one as good as this. There are issues though, the main titles and theme is always jarring and feels thrown together and cheap, which considering the beautiful score the show boasts, is a shame. The other issue is the show’s most significant, the casting of Brandon Potter as the primary antagonist, Quintus. Unfortunately, he delivers a frankly distracting performance seemingly focused on making Quintus a weaselly and cunning man, who never actually does anything wicked. The writing of the character destroyed this performance before it could even take place, and the end result isn’t pretty.
The Chosen strikes gold with some key casting decisions and as a result, delivers a wholesome and enjoyable retelling of Jesus’ story.
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