The Chosen: A Life-of-Christ TV Series that’s ‘Disrupting the Status Quo’

The Chosen
The Chosen The Chosen

Some of the early seasons of South Park were pretty awesome. A fan favorite is Christian Hard Rock (2003), in which Eric Cartman – on a bet – forms a Christian band called “Faith + 1.” Cartman reasons that, as Christian music is so “lame,” he could easily win a Grammy by using the template of love songs and just swapping out the word “baby” for “Jesus.” The band does well, but in the end, wins a Dove Award – infuriating Cartman who was unaware the Grammys don’t have a ‘Best Christian Album’ category. For South Park fans the episode was hilarious. (It’s a safe bet it wasn’t as well-received by many others.) The point that was made, however, is a view shared by many: Christian entertainment is too often derivative, “cheesy,” and or simply boring. The Chosen is disrupting these stereotypes. Put it this way: The Chosen would win any television-related Dove Award hands-down. But it could also probably pick up an Emmy or two. It’s both “pure” Christian entertainment and a “good” television drama.

Director Dallas Jenkins and team have created a “Bible TV show” – that’s also viewable via a free app – unlike anything we’ve seen before. Unabashedly Christian, yet undeniably good. There are so many pigeonholes such a show could fall into – but The Chosen not only avoids them… it doesn’t even get near them. Jesus – played by Jonathan Roumie with a sincerity that never strikes you as forced – is relatable and real in a way that’s hard to describe. The series is wonderfully unfamiliar, considering it’s about one of the best-known tales of all time. Watching the first few episodes you almost don’t know what to make of what you’re seeing – it’s so “different.” But the vast majority of viewers are finding The Chosen delightfully different. The series isn’t trying to be “cool,” the downfall of many an attempt to make Jesus “relevant.” They also aren’t trying to be “spiritual;” with lofty profound lines delivered by a sad-puppy-looking Jesus who’s so intense he doesn’t blink. As Jenkins told the Atlantic magazine in an excellent piece on the series, the idea was to tell “compelling” stories about Jesus and those around him.

To purists, the New Testament is a compelling story on its own, but for the rest of us, it’s a bit sparse. Jesus is believed to be divine by his followers, yet he was also human while on earth. What might that have been like? How did this “divine-human” live in first-century Judaea? We read of Matthew, Simon Peter, the brothers James and John, Thomas, etc.… but aside from their professions before becoming disciples, not much is said about them as people. Simon Peter has a mother-in-law whom Jesus heals, which means he had a wife. What was she like? How would she have felt about Simon Peter leaving home to follow this young ‘Rabbi’? What would it have been like for the fishermen’s siblings to give up their trade? Through inspired – but not canonical – backstories or asides, we see insights into these problems, issues, and realities in a way never even attempted by a film project before.

The Chosen is the largest crowd-funded film project of all time. Tens of millions of dollars were raised from investors and it shows. There is no skimping on sets, costumes, or camerawork. The show – which just wrapped up Season two – is a work of art. The Texas desert was a marvelous stand-in for ancient Judea in Season one. The sharp sunlight over a vast terrain fits one’s idea of the land where Jesus lived perfectly. And, from a filmmaker’s perspective, there are some very well-done scenes, such as the depiction in the first season of a miracle that overfills the nets of fishermen who then become disciples of Christ. The Mormons – who prefer their official name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – have the only set in the world that’s specifically designed for filming stories related to the Bible, especially, stories that take place in the Jerusalem of approximately 30 C.E. This set in rural Utah is the backdrop for Season two, and we’re happy to report the stones of the temple do not look like they’re made of Styrofoam. It’s a gorgeous set, and the filming marked the first time a non-Mormon crew was permitted to use it.

The Chosen isn’t trying to convert you. They know most of their most ardent fans are likely already Christians. “Preachiness” is absent and while earnest enough, it’s a show that remembers to keep things interesting and entertaining – the essence of storytelling. As the Atlantic magazine put it, “ Rather than merely reciting Jesus’s greatest hits, Jenkins and his writers linger with characters in their daily lives—marital and professional conflicts, financial struggles, campfire gatherings. When the audience sees climactic moments from the Gospels, such as Jesus’s miraculous healing of a leper, the events register as disruptions of the status quo.”

The Chosen itself is a disruption of the status quo, and a welcome one.

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