A Reason to Celebrate

adApproximately three months ago, I sat in a hotel ballroom in Pasadena CA as Mark Burnett and Roma Downey talked about an upcoming project called “A.D. The Bible Continues.” After their success with “The Bible” series a number of years earlier, I had one question for them.

Why now?

Mark’s response was telling: “We simply couldn’t make it fast enough.” He then mentioned how fortunate it was that NBC was going to air the premiere on Easter Sunday. I agree wholeheartedly with this, as “A.D.” looks like a game-changer in the realm of faith-based programming.

Are there differences from “The Bible?” Absolutely. There is zero carryover from the cast of the History Channel miniseries–all roles are played by different individuals. Instead of Diogo Morgado playing the titular role of Jesus, Juan Pablo Di Pace handles the role. Downey leaves her role as Jesus’ mother to Greta Scacchi. The rest of the cast is unique, as it’s reflective of the world today. As an example, the apostle John is played by Babou Ceesay from the country of Gambia, while Mary Magdalene is portrayed by Chipo Chung–a native of Zimbabwe.

After watching the first episode, it’s clear that Burnett and Downey have learned a lot about producing a show in the aftermath of “The Bible.” The production values are better; the pacing is more crisp; the acting is more convincing (Pilate [Vincent Regan] and Magdalene stand out); and the overall effect leaves a strong impression on the viewer.

Of course, one of the knocks on “The Bible” from evangelical viewers was that it took far too much liberty with the source material. I’m happy to report that “A.D.” corrects this in a big way. There is one questionable section at the end with an angel pulling out a sword (no ninja angels here), but for the most part, the episode is true to the Gospel retelling of the crucifixion and accounts in the Bible about the hours afterward. There’s violence, as you might expect, but it’s not as drawn-out and gory as either “The Bible” or The Passion of the Christ. This allows for a snappy episode that sets up future episodes well.

You may notice that I haven’t talked about Jesus so far. That’s because Di Pace doesn’t get to do too much other than confront Pilate and Caiaphas with steely reserve, hang on a cross, and die. What he does with the role, however, provides a sense of purpose that Morgado was unable to reach with his portrayal in “The Bible.” This allows the backstories of Caiaphas, Pilate, Leah, and Claudia to take center stage. It’s really intriguing stuff and helps to flesh out the tension that was in the air during those three days of the Passover.

Don’t miss this premiere–you’ll be hooked from the outset.

“A.D. The Bible Continues” is a 12-week miniseries that airs on NBC at 9 PM on Sundays, starting on Easter.

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