Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, stuffed to the gills with ham and pastel candy, I sat down to watch the sequel to the hugely popular 2013 miniseries The Bible. No, not The Road to Salt Lake City. I'm talking, of course, about AD: The Bible Continues.
Now, I have not seen The Bible. I watched the first episode of AD, currently airing Sundays on NBC, for two reasons: A) That name and B) the tagline they're using on advertisements plastered all over the New York City subway system. Which is, of course, "The crucifixion was only the beginning." JESUS IS BACK AND HE'S BADDER THAN EVER.
I could make jokes about that packaging for the rest of my life. The Bible Two: More Bible. Second Helpings of Bible. Jesus Had Friends and They're PISSED. AD: This Time It's Personal. The Bible 2: The Biblenling. Just have Saint Paul punching a Roman emperor in the face while we're at it, why not?
The show was preceded by a Dateline special, "Bible Stories: the New Blockbusters." (My favorite part: A talking head pointing out that the timeline of this particular series is gonna be a tough sell because the star "has left the scene." Saint Peter is the Iron Man of this franchise. Sure, he's got some name recognition and a built-in fanbase—but can we take him mainstream????) This is how I discovered that half of the married producer team behind The Bible and AD: The Bible Continues is Roma Downey. If you only had access to network television as a child and also grew up in Middle America, you might remember her as FUCKIN MONICA FROM TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Christian entertainment royalty, basically.
This is a very strange TV experience. It often wants to be some gritty political drama about the machinations between High Priest Caiaphas and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, interspersed with the Apostles standing around looking sad and/or stressed, trying to figure out their next move. You know, classic I Claudius palace-intrigue stuff. (Plus IMDB promises Caligula will make an appearance.)
There are numerous walk-and-talks where characters discuss whatever's happening so blatantly that "exposition! exposition!" might as well flash across the bottom of the screen. There's shaky-cam cinematography. At one point, Caiaphas complains that Pilate has "granted the opportunity to his followers to enact the appearance of resurrection," offering a glimpse at what a subtler show might've looked like. It's a little House of Cards, a little Game of Thrones, which is certainly a logical approach to the material. Caiaphas's wife is even a Romanized Lady MacBeth, constantly encouraging his hardline stance against "the Nazarene," because of course the trouble always goes back to a bitch somewhere along the line.
Speaking of Pontius Pilate: He is tired and bored and very clearly wishes he'd been posted to literally anywhere else in the Roman Empire, even miserable fucking Britain. Also his wife Claudia has a bee in her bonnet about Jesus and has prophetic dreams about him and doesn't think they should have killed him so gruesomely and she won't leave Pontius Pilate alone about the subject. He is annoyed and henpecked and it's hilarious. He is my favorite character. I wish somebody would make a workplace comedy about beleaguered Roman bureaucrats.
But at the same time, it feels like a throwback to midcentury Biblical epics to see the Acts of the Apostles delivered as a straightforward action-adventure story. (Please note that this series premiere went head-to-head with The Ten Commandments on ABC.) This is not some revisionist take on the text. This ain't Aronofsky's Noah. It's hard to follow without some familiarity with the Bible, and it nails every single beat for believers—Pilate's handwashing, Peter's denial, all of it. At the end of the episode, Christ's tomb starts glowing and an angel rockets down from Heaven in a ball of fire, draws a sword, and rolls that stone away.
Not sure why he needed to draw his sword to move a giant rock but hey, I'm no theologian.
The results are practically whiplash inducing, and it'll be interesting to see whether they can recapture the huge audiences that tuned in for The Bible. Even if you're not a believer, though, it's worth catching an episode for the dialogue, which is like manna from Heaven but cheese. Pure, pure cheese. For instance:
- "Day by day more and more people were being seduced by the Nazarene's simplistic homilies. He had to be exposed."
- "His trial could trigger rebellion." "The word of one Jew against the might of Rome? I don't think so, Marius."
- "Truth? What is truth?" Get it, guys? Rome is run by equivocating moral relativists!
- A sneering dismissal of Joseph of Arimathea and "his lofty morals, floating above the daily grime of public affairs."
- "In addition to peace and love, the Nazarene preached insurrection against ALL authority."
- "THE MAN WAS A DANGER TO THE STATUS QUO!"
- "The Nazarene… is gone…." "What do you mean… GONE?"
- And my personal favorite: "Killing him won't be the end of it." "It usually is, my darling."
Plus, the supernatural storm that comes after Christ dies is accompanied by sick-ass guitar music. And in the teaser for upcoming episodes, some dude was literally wearing ninja-esque sleeve-knives. Pretty sure that's not in the original text:
I was, however, subjected to commercials for both Focus on the Family and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 while watching this show, so please consider this my official application for hazard pay. Thanks.
Images via NBC/screenshots.
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