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Why ‘The Chosen’ Is a Faith-Based Game Changer

The eight-part saga offers an invigorating look at Jesus Christ and his future disciples

Even those averse to “miracle” talk would find “The Chosen” … remarkable.

The facts are hard to dispute.

The series following Jesus Christ’s disciples-to-be inspired a massive crowdfunding campaign. The effort earned a whopping $13 million, far more than any comparable effort. For comparison’s sake, the team behind the  2014 “Veronica Mars” feature drew more than $5 million. 

That figure went toward an existing property with a vocal fan base. Industry observers hailed the campaign’s haul, and rightly so.

Dallas Jenkins’ “The Chosen” more than doubled those figures -- with no marketable stars, studio backing or sizable press attention. It did use an equity feature that allowed “investors” to gain a return on their investment, but the sum still dwarfs any other Hollywood-related measure.

Need more?

The Chosen: Official Trailer 2

The show reached north of 180 countries via its standalone app, generating more than 7 million episode views since its December release.

The bigger miracle, for cynical Hollywood types, comes courtesy of the series itself. The show’s first season, eight episodes of varying length (plus a pilot), represents a generous leap in storytelling for the faith-based market.

The genre isn’t what it was only a few years ago. Films like “Risen,” “The Young Messiah” and “Breakthrough” reveal a maturing category:

  • Bigger stars (and richer performances)
  • Larger budgets
  • More absorbing tales

Box office glory hasn’t always followed, but that doesn’t diminish the artistic advances on display.

The Chosen Shahar Isaac as Simon
Shahar Isaac looks out at an uncertain future in ‘The Chosen.’

Still, the stigma attached to faith-based project persists, especially at lower budgetary levels. A Daily Beast scribe once chose Kirk Cameron’s 2014 feature “Saving Christmas” as the year’s worst movie -- without actually seeing it.

“The Chosen” bullies past those preconceptions. The production design alone offers an immersive experience, delivering the sense that we’re truly transported back in time.

FAST FACT: Jonathan Roumie landed his first leading role courtesy of “The Chosen.” He first teamed with Jenkins six years ago for a short film made for the director’s church.  

It helps that “The Chosen” isn’t another whitewashed affair. The cast is diverse and deep, an accomplishment that plays out organically.

Jenkins, who directed and co-wrote the episodes, does something else with the series. He makes this saga grittier than past Biblical tales. You can smell the bustling markets and taste the dust in your mouth after just a few sequences.

There’s shaky camera work, and quite a bit of it, but it isn’t flashy or distracting.

The saga boasts a lived-in component, something you can sense just by watching the various characters’ shoes. They get dirty. Often.

The story itself follows several characters whose lives interact with a certain carpenter. There’s Simon (Shahar Isaac), a headstrong soul attempting to get himself out of suffocating debt. Mary Magdalene (Elizabeth Tasbish) endures a possession early in the series, drawing the attention of both local religious leader Nicodemus (Erick Avari) and Jesus himself (Jonathan Roumie).

RELATED: How ‘Harriet’ Ignored Hollywood’s Faith-Averse Formula

The standout among the main players is Avari’s Nicodemus. The character actor’s presence alone heightens every scene, establishing the show’s ambitions in episode one. Nicodemus is morally strong but aware of his shortcomings, which becomes more clear as news of Jesus’ miracles reach the masses.

The show’s dialogue isn’t as stuffy as past tales centered around the life of Jesus. It’s accessible, even wise, with only a few numbing anachronism. The screenplay follows the stories many know by heart, but each episode surprises with humor and deft turns of phrase.

The comic moments are few but well earned, another sign of the storytellers’ vigor.

We’re also asked to look past first impressions, even with characters we instinctively loathe. Poor Matthew (Paras Patel) seems like a prototypical villain, the area tax collector who takes quiet pleasure in punishing the poor. Patel grants Matthew an inner strength that blossoms as the season progresses.

Jesus calls the misfit tax collector

Jenkins and his team are equally generous with supporting players, adding a secondary layer of surprises.

And then there’s Jesus, a role that’s all but impossible to play at this stage in pop culture. Slather on the kindness and he seems too good, too predictable. Stand back, and he’s off-putting in his holiness.

Roumie balances his presentation, transforming Jesus into someone both recognizable and forever out of reach. Jesus appears but briefly in the early episodes, yet he towers over the production.

Yes, “The Chosen” is a ministry of sorts. The creators want to attract those curious about Jesus Christ while affirming the faith of true believers. The series straddles that sizable chasm, doing so in ways that suggest faith-based storytelling’s progress has only just begun.

HiT or Miss: “The Chosen” is smart, easily digested and modern without leaving Jesus’ spiritual resonance behind.

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14 Comments

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this tv series! Jesus is so relatable! The writers have done a tremendous job bringing the people of the Gospels off the Bible pages and adding a depth one would only typically get by living alongside them. So many memorable lines and fun moments to go along with the deeper message of God’s love. God created humor and fun and Jesus is portrayed in a way that shows His love in a new and profound way.

  2. Love this review! You explain what makes this work like no other Christian media project. Yes, it is smart, accessible and wise. Love the way you describe Jonathan Roumie’s performance as perfectly balanced. And that while Jesus has less screen time than some of the other characters, but that He “ towers over the production”.

    Thank you for your review, and for helping get the word out about The Chosen!

  3. Thank you for this review! The Chosen is just really good TV. The actors give rich performances, with authentic visuals. This is the best portrayal of Jesus you will ever see. You really feel like you are in first century Israel. The “shakey” camera style makes you feel you are there in the moment. As of today, there have been 20 million views on the app alone. This show is a must see. It is life changing!

  4. This review puts into words all of the things I felt watching the first season of this incredible show. Thank you for your writing!

  5. I really enjoy this series. It’s wonderfully surprising in the way it portrays the people we have only read about. Brings them to life and has me reading the same passages and verses in the Bible with new vigor. The disciples leap off the pages now because the Chosen has really made me consider what it was really like for the men and women that followed Christ. They are us. I like that it’s not a Hollywood project. I find Dallas Jenkins and all of the people that have worked so hard to get this going Trustworthy to deliver a plausible life of the people surrounding Jesus. I like that Jesus can make you laugh. You have to think he would be that way. You can’t love someone and enjoy their company without laughter so that is very plausible. Spectacular series. Waiting for the rest of the seasons will be worth it not matter how long they take.

  6. I’m obsessed with this show!!! My husband and I binge watched all of it and have watched the season several times now. I highly recommend everyone (whether a follower or not) to watch!! It is a great, great show with amazing characters that you really get attached to. Can’t wait for 2nd season!!!

  7. I could literally write paragraphs of what is so wonderful and moving about this series! But there is nothing that replaces or is as effective like personal experience. I had to personally watch this series to be so amazingly affected. So . . . I’d encourage everyone to watch it for yourself. You’ll know what we are all trying to express about how absolutely marvelous it is!

  8. Thank you so much for your review of The Chosen! I absolutely LOVE Erick Avari, especially from his Stargate days! Such an awesome actor! Looking forward to watching him as Nicodemus in The Chosen!

  9. Loved your summary of The Chosen, and
    especially the words detailing the smells and sounds of the bustling markets and the feel of the feet, dust, dirt in sandals.

    Yes, it is so visually and auditorily authentic, which is yet another reason I love this multi-season show! Watching this show makes me feel like I know these people in the bible better. I put a name with a face and have a visual as I am studying the bible. Character development is key also and the Chosen does a great job in this area too!

  10. Thank you for this review of The Chosen, it spot on articulates why this isn’t just another Jesus movie. I binged the entire season in two evenings and then joined the live event with my 9 year-old son. He enjoyed it so much and looked forward to each evening’s viewing.

  11. What a fun adventure this show is! My family has all enjoyed it, especially the 3rd episode, “Jesus loves the Little Children.”

    It portrays Jesus as a man so well, while keeping His Christ connection to God intact. You can feel the love Jesus has for the children and you get to see a precursor of what He will soon teach disciples!

  12. After a near death experience 5 years ago I experienced a miracle and surrendered my life to God. I am a baby when it comes to reading, understanding and living the words in the Bible. The Choosen gave me perspective. Jesus, the son of God sent to us to live, suffer and die as a man. Thank you because this really helped me in my journey. More to come!!!
    Chuck, Living Hope Cancer Foundation

  13. “Yes, ‘The Chosen’ is a ministry of sorts. The creators want to attract those curious about Jesus Christ while affirming the faith of true believers. The series straddles that sizable chasm, doing so in ways that suggest faith-based storytelling’s progress has only just begun.”

    Great review! I can also add that this series has caused this believer to fall in love with Yeshua/Jesus all over again.

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