Review: The Chosen (Season 1)

9:00 AM





So I watched this series all the way back in May, but for reasons only known to antiquity, it has been sitting in the draft folder. Welp, it's high time it came out!  

I first came upon this series when I watched an interview conducted by John-Henry Weston of LifeSiteNews with Jonathan Rouimie, who portrays Jesus. I then checked out The Chosen's YouTube page, which was linked to the interview. From there, I bingewatched the entire series in close to a week. And I have thoughts about it, LOL.  

I warn you all now....this review is very long, very detailed, and...very bluntly and unapologetically Catholic. There is a lot to unpack with this series, so let's get stuck in, as the Brits say :) 


What I Liked

- The Cinematography. Okay, I've seen several indie films and most of the time, the cinematography stinks. THIS ONE THOUGH IS AN EXCEPTION. It was beeee-you-teeee-ful.

- Quality Acting - again, usually the acting is cheesy in indie films, I didn't get that impression with this series. There may have been a few moments, but nothing that really stood out to me.

- The portrayal of multiple races. Call me a liberal all you care, but I actually appreciated seeing people of all races in this portrayal. Simply because the Middle East is literally the crossroads of the world and it just simply would have been normal to see Africans, Asians, and Europeans coming together for trading purposes. Also, the multiple languages would have been accurate too (Jesus was likely to speak at least three, Hebrew, Aramaiac and Greek, if not more).

- The weaving in of Old Testament stories. Jacob in Caanan, Moses and the Serpent especially were woven in SO WELL. I look forward to more of that.

- Nicodemus. I admit, he's a disciple that I know little about, but I really really like that they included him on this show. His conflict with the Pharisees and their total opposite attitude was great. 

- How it's funded. This is a crowd-funded project, which means that Hollywood is completely out of the picture and not influencing the decisions of it. While it is free to watch, there is option of donation, which I think all Christian projects with the goal of evangelization should be structured as.

- the fact that all the characters had such distinct personalities. The Roman commander Quintus gets an especial shout-out because MAN was he so well written and well acted. 



What I Didn't Like

- The evangelical overtones. See below in the Religious Critiques section for more details.

- There is a lot of heavy emotions, especially during miracles and conversions, and I think that could have been tempered with more true "joy", if that makes any sense. Minor quibble to be sure.

- The show dates itself to 26 AD, which Catholics will recognize as inaccurate. AD means Anno Domini, or Year of Our Lord. This dating tagline would logically start at the first year of Our Lord's life, not when He was 3. Since it's a well known fact that Our Lord died at the age of 33, and that Our Lord's public life spanned about 3 years, that logically puts the start of Jesus's public life at 30 AD, not 26 AD. Anybody else has any doubts about it can consult Dr. Taylor Marshall's video on the subject HERE.

- The amount of creative license used for the writing. There were some moments in which it hit good and some which hit so off that it hurt. See the Religious Critiques for more details.

- The smattering of modern dialogue. The writing is actually really solid throughout this series, but the major quibble I have is the use of modern words that occasionally slipped out. It stuck out like a sore thumb for me every time an actor used it. 



Religious Critiques

Disclaimer to my Protestant friends: I will be addressing controversial points in this section from a Catholic perspective, with a certain amount of bluntness. I am willing to debate, even though I will admit that my theological and Biblical history is not as good as it could be. You have been warned :) 


The Evangelical Overtones

This TV series was indeed produced by an evangelical company, but you wouldn't know it immediately because of the quality of the research and the writing that went into this series. It is known that a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi were on the board of advisors for this series, and it really shows. That being said, there are certain clues to point to it's evangelical roots.

One was that there was some singing in the film, and it was super simplistic. It literally reminded me of evangelical hymns. I would have liked it better if either Hebraic chants or even Gregorian chant had been used as inspiration instead. Not only for accuracy, but for sheer beauty.

Second is the emphasis on the depravity of the soul before meeting Jesus by both Peter and Magdalen. Madgalen's was well done, and if they had left it at that, it probably would have been fine. But the roundabout, non-canon way that they made Peter go through a similar journey just rankled me a lot. 


Character Portrayals

I won't be going through all the characters in this section, only the four of them that caused me the most scrutiny, LOL. 


Portrayal of Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen is the first Biblical figure we meet in this series and they did a fantastic portrayal of the character in this series. Her backstory was very well done. Showing the immediate transformation of demonically possessed Mary known as Lillith vs. forgiven Mary was also very well done.

My favorite scene in episode 1 was actually the exorcism done by Nicodemus (which, obviously, was creative license on the writer's part). I do want to give the writers a shout-out for the exorcism and demonic possession portrayals. That is one aspect that I would have expected the writers to shy away from. Protestants don't usually address this stuff, especially since they're unable to perform exorcisms. It really showed that Who really drives out demons, and why the Church exorcises demons in the name of Jesus.

There are some really really minor quibbles. One is that there is no mention of her sister Martha or her brother Lazarus. Yes, in Catholic tradition, Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany are often cited as the same person.

Two, in this series, Mary is constantly in the company of the Apostles and Jesus. She's shown traveling with them which I think is taking it a little far. Yes, Mary Magdalen often would crop up where Jesus was and learned a lot from Him and was one of His most faithful disciples. HOWEVER, she is NOT an Apostle! Yes, women can be "chosen" by Jesus to do works in His name, but their role is Different. They are not to be priests, nor bishops, not altar servers, not lectors, and not even Extraordinary Ministers (apologies to my non-trad Catholic friends, but there is much theology to back those last three up).
I don't have a problem with Mary showing up at major scenes, such as the wedding at Cana, or when He's preaching. But for goodness sakes, let the guys have some guy time!

The third is during the scene in which Jesus actually forgives Mary. I don't really have a quibble with the actual words being said (though I will admit that I think they could have been tweaked to give a more Catholic reality), but the actual cinematography made it seem almost....romantic. Which, rubbed me the wrong way entirely. I get that there was a lot of supernatural love happening in that moment, and that's very difficult to do. But it may inadvertently give credence to false narratives about Jesus and Mary Magdalen.



Portrayal of Simon Peter

THIS ONE IS DICEY.

Okay, there are some moments of brilliance. I have heard from both Catholic and non-Catholic sources that Peter was of a sanguine personality and I never actually could see it until I saw this particular rendering of Peter. I also liked Peter's interactions with his wife a lot actually.

What I did NOT like was the complicated Roman conspiracy that took over 3 episodes to unfold. That reallllllly stretched the level of suspended belief. I mean, I see how that would connect Matthew and Peter and the overarching story. I get that the director was trying to show a soul's depravity in that, but I don't think it was nearly as effective as it was with Mary Magdalen.

Because Season 1 is so early in the public life of Our Lord, we don't see a lot of leadership coming from Peter yet. We do see that he has an influence, and Jesus views him as very important. But I really hope that the primacy of Peter is stressed in following seasons. Because THAT reality is something that many Protestants don't understand and maybe by showing that, the necessity of submitting to the Pope will make much more sense.




The Portrayal of Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary is shown twice in this series. One is the "Pilot" which shows the Christmas story, but more on that later. Mother Mary shows up in Episode 5 in the main series, during the wedding of Cana, as well as flashbacks to the Finding in the Temple.

I was impressed at this portrayal of the Blessed Virgin in this Protestant production. She had a servant's heart, was devout, and her mute appeal to her Son to perform a miracle was absolutely wonderful. It really gives a good witness to why Mary is so loved in the Catholic culture. Also, the addition of the line by Jesus referring to His Mother as the "most powerful woman in the world" speaks volumes.

The only quibble I had was the reference to the false idea that Mary and Joseph were married after the Annunciation. This story, unfortunately, is promulgated even in Catholic circles because of the ignorance of Jewish marriage customs, language nuances, and the humility of St. Joseph. But that's an issue for another post in another blog. 

I did NOT watch the Pilot because I didn't know it existed at first. But I've heard from the director's commentary afterwards that he got a lot of flak from Catholics because he portrayed Her from an evangelical standpoint, down to the labor pains.

Catholics are very sensitive to the portrayal of Mary, and for good reason. Ignorance about the perpetual virginity and the Immaculate Conception as well as nuances in language have twisted the popular understanding of the piety due to Mary. It's a very common misconception by Protestants that Mary was just an ordinary human girl who just happened to be the God-bearer. In reality, She was carefully chosen and crafted by God to be His vessel. She's not a goddess, but an immaculately conceived human who couldn't sin if She tried. Therefore, the penalty of sin was removed, so She would not have felt pain upon the birth of Our Lord and it is a LIE to portray Her as having such.

BUT, I give a lot of kudos to the director for listening to his Catholic advisors and portraying Mary with much more reverence and accuracy in the main series. I really hope that it will help bring more Protestants to a better understanding of Mary and more devotion to Her.




The Portrayal of Jesus

I'm going to start off by saying that this is the most humanistic portrayal of Jesus that I have ever seen. This isn't necessarily a *bad* thing because Jesus both God and Man and I think a lot of films tend to emphasize the Divine Nature of Jesus vs. the Human Nature of Jesus. Showing Jesus teasing His Apostles and having good fun while still maintaining the respect and dignity of God....it was an interesting decision on the part of the writers.

That being said, the humility of Jesus was apparent, which I liked. Also, I liked that the load of belief in Jesus's portrayal was on the other actors and not on the singular actor of Jesus. I also really liked how they referenced little areas of Jesus's life such as His sojourn in Egypt during the Slaughter of the Innocents.

The major moment that I struggled with this portrayal of Jesus was Episode 3. And I mean the entire episode. In this one, He's interacting with a group of children that come to visit him. There are some really human moments, like when the children wake Him up, that I felt were unrealistic for Jesus to do. The whole episode reminded me sharply of a Protestant Sunday School, to be honest. Also, would it be really accurate to say that Abigail could read? Girls weren't usually taught at Hebrew school. 

I'm going to be super blunt here, but the main reason why I even checked out this show at all, was that interview that Jonathan Rouimie did with LifeSite. Finding out that the actor of Jesus was a solid Catholic and using that to perfect his portrayal of Our Lord sold me. Otherwise, I probably would have passed on it (though MovieCritic's recent review of it may have changed my mind). 
I don't mean to offend Protestants by this, but I feel that in order to portray Jesus right, you have to KNOW Him. That means being Catholic and receiving Him in the Eucharist. I think that's also the secret to Jim Caveziel's successful portrayal of Jesus in The Passion of Christ. 




Whew! Now that I've gotten all of that off of my chest...would I recommend this series?

The short answer is.....yes. It would be a great source of talking points among Catholics and Protestants and it would make Catholics engage with their own faith, apologetics, and traditions.

There are two different ways you can watch Season 1. One is by the mobile app, which is free. The second is by YouTube. The latter will be more of a hassle because full episodes are embedded in livestreams with the director, but in case your access through the app gets cut off for some reason, that's available to you. 

Season 2 is currently in the works of being funded and filmed, so check out The Chosen's YouTube channel to find out updates and how to support them! 

Meanwhile, it is your turn to talk! Have you watched The Chosen? What is your opinion of it? 

Scribbingly yours, 

Catherine

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8 comments

  1. Yay! I've been waiting for this review! (Btw, thanks for mentioning me! :))

    I knew it! I watched the pilot in the middle of the series because I didn't know about it at first. It was truly beautiful, but I was very confused about Mary's labor pains. I'm glad that I wasn't the only one!

    One of my favorite parts is the addition of Eden! I love the way that they did her character and her interactions with all of the characters. Because we got those beautiful moments I liked that it was different than Mary Magdalene. Oh, but I do have a question, isn't the woman who washes Jesus' feet Mary Magdalene? I've always thought that so I was waiting for it, but maybe I'm just wrong.

    Yeah, while I loved episode 3 because of His way he treated the children, a few things felt a little off, and you put it to words perfectly!

    Great review! I'm looking forward to season 2 and your thoughts on it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome! I forgot to include the actual link, I'm so sorry!

      YES! I didn't know about this particular quirk of Mary's Immaculate Conception until a few years ago when I heard a sermon about it. Needless to say, it's now a bit of a sore point if people bring it up in song *cough Randy Travis cough*

      Eden was awesome! I really liked her :)
      And yes, she is!! I completely forgot about that and I should have mentioned it in the post. But maybe they will show it in a later season??

      As am I! I believe they are up to Episode....5? or was it 6? Either way, they're really close!

      Delete
  2. I HAVE JUST STARTED WATCHING THIS and have only seen ep 1 but I'm so so so excited and can see how the arcs are being constructed! Nice review btw. I have really terrible knowledge of Catholic vs Protestant view points so I can't discuss with you 😭😭😭 but I really appreciate hearing your perspective!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AHH!!! Do review it on your blog, I would love to read your thoughts on it! That's okay, I don't expect everyone to enter in an apologetics debate :) Thank you Lisa!

      Delete
  3. Have you read Dr Taylor Marshall's historical metafiction series 'Sword and Serpent'? It is FAN-TAS-TIC!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This was a great review, Catherine!! I haven't watched the LifeSite interview yet, but I was hopeful for the series. I haven't watched it yet either, but now, after your review, I'd really like to even more! Thank you so much for sharing!

    It's too bad there isn't a Catholic portrayal of Mary's immaculate birth yet. (At least I don't know of one.) That would be really cool.

    Have you seen the 'Jesus of Nazareth' series staring Robert Powell as Jesus? It's been a long time since I've seen it but I remember really enjoying it and loving the actor's portrayal of Jesus.

    Hope and pray you have a wonderful day!! <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome!! I'd love to see what you think of it, Sarah :)

      Rrgh, I know right? What a way to really show the fruits of the Immaculate Conception, if done right. Course, we would get a lot of raised eyebrows concerning the so-called "inaccuracy" but that's what apologetics are for.

      No, I haven't! I shall have to investigate :)

      You as well, Sarah!

      Delete

How are you, dear friend? Come closer to the fire, and make yourself comfortable! I'd love to hear what you've been thinking about, even if it's an old post! I only ask that proper decorum be observed.

I always try to reply to my correspondence! Have a blessed day!
~ Catherine

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