"A.D. The Bible Continues': The Book of Acts in Primetime
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Hollywood's Bible power couple is back--with a flourish--this time on primetime network television with their new series, A.D. The Bible Continues.
They really take this spiritual stuff seriously. In 2012, my wife and I attended a dinner in Washington, DC, where actress Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) announced that she and producer-husband Mark Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank, The Voice) planned to devote the rest of their careers to creating works that honor God.
They were heading to Morocco to film a series on the Bible for the History Channel. After dinner, Burnett enthusiastically described his vision to present Jesus "as strong, powerful, impressive." 2013's The Bible series drew 100 million viewers. The couple's 2014 Son of God feature film garnered significant box-office success.
Angst and adventure
Now, they're bringing the story of Jesus' first followers to television. Their dramatic 12-part series captures the personal angst and adventure of those tumultuous early years. It premieres Easter Sunday, April 5th, at 9/8c on NBC.
Episode 1, "The Tomb Is Open", is apt Easter fare. It begins with Peter (Adam Levy) breathlessly running to watch Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) appear before Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), the High Priest, who accuses him of blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah, a crime punishable by death. A woman recognizes Peter as one of the Nazarene's followers. Peter denies it vehemently and realizes he's failed the leader he'd pledged to support.
The drama conveys conflicts--internal and external--well known to adherents of the classic accounts, leavened with some speculative dialogue to develop the story for the screen. Peter struggles with the guilt of his denial, as does Judas (Cesare Taurasi) with his betrayal. Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan) and his wife argue over the wisdom of crucifying Jesus.
After the crucifixion and burial, Jesus' grieving followers wrestle among themselves about whether they should believe Jesus' prediction of his resurrection. He had told them, "The Son of Man must suffer many things...and be killed and be raised up on the third day."
The High Priest appeals to Pilate to seal and guard the tomb, lest the disciples steal the body and perpetrate a resurrection hoax. Pilate remarks, "Roman crucifixion really doesn't allow for [resurrections]." The screenwriters' deadpan worked for me.
The unnarrated presentation assumes a basic familiarity with the characters and story. A quick read of a biblical account before watching could enhance the viewing experience. For Episodes 1 and 2, read the final three chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. As you view Episode 1, watch for the angel. Way cool.
Episodes 3 through 12 portray stories from the first 10 chapters of Acts. Viewer guides exist for those wanting to learn more.
As with their earlier biblical projects, Burnett, Downey and their team sought to be faithful to the spirit of the Bible. They take typical filmmaking liberties--combining events and condensing timelines--to represent the gist of the story without changing its basic message.
Racial and ethnic diversity
Producers took pains to involve a racially and ethnically diverse cast.
"Christianity is among the most diverse movements in history," notes Downey, "so...it was important to us to find a cast as diverse and beautiful as the church is around the world.... We hope that people see themselves [in the performances]."
Cast members hail from 10 nations. For example, Juan Pablo di Pace (Argentina) plays Jesus; Babou Ceesay (Gambia) is John; Chipo Chung (Zimbabwe) is Mary Magdalene.
Nothing and everything
Foreshadowing much to anticipate in the rest of the series, Episode 2 ("The Body Is Gone") highlights a key point. When Peter and John emerge from Jesus' empty tomb on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene asks, "What did you find?"
"Nothing," John replies. "We found nothing. And everything."
Burnett and Downey are bringing timeless, inspiring stories about the "and everything" to millions of homes and hearts. May their tribe increase.
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