Episode Air Date: April 5th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
AD (The Tomb Is Open)
Starring: Juan Pablo Di Pace, Adam Levy, Richard Coyle, Vincent Regan, Greta Scacchi, Babou Ceesay, Chipo Chung, Emmet J. Scanlan, Jodhi May, Joanna Whalley, Ken Bones, Kevin Doyle, Helen Daniels, Fraser Ayers
If you have been avidly following Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s projects for the past while, then you know that the TV miniseries The Bible, which aired on The History Channel in 2013, was one of the year’s most watched TV miniseries in that year. Despite the polarising content and overt Christian messages and themes, quite a lot of people loved the series, even though some viewers may not have been Christians when they saw the miniseries. It’s a bold move that is truly an evangelism tool, and because of the success of the show, NBC has picked up Mark and Roma’s ‘sequel’ to the miniseries, titled A.D., with the show depicting life for the early Christians after Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. One of the series which I was avidly waiting for, I unexpectedly received the pre-release copy of the first episode of the series last week via email, and boy when I watched the show, was I blown away! Roma and Mark have filmed an exceptional series, that delves deep into not just the events after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also exploring the political ramifications and the emotions of the disciples as well. So let’s dive in to see what occurs in the pilot, and let me tell you why I will avidly watch this show every week!
First of all, what fascinated me about the pilot episode (called “The Tomb Is Open”) is that there is a lot jam packed into the 42 minutes, even though the time frame on what is played out only lasts for a couple of days. Holding nothing back, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett dive straight into the action, and it you know your Bible and have seen the miniseries from 2013, you should be familiar with what is about to happen. The episode starts off with Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) being tried by the people, and Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan) declaring that Jesus be crucified, which gains a rousing cheer. Cut to a few minutes later, and we briefly see Jesus dying on the cross. Though it’s not as gruesome as Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, we vividly are shown what Jesus went through, as we hear Jesus cry out ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’ and ‘It Is Finished’, with such honesty, vulnerability, emotion and passion, followed by a physical depiction of the tearing of the veil and the destruction of the temple, as we marvel at the impact and enormity of what has happened. The disciples scatter, and we see Peter (Adam Levy) vehemently deny Jesus three times, while John (Babou Ceesay) and Mary (Greta Scacchi), Jesus’ mother, watch on with tears in their eyes. A beautiful aspect about A.D. is that you feel for the characters, and you travel on a rollercoaster journey with them especially with the disciples.
Jesus dies early on in the pilot, leaving the rest of the episode to show the reactions of the prominent people in the land. Peter, John and a few other disciples, as well as Mary Magdalene (Chippo Chung), discuss animatedly about what they should do, about whether they should leave or stand and tell the world what they believe, even if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. It’s a tricky question to ask, and something that has the disciples talking and discussing, with plenty of back and forth. While the Bible doesn’t go into extreme depth about what occurred within those two days that Jesus was in the tomb with respect to what the disciples were discussing and feeling, what Roma and Mark have done is brilliant extrapolate and take what we all could have felt, and showed that on screen. Kudos to the team and the actors for highlighting the myriad of different emotions felt when Jesus died.
What is also shown that is somewhat extrapolated from the Bible as well, although it is extrapolated with good reason and an educated guess, is the political ramifications of Jesus’ death, and the inner discussions of Pilate and his wife (Joanna Whalley), as they both disagree on whether Jesus should have been killed or not; as well as High Priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle) and his wife (Jodhi May), who agree on the method and reason behind Jesus’ death. It’s very eye opening to see something that isn’t known that well, but not that inconceivable as we understand how Jesus impacted those around him- it’s clear that Caiaphas was subconsciously scared of Jesus and Pilate was apprehensive, wanting to know more, but not wanting to appear weak in front of his subjects. And when Joseph of Arimathea (Kevin Doyle), someone high in the ranks, immediately rocks the boat in the first episode, speaking his mind, and something that the others may be thinking about but are too afraid to voice their opinion; he tells those in power that Jesus deserves a proper burial.
Seeking permission from Pilate to let Jesus be buried in the tomb on his own property. As we note that Pilate was in two minds about crucifying Jesus anyway, with the crowd in the beginning of the episode pressuring Pilate to spare Barrabas; it’s expected that he grants Joseph’s wish, much to the displeasure of Caiaphas. As Pilate and Caiaphas bicker, and eventually agree on placing a guard outside the tomb (so that the disciples don’t steal the body, making it look like the prophecy from Isaiah came true; according to Caiaphas); we know in the end that the guard does not make a difference, as in the last few minutes of the episode, Jesus rises again, although the depiction of his resurrection on screen with a bit of fancy CGI could have been improved upon.
In the coming weeks, I am sure we will see more of the aftermath, including the introduction of Saul aka Paul (Emmet J Scanlan), and what the pilot has done is literally grabbed my attention for the next 12 weeks. I am not really a fan of period dramas, however as a Christian, I believe that we should support the shows depicting the Christian walk don’t you think? With the biggest selling point of A.D. being the ability to humanise the disciples yet never shy away from the message that Jesus wanted to portray, that He is the son of God and is to be worshipped and glorified; it is the epicness as well as the courageous filmmaking, and eagerness to show this timeless truth on a large scale budget that I’m sure will have people talking, even the non-Christians, which hopefully will bring many viewers to a relationship with Christ. With me eager to check out online between now and the next episode, what really happened to Caiaphas (did he become a Christian?) as well as exploring historical data, about which disciples were most feared and most listened to in the land after Jesus ascended into heaven; Roma and Mark should be proud of themselves in creating a gem and something I look forward to the next few weeks.
Filmed at a fast pace, the show utilises the dark and light tones quite well, symbolising the turmoil at the time that Jesus was killed- I am sure as the episodes progress, and the disciple become more sure in their faith, that the lighter elements will increase in the series. Acting wise, though the characters are played by lesser known actors, everyone is professional and playing their part wonderfully. Even though John is played by an African American (this point is bound to receive some criticism, maybe it’s because the show needs to be Hollywood-ised); this nit-pick is only minor for me, as the actors make the show into an adventure that I am fully immersed in for the duration. Scenery wise, the landscapes look quite picturesque, and the epic orchestral score in the background adds layers to this complex series as well.
Did episode 1 of season 1 of AD: The Bible Continues leave a lasting impression on you? Did any themes in the episodes speak to you, and which was it? What elements of the show are you enjoying and looking forward to? How do you think the show will introduce Paul, Timothy, Silas and others, and what do you think will be the ratings and viewers when the list is released tomorrow?
Will you watch the show next week? Did God speak to you in any way about Himself or yourself?
RIYL: The Bible Miniseries, Merlin, Atlantis, Outlander, Once Upon A Time
Rating: 4/5 (based on 1 episode)
A.D. Season 1 airs every Sunday at 9/8c on NBC.