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“A.D. The Bible Continues”: Faithful and Entertaining

Courtesy of NBC

David Ives - published on 04/06/15

Episode One improves upon "The Bible" series

Following months of hype, the time has finally come to see if A.D. The Bible Continues lives up to all our expectations. Well, after we sit through the pre-show commercials for erectile function medication, that is. Thanks for that, NBC, I’m sure parents everywhere appreciate their kids receiving that information.

But that pretty much sums up where we’re at right now, doesn’t it? The immense and unexpected success of 2013’s The Bible miniseries surely made palatable to NBC the idea of devoting 12 hours of airtime to the story of the early Christian Church, but that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to devote all of their Sunday programming to solely spiritual matters. They’re not turning their backs on Mammon quite that quickly.

Still, the fact that A.D. The Bible Continues is airing on a major secular network feels like something of a triumph. The first episode of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s new production is about as earnest and respectful to the Christian story as one could hope.

The series begins with the crucifixion of Jesus, which to some might seem like an unnecessary retread of the end of The Bible, but it’s necessary to set up the emotional distress his various followers are going through. Of those followers, the first episode concentrates primarily on the distraught, not-yet-emboldened Peter (Adam Levy), the stalwart beloved disciple John (Babou Ceesay), the ever devoted Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung), and the sorrowful yet knowing mother of Jesus, Mary (Greta Scacchi). Anyone hoping for a radical reinterpretation of these characters will be sadly disappointed as everyone acts true to their traditional portrayals. There is no biblical revisionism in A.D. The Bible Continues (at least not yet), which given many of the recent efforts we’ve seen on television and in theaters, is actually something of a welcome relief.

This first episode also sets up the political tensions within Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death. We spend quite a bit of time with Pontius Pilate (Vincent Regan) and his wife Claudia (Joanne Whalley) as they debate the merits of indulging the Sanhedrin. We see the high priest of that council, Caiaphas (Richard Coyle), as he tries to head off what he fears will be an attempt to fake the resurrection of Jesus. And we meet the Jewish zealots, who don’t care about any of that and just want the Romans gone or dead or both.

While The Bible miniseries often felt like a greatest hits compilation, it’s clear that A.D. The Bible Continues is determined to tell a more structured narrative. The first episode efficiently sets up all of the players and their motivations, deftly setting up the story which will carry the show through its first season. And yes, it’s been made clear now that as long as the ratings merit it, A.D. The Bible Continues will be an ongoing series for years to come.

A lot has been made recently of the show’s attempt to serve up a more racially diverse cast, what with its Argentinian Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) and its multi-cultural group of disciples. What most folks will really care about, though, is whether or not the cast can act, and A.D. The Bible Continues does not disappoint on that front. Perhaps because the material allows breathing room for the characters to develop, the acting is a step up from The Bible, with everyone giving solid performances. Vincent Regan as Pontius Pilate, in particular, is provided plenty of near over-the-top bits of dialogue to chew the scenery with, and the actor clearly relishes the opportunity. Even in a Bible-based series, it seems, the bad guy often gets the best lines.

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