AN NRT TELEVISION REVIEW
A.D. Finale: Potential in Retrospect
NRT's J.J. Francesco concludes his review series of A.D. The Bible Continues with his take on the final episodes and the series as a whole.
 


After 12 episodes, the first (and likely only) season of A.D. The Bible Continues concluded with a finale modeled after many successful shows, from the deaths of supporting characters to even a fairly predictable cliffhanger. 

As I look back on the final few episodes and the series as a whole, I can't help but come away with a bit of a dual perspective. On the one hand, a whole lot of this show worked so well and displayed the potential for brilliance that could rival some of television's greatest assets. But on the other hand, the writing and narrative direction was never able to pull all of these great ingredients together into a consistent and memorable television series.

What Worked: 
Firstly, the show's acting was pretty strong when it came to the leading players. Peter, Caiaphas, Pilate, Saul and even supporting players like Cornelius were given effective and relatable performances to make them feel real even in scenes where some of them were doing reprehensible things.

Many of the scenes were memorable and effective. Cornelius' conversion, standing by itself, was a dramatic and riveting television scene. The execution of Johanna could rival the emotion of any cable death. These scenes brought real emotion, real humanity, to the story of the early Church that sometimes feels so rehearsed and "historical."

The treachery and alliance bending had the potential to be great television. We got to see the often adversarial dynamics not only between the apostles and the priests, or between them and Rome, but often within each of these groups. It's a realistic and raw look at the likely kinds of oppositions each of these groups might have faced. The tension is very real and is at times riveting.

What Needed Work: 
For all it got right, A.D. fumbled its storyline. I don't think the show really had a plan for where it wanted to go, and thus it felt like it meandered around just existing and hoping the good will of being a "Bible story" would keep people coming back.

For example, the apostles spend way too much of the season in hiding. Even after Pentecost, which itself was a brilliant and vibrant scene, they still spend most of their time hiding and fighting amongst each other about whether they should go here or there. And the amount of time they spend worrying about the Temple's destruction feels a bit contrived. The season's climactic standoff between the Roman soldiers aiming to put a statue of Caligula in the Temple and the suddenly united Jewish priests and apostles, while cinematic and effective on its own, just feels a bit anti-climactic as the grand finale of a season that is supposed to be about the early Church. 

Most of my reviews noted a glaring lack of theology behind the apostles in this show, and that remained until the end. We get lip service and some vague and generic Jesus praise, but what does it all mean? If the backbone for Christianity were as undefined as it was in this show, it wouldn't have survived beyond the lives of these men. Certainly not for 2000 years. I'm not looking for a book of dogma with heavily scholarly theological theory, but maybe a little more than simply the notion of a guy named Jesus who preached love and repentance.

Character overload also hurt the show. The show clearly preferred to stick to areas less covered by Scripture, where it had more creative freedom. The Roman and Jewish priest angles could have made for an effective series on their own merits, perhaps. Caligula seemed to be channeling Game of Thrones type demeanor in his flamboyant yet ferocious rise to dictatorship. But add in the followers of "The Nazorean" and you have a bloated cast where nobody really gets to properly develop. 

Random side stories involving Phillip, Mary Magdalene and Simon eat up time, while the supposed main characters like Peter essentially do the same things episode after episode. We got a lot of debate and miracles and even a few "speaking in tongues" scenes. But to what narrative end? If one is going to adapt history into a drama, there needs to be effort made to cultivate a "care" for the characters and the events. Suddenly devoting arcs to new faces who show up and then go away doesn't help that. 

Characters that worked such as Saul were either ushered out, or in the case of Pilate and Peter, put on repeat. This slowed things down way too much. I hoped by the end of the season we'd be much farther along in the journey of the apostles than this. But it seemed like the writers just had no real end goal in mind. 

Thus, some climactic deaths in the finale feel a bit like afterthoughts. Even some conversions feel a bit like they were just biding their time until showing them. Week to week, it's difficult to really remember what happened when because very little of importance happens. 

Many scenes worked very well on their own merits. That is a credit to the talent behind this and a reminder of the potential each episode holds. The problem came not in the intrinsic quality of each scene but rather a disharmony in how the scenes worked together. As a result, this almost feels like a collection of unconnected Biblical homage and not a defined narrative. 

Closing Thoughts: 
A.D. did a lot right. It had its heart right. And I think it could have and should have been a defining program of our generation. These actors could have done it. Unfortunately, I don't think the ratings will permit a second season, certainly not one on network TV. This is a shame. To see something with such potential be content to run on fumes from one good scene to the next with no destination in mind is a travesty. 

A.D. had strong actors who made the best of things to deliver strong characters. The show was bursting at the seams grasping for the juicy story that the writing left forever out of reach. In terms of production, of performance, of presence, A.D. was a resounding victory. It's the other p-word that needed much attention: plot. If things were streamlined into a more cohesive television series, or even just pared down to a more limited miniseries, the show would have been better off. 

As it stands now, I fear A.D. may be relegated to the halls of forgotten misfires. This is an especially grievous case because, on one hand, I can't blame them at all. But on the others, things could've been so much better that it's a lamentable thing to see how it all shook out. Burnett/Downey are a sudden household name in Christian entertainment. They've demonstrated the ability to produce quality. Here's hoping their next outing improves upon weak areas and secures the areas of strength. Then they might truly release their defining masterpiece of the generation. 

Read the past reviews: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episodes 3-4, Episodes 5-6, Episodes 7-8



 

J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.

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