As the series strolls along through episodes 3 and 4, A.D. is now experiencing the dramatic pros and cons of trying to turn the book of Acts into a weekly series.
A.D. isn't afraid to be bold and uncompromising with showing the brutality of the era, especially with regards to Pilate. Pilate's descent into madness is becoming apparent, and he makes a compelling villain. Whether it's making Caiaphas eat human ashes (certainly gross, but a fearfully effective scene), ruthlessly slaughtering his own guards or executing 10 Jews a day until an attempted assassin is captured, he's a ruthless dictator right out of Game of Thrones. And while the show doesn't glorify or relish in the violent details, it's realistic that a Roman governor isn't a pushover who makes empty threats. The harsh realities of the environment facing the early Church are a necessary inclusion and are one of the series' strengths.
Adam Levy's Peter continues to be a standout. Balancing fear and uncertainty in the early episodes, Pentecost comes and gives him a renewed vigor that feels earned and triumphant. He's every bit as believable after the stunning Pentecost scene as before, while still retaining a bit of the vulnerability we saw previously. Now that vulnerability is checked by a willingness to die for Christ, which is proved when he fearlessly faces his accusers after Caiaphas has him put on trial. The inclusion of Peter's daughter is also a nice touch and gives a different dimension to the personal conflict of his role leading the apostles.
What Needs Work:
If it's possible, the series ironically feels like it moves a bit too slow and too fast at the same time. There's no doubt plenty of ground is covered per episode, yet it all feels like it's dragging a bit, like we're still waiting for the real action to get into gear. Maybe it's that sticking close to a Biblical book offers challenges when adapting said book into a weekly serial. There are episodic offerings from Scripture, such as the incident with Ananias and his wife (which is portrayed in suitably creepy fashion in episode 4). But given what was excluded, included that incident feels almost like treading water.
There are so many characters thrown into this mix and, while we know their Biblical significance, few seem to leave a dramatic impression in this narrative. It's like they are there because they have to be, even if the narrative the show has established struggles to put them to good use. I can't help but feel a "centric" approach like Lost or Once Upon A Time employed to develop large casts might have been effective here, devoting each episode primarily to giving the backstory and perspective of one character.
As it stands now, it all feels like a little too much. There are a lot of good things fighting each other to breathe, which stunts the final product. On top of this, I can't help but feel like the show is going out of its way to avoid declaring what Christ stood for too explicitly. It's like they don't want to upset the denominational applecart, and thus we end up with a sort of muddled ministry "in the name of Christ" that sort of plays a "well, you know what He was about so we don't have to repeat it" approach to it all. We get glimpses but, as a viewer, I'm hungering for something more concrete.
A.D. is a good series. It's entertaining week to week, and seeing a Biblical series about the early Church is engrossing by its very nature. Much of what is transpiring is legitimately compelling television, with shocking turns and some well-drawn characters.
The series just needs to streamline things a bit. Progress Pilate's cruelty towards something instead of treading water with it. Make the other Biblical players more developed instead of having them feel like they are just there because they Biblically have to be. Take a stronger stance on what Christ's ministry, which the apostles are now willing to die for, was actually about.
The series has a lot of dramatic potential, but I think it's coasting a bit too much on merely dramatizing events from Scripture. A.D. is more ambitious than most of what's on television, and given the potential displayed thus far, the show has teased some television greatness just waiting to be straightened out.
J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.