The Bible, the book, is not boring. Inspiration for countless works of both religious and secular bents, its themes of betrayal, faith, and redemption are now requisite in Western storytelling. The Bible, History’s 2013 miniseries, however, was not as fascinating. It suffered from staid acting and lame special effects, but what the show lacked in critical praise, it made up for in viewers—100 million tuned in. Since every hit deserves a sequel, A.D.: The Bible Continues lands on Easter this year picking up a bit before The Bible left off.
Jesus is still alive as A.D. opens and still claiming to be the messiah to very skeptical Romans. Dallas star Juan Pablo Di Pace takes over as Jesus, but carries the same vacant stare as his predecessor, The Bible’s Diogo Morgado. Seriously, Jesus looks high. It doesn’t help that he bears a resemblance to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney, who, to be fair, also often looks high on television.
Depictions of Jesus-era Jerusalem are often criticized for how white they are. A.D. attempts to fix this problem by casting the very capable African actors Babou Alieu Ceesay and Chipo Chung as John and Mary Magdalene. However, Jesus, Peter (Adam Levy), Pilate (Vincent Regan), and almost everyone else is white, which makes for a strange bit of mishmash history. Despite best intentions, it just doesn’t feel right.
A.D. backtracks a bit from where The Bible ended with Pilate condemning Jesus to death, and Peter denying Jesus three times. This all moves very quickly, each beat an iconic Bible tale with many lines lifted directly from the Gospels. A.D. borrows some blood from Game Of Thrones when Jesus is beat and crucified and again when other people are beat and sometimes crucified. It feels artless, as do the awful and unnecessary special effects, which are usually glowing light or big moving clouds. A.D. does not stick with one style which hurts the overall flow of the show. Any realism is betrayed by the cheesy effects and poor direction. The camera moves in strikingly similar patterns and scenes often start with a character’s head leaning against a desk or wall or rock only to pop up as someone walks in. The ingredients are present, but A.D. does itself no favors by its design-by-committee style of filming.
The miniseries focuses on the disciples who band together after Jesus rises on the third day following his death. Much tension and drama is put into the will-he/won’t-he resurrection of Jesus, but, no spoiler alert needed, the audience absolutely knows what is going to happen. All of the characters’ reactions are around this one event, and it is difficult to glean any differences between them, save Peter, who is sad for denying Jesus, and Thomas (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), who does not believe that Jesus is back until about 60 seconds later when Jesus is standing there in the living room, wounds and all. There are few interactions outside of those driving the plot along, which does not allow for anything but the faintest of characterization.
However, the plot does move, more so than the The Bible’s did, and despite A.D.’s best intentions to trip itself up, it manages to stay interesting especially after the disciples make their way out of Jerusalem. It is nice to see more than lip-service played to female characters, Mary Magdalene especially seems to have an outsized role. And though Peter is the de facto leader, it seems all disciples will get their due in a Lost-like fashion. There is inherent drama here, but it is not fully exploited.
A.D.: The Bible Continues makes odd, sometimes debilitating choices (“What is it about this Jesus?” is an actual line) that prevents it from being a cheesy but compelling take on a well-told story. Instead, while there are components that work, especially the choice to focus on the disciple’s adventures, A.D. fails to live up to its monumental source material.