To watch The Chosen, or not to watch? That was my question.
I had seen ads for the The Chosen streaming series on facebook for over a year. I always scrolled past. Yeah, yeah, another movie about Jesus.
I love Jesus. I am so glad he got a hold of me in my high school years, but most movies about his life seem to portray the same carboard character.
He is solemn, burdened, private to some degree, and a bit intimidating. The Passion of the Christ added all the horrific details of his crucifixion, something we had not, to that degree, previously seen. So, that was different, but almost too excruciating to watch. My mother-in-law chose not to see the movie. She told me, “I know what he did for me. I don’t need to see it.” She had an excellent point.
On the words of a friend, I decided to watch the first episode of The Chosen, if just to be more cognizant of all the chatter and hoopla.
I was two years late coming to this party, so I found it on YouTube. (IMPORTANT NOTE: The Chosen is now available through an app you can get if you have ROKU. Just search “Angel Studios” in the ROKU search box and the app will pop up. Click “add channel” and you’re all set. No interruptions, like you get on YouTube. And there are tons of extra features – clips on the actors, backstories, bloopers, etc. It’s worth adding the channel.)
I didn’t start at the very beginning of this TV series, because I didn’t realize in the sequence of things, there are two episodes that set the stage for Jesus the man and the official start of The Chosen. The first event is an almost 2-hour creation called The Messengers.
The Messengers is mostly a Christmas music production at the church of Dallas Jenkins, co-writer and director of The Chosen. The performances are lovely and I’m sure during the holiday season, they were inspirational, but at two years behind, I wanted to skip ahead to the film section, which begins at the last half hour of this production. This Christmas “pre-episode” of The Chosen follows Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus.
It’s charming and beautifully done. We see more of Joseph and his tender, faithful heart than I have ever seen in any Jesus movie (I never feel this guy gets enough attention.) These characters are fleshed out as the weary, dusty, nervous, but communicating couple I believe they were. I enjoyed this touching film and wish I’d started there, instead of backtracking later. Didn’t matter though, because I found it eventually.
The Shepherd is the next (20 min) “episode” to see. It’s a short piece created by Jenkins in 2017. The film was a global phenomenon and went viral on social media with 15 million views worldwide. Some producers saw it and approached Jenkins about continuing the story. It became the pilot for The Chosen streaming series.
The Shepherd tells the story of a lowly, crippled shepherd who takes a lamb to temple for holy sacrifice. (Maybe the shepherd is hoping this offering will heal his leg?) The lamb is rejected because it is not perfect; only a perfect lamb will do. The shepherd is crestfallen, feeling he will never have a perfect sacrifice and therefore, never be healed. He struggles to get back to his flock; even his mocking, insensitive buddies leave him behind.
A while later…they are all alerted by a blinding light in the sky signaling that the Messiah has been born. They fall to their knees, then race to the stable. As the wobbly shepherd tries to keep up, a miracle occurs. Watch carefully, or you’ll miss it.
Once at the stable, other sweet things happen. This little tale is a warm follow-up to The Messengers.
You can watch The Shepherd HERE now, if you desire.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
After the film, the director Jenkins (son of the Left Behind book series co-author Jerry Jenkins), appears to explain how the series will unfold. You can watch that part, or not. New to all this, I found it informative.
Then comes the official start of The Chosen, Season 1, Episode 1.
If watching on YouTube, there is about a 5-min block of waiting time for the show to begin, because when these episodes were first aired, the stream was live and this gave viewers a few minutes to check in. (Think of logging on to a Zoom meeting; takes a few minutes for everyone to arrive.) Today however, you can simply forward to the next scene, which is Jenkins welcoming the viewer and explaining this first TV series about the ministry of Christ.
He tells us there are bible studies that accompany the series and why it’s important to get The Chosen app that allows you to stream the show to your TV. As I understand it, the live streaming episodes are available only through the app, so he explains how to set that up on your phone. (We set it up on our Ipad.)
Seasons 1 and 2 are kind of like “reruns” on YouTube because they are 1-2 years old. The app versions are clearer and full-screen, so it’s still the best way to go. (The apps are free.) As I noted above, as of March 1, 2022, the ROKU app is now available. Simply add the channel to your TV and you have simplified the process.
Jenkins also displays some items sold in The Chosen online store, because this production is 100 percent viewer funded.
I was shocked to learn this. According to Wikipedia, Season 1 was the top crowd-funded TV series or film project of all time. I’m assuming some of the $40+ million has come from churches and Christian businesses. Folks like you and me can buy a cap. Or purchase a Pay it Forward package, which enables more viewers to see it.
What’s remarkable is that The Chosen is not a Hollywood production.
Currently, The Chosen is funded through Season 3 (6-7 are planned), which, I have to say, impresses me. The public, even the believing public, sometimes peters out on long-term commitments. We humans are so easily distracted.
So, having gained some knowledge about this unique and popular production, I decided to watch Episode 1 of Season 1, which is entitled I Have Called You by Name. This first hour weaves us in and out of the lives of four people.
Mary of Magdala
It opens with Mary dreaming of when she was as a young girl, already suffering from fears and anxieties. When she awakes, we see the tormented woman she is now and watch her story unfold.
We meet Nicodemus as he is traveling to Capernaum in an extravagant coach. He is stopped by an intimidating Roman magistrate with whom Nicodemus reluctantly makes a deal. (Nicodemus is played by veteran actor Erick Avari. Of the many actors in The Chosen, he is the only one I recognized from previous roles.)
We see the tax collector in the rewards of his affluence: his very comfortable home, high-quality robes, jewelry, and many pairs of sandals, when the common Jew had only one. He is portrayed as compulsive, with OCD tendencies; in the online chatter, it is proposed that he is autistic. Matthew is played beautifully by actor Paras Patel. As Matthew’s background story has unfolded, my heart has become tender towards him, this math-wiz scribe who is hated by all.
We are introduced to Simon the fisherman and his wife. (I didn’t know he was married.) He is behind in paying his taxes and formulates a scheme with the Romans so his debt will be forgiven. He is impulsive and ambitious, always wanting to be in charge. He is a natural leader, but cocky and undisciplined. (He’s fun to watch.)
In I Have Called You by Name, Jenkins introduces us to four types of people who need redemption: an abused and broken woman who is tormented by demons (current day theologians suspect her affliction was epilepsy), a wealthy man in power who compromises his principles, a young man isolated due to his profession and a level of disability, and an unruly, hard worker who needs supervision.
Who among us does not know people like this? I could relate to all these strugglers on some level. The pain they’ve endured, the temptations they face, their longing to be safe and appreciated and loved. Isn’t that the human journey? In all the Jesus movies I’ve seen, I have never felt a personal connection with His followers. There is something different here.
Jesus does not appear in Episode 1 until the final few minutes. But it’s a tender, miraculous scene. I was blinking against tears.
And then I was backtracking on YouTube to see Episodes 2-8. (Not now necessary if you get the ROKU app.) There’s a t-shirt at the online store that reads Binge Jesus. That’s exactly what the hubs and I did.
Jenkins and his team have created a very different kind of series about the ministry of Christ.
They have accentuated the humanity of Jesus (and his ragtag disciples) in first century Galilee like I have never seen before. He starts campfires by rubbing twigs in his palms, and wraps a bloody cut on his arm after whittling branches. When he has not seen his mother for awhile, he scoops her high off the ground in tight bear hug. He sweats and dances and jokes. Tears seep into his eyes when he is moved by the suffering he sees or he hears awful news about his cousin John the baptizer. He is a Jewish man of flesh and emotion, steeped in the culture and customs of his time.
The scenery, set design, props – it’s all well done. The filming reminded the hubs and I both of Masterpiece Theater’s Poldark, and the current Paramount+ show 1883; life is tenuous, always a hardship. The viewer can feel the heat of the sweltering dessert and the chill of residing in a hovel of mud/stone home.
Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, does a remarkable job, and he has a notable testimony of his own. Here’s a 5 min clip from his interview with Dr. Scott Hahn.
I am now hooked and have binge-watched all of Season 2. (Season 3, already written, is slated to begin filming in the spring of 2022.)
If you have been on the fence about The Chosen and are now two years behind, like I was, I urge you to watch a few episodes, taking note of the things we learned along our stumble in.
- If possible, install the ROKU app and have The Chosen at your fingertips, like any other channel. (“Angel Studios” in the search box.) If you don’t have ROKU, add the app to your phone and follow the simple directions to stream it to your TV. It’s full-screen and better quality than YouTube, with no shuffling around and back and forth to find the next episode.
- Watch The Messengers and The Shepherd first.
- Watch the series with the captions ON. Accents are thick, and dialogue often moves quickly.
- Keep in mind this is a viewer-supported project. If watching on YouTube, the creator/director Dallas Jenkins pops up often before and after episodes to thank viewers for their support and encourage continued viewer funding.
- If it’s your thing, watch online interviews with the actors in the show. The characters became even more interesting to me once I had some background on the performers. On the ROKU app, “extras” like this are included.
- Worldwide, believers and non-believers alike are watching this production. There is no debate as to whether or not the man Jesus of Nazareth lived, so it’s an intriguing and entertaining account from a historical perspective, similar to a very creative documentary. We are learning much about Jewish life and traditions. If you believe Jesus is the Messiah God promised and lives in us today, this show will tenderize your faith and remind you of how much we are loved.
- According to Jenkins, the title The Chosen, refers not to Jesus, but to the disciples – and us. The ones Jesus chooses. And Jesus chooses all of us. Pretty sweet.