*two fingered salute*
I am here to persuade you to watch a piece of media acted, directed, produced, and funded by evangelical Christians.
Now, knowing how I, your friendly neighborhood progressive Catholic, feel about Christian media in general (Christian fiction romance novels and Christian movies in particular), this may come as–ahem!–a surprise to some of you.
For far too long, the Christian film industry and book industry have used their religious mission as an excuse to pass off the worst kind of cheap storytelling. Static characters, cardboard villains, contrived plots, overwrought romance that somehow manages to be both obsessively “pure” and hypersexualized … cliché upon cliché upon cliché, but iT’S FINE, BECAUSE AT LEAST WE STUCK SOME BIBLE VERSES IN THERE, RIGHT?
Fortunately, The Chosen is none of these things. The Chosen is a biblical drama, sure, like so much biblical fiction before it–but first and foremost? It’s a story driven by complex, layered, flawed human beings. That’s what sets it apart. You don’t have to be Christian to care about these characters. You don’t have to be Christian to get hooked, to get invested in their struggles and their turmoil. You just gotta be human. That’s the real litmust test: and The Chosen is probably the first Christian-centric story I’ve encountered which can pass it.
So let’s talk about this show, y’all. Buckle up. I have Thoughts™.
On the surface, Season 1 of The Chosen is simple. There’s a new traveling preacher in town. His name is Jesus. No one knows exactly who he is, or what he’s doing. Slowly, very slowly, he collects a motley crowd about him. Misfits, all of them; from the prostitute possessed by demons, to the fisherman behind on his taxes, to the tax collector hated by his fellow Jews (and by the aforementioned delinquent fisherman most of all). Even the wealthy, respected rabbi with a boatload of questions about whether the Jewish faith could be “something more,” finds himself drawn to Jesus.
You know their names. You know their stories. Or do you?
Mary Magdalen, Simon Peter, Matthew, Nicodemus …
The Chosen is slow-burn storytelling at its finest. For those of us used to rushing through the Gospels to get to the good stuff, they “barely get started,” ending Season 1 just after Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well. But the beauty of this relaxed approach is, it frees us to delve deep into each disciple’s life. We get to see who they are as people. Their fears. Their wants. Their struggles. The messes they bury themselves in without Jesus, and the way they (gradually, painfully) start to change, with him.
Just one example? We get two! whole!! episodes!!! devoted to Simon Peter’s tax problem and the stupid reckless schemes he floats to get out of paying, digging a hole so deep, it takes a literal miracle from You-Know-Who to dig him out. Long build-up, to be sure, but in the end, it paid off. By golly, did it pay off.
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men …”
Matthew, too, who is canonically autistic, sneered at by the townsfolk, and rejected by his own parents (precious smol bean), gets an A M A Z I N G “call” scene. I just … I just. I’m pretty sure I cried. 100% will never recover from the way Jesus shuts up Simon being all “but he’s a tax collector!! he works for the Enemy!! he’s Evol!!!” “Get used to different,” Jesus says, eyes twinkling. I am: dead.
(can I give a shout-out to these writers for daring to portray Jesus with an actual sense of humor??? yassssssssss, please.)
Furthermore. I am enormously grateful for the way The Chosen centers women, centers female characters, in a story that’s traditionally focused on men. Mary Magdalen gets called first. That’s huge. Her conversion comes at the very beginning, before any of the others. She is the first of the “lost sheep.” Her decision to give Jesus her heart is immediate, total, the second he drives out her demons. In later episodes, Mary stands by amused, watching the more stubborn guys (looking at you, PETER) wrestle with the question, “to follow or not to follow?” She’s a beautiful woman with a heart for peace and eyes like jewels (seriously, this actress is gorgeous), and I am in love with her.
Also, Jesus calls his mother “the most powerful person I know.” *Catholic fist pump*
They just … they do a really good job with Jesus here, guys. He’s sweet. He’s warm. He’s down to earth. He loves a good party. He loves a good joke. He’s patient, giving, caring, always wants to help, but needs to withdraw from time to time when his “batteries run down” (#we stan Introvert Jesus). He hugs people. He laughs. Sometimes, he cries.
This whole show has an earthy, grounded quality to it, which helps make it relatable for modern viewers, I think. Little, “insignificant” details, building up to a bigger picture of everyday life. Matthew has a dog. Mary Magdalen works in a hair salon. When we first meet Simon Peter, he’s fixing a street fight so he can make money off his brothers-in-law (BAD SIMON *slaps him*)
But The Chosen is more than just a slice-of-life show about Judea in 30 AD, of course. It’s about the coming of the Messiah: the redeemer, the king, the great leader. The One the Jews have waited for, for thousands of years. That’s precisely why we spend so much time exploring the Hot Mess™ of the disciples’ personal lives. Getting to know them, in all their brokenness. Watching these ordinary, humble, screwed-up people discover, not only is the Promised One standing right in front of me (???), but he WANTS ME, he CHOSE ME FOR HIS KINGDOM (????) … it’s frickin surreal. Guaranteed to make you cry.
In the final moments of Season 1, the woman at the well whispers, in tears,
“I have been rejected by everyone.”
Jesus looks her dead in the eyes and says,
“But not by the Messiah.”
She loses her mind, of course. So do the disciples. So do I. So does Barack Obama. So does Meryl Streep. So does Kermit the Frog. So does EVERYONE WITH A PULSE WITHIN SIXTY MILES, BECAUSE IT’S BLEEDING AWESOME.
Please, watch this show.
I promise you won’t regret it.