New miniseries delivers mediocrity of Biblical proportions
Like its sister networks, the History Channel has morphed into a haven for reality television insistent on masquerading as fact. While “Pawn Stars” is more than worthy of the “guilty pleasure” label, older audiences who preferred documentaries on conspiracy theories and the Valkyrie mission are long gone, leaving the network with a gaping hole in their intended demographic. But executives are now attempting to turn the History Channel into a Sunday night hot-spot a la AMC by airing original miniseries to compete with the likes of other cable networks, and it was in this change of pace where “The Bible” was born.
Unlike “Vikings,” History Channel’s other blockbuster miniseries, “The Bible” takes an epic and turns it into schlock that panders to the lowest common denominator. Its source material, the essential text of Western religion, carries deep meaning for those who chose to invest in it, which is the reason it remains highly-regarded. But producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have removed this element, creating an empty shell of poorly-choreographed battle scenes and empty acting that does little to provide its viewers with anything that couldn’t be found on videos distributed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
On the other hand, this void cannot be blamed entirely on the crew. Because of its significance, adaptations of the Bible run the risk of controversy. Even works of fiction, notably Nikos Kazantzakis’’ “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code,” have caused reputable outcry from the faithful because of their individualistic takes on Biblical events and figures. Chances are that network execs and producers didn’t want to risk the same reaction, so they played it safe by showcasing events akin to those found in the pantheon of Greek, Norse and Roman mythology — the birth of a culture, triumphant rescues, various victories and most importantly, the life and death of a redemptive figure.
But this haphazard whitewashing does not excuse such a poor execution. Aside from the flaccid narration provided by voice-over actor Keith David (whose credits include “Mass Effect” and Disney’s “Gargoyles”), much of the wardrobe looks as if it was selected from that of a school play or church pageant, serving as flimsy cardboard testaments to frugality. Much of this low-grade production value could be overlooked if the acting was superb, but the primarily British cast does little to mark an impression on tuned-in viewers.
The biggest flaw, which may go hand-in-hand with lack of insight, is the fact that “The Bible” treats its subjects as distant reminders of the past. The series chronologically follows the events of the book, but performs horribly when trying to merge written record with human drama. The quasi-love triangle between Abraham, Sarah and servant girl Hagar is filled with forced jealousy from the two women, rendering the whole situation laughable with a daytime drama disposition. The Christ figure, played by resident hot guy Diogo Morgado, only builds upon the stoic caricature that the media has fostered for several decades and regretfully keeps Jesus as a two-dimensional concept instead of a living and emotive human being. None of it seems to register on an emotional level and like New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger, I’m fervent in my belief that “those looking for something that makes them feel the power of the Bible would do better to find a good production of ‘Godspell’ or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’”
But as I deliver this moderate tongue-lashing, I believe “The Bible” was an honest mistake and a missed opportunity. It sought to deliver an adaptation of a complex document with so much connotation, religiosity and backlash attached to it, which is no easy feat. But Downey, Burnett and the History Channel also aimed at producing a selection of stories for pure entertainment, and their failure to create a potentially eye-opening program leaves us with something serving as another testament to an overtold story that still needs to be told the right way.