'The Chosen': Mysterious Crowdfunded Series Takes Christian Audiences by Storm

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I’ve been waiting to write a good review of a Christian film or show…forever. There hasn’t been one that didn’t suffer from saccharine overacting and heavy-handed salvation messaging that felt like a commercial break. It’s unfortunate that Christian programming is so terrible. But dare I get excited about the new crowdfunded series about Jesus called The Chosen? Oh, I dare.

My sister, who was visiting over the holiday weekend, was buzzing about this show. “Have you seen The Chosen yet?” No I hadn’t and, frankly, I ignored her because I quit watching Christian films after that terrible movie about a prayer closet that I hated with a passion. I think I rolled my eyes and offered her another hot dog. Now that my curiosity got the better of me and I’ve watched a few episodes, I owe her an apology.

The Chosen is different. This is not the too-sweet Christian fodder churned out on $250,000 budgets without any thought to character development, writing, story, or plot. This miniseries is being funded one episode at a time by its viewers and is offered free to anyone who wants to watch it. Funding is purely voluntary. The website for the studio responsible, Angel Studios, has a “pay it forward” option where you can choose to fund the show to keep it going. “Behold, I am doing a new thing” is their motto. Hollywood gatekeepers need not apply.

Our goal? To introduce the authentic Jesus to 1 billion people. This requires impossible math and new thinking, so we’re inspired by Isaiah 43:19, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”

$100 million for production of our next five seasons. One billion people, including every country in the world, in at least 100 languages. Totally free, totally outside the Hollywood system.

That’s impossible math.

But…shattering the all-time crowdfunding record with $10m, then creating an app that allows you to watch the first-ever multi-season show about Jesus free in every country in the world in over 50 languages is impossible math, too. ”Behold, I am doing a new thing.” We’re in for that.

We’ll bring our few loaves and fishes, you bring yours by paying it forward and spreading the word, and together we’ll watch God feed the 5,000.

Two seasons are fully funded and season three is partially funded. The show itself is riveting. The actors are unknown to me but sincere and talented. The story is not just a redo of other Jesus films you’ve seen, focusing instead on the life of Jesus before his public life and the backstories of his followers.

The storyline of tax collector Matthew is particularly amusing and sad, starting with his life as a shunned Jew employed by Rome and accepted and esteemed by none. Poor Matthew dines with dogs and lives in a constant state of rejection. The series follows the would-be followers of Christ, like Simon Peter—who has a dodgy relationship with his brothers-in-law and the actual law—as well as John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene—who has a heart-wrenching struggle with demonic possession. Her desperation and torment come through the screen and grab you by the heart. The series looks into the lives of the twelve before they are called by Jesus and imagines what kind of challenges existed in the culture with brutal Romans patrolling the streets and the strict oversight of the ultra-Orthodox Sanhedrin controlling the faithful.

Related: 5 Superb and Reverent Jesus Films

The production value is good, but a huge budget doesn’t always mean a good show. The Chosen is a good show. It’s interesting and fresh. It doesn’t feel like something you’ve already seen, as many “life of Jesus” movies suffer from overdone scenes we could all recite by memory. I have no idea what happens next, and that’s a new feeling for someone who has watched every Jesus biopic there is (except that heretic one where he’s fornicating with Mary Magdalene, or something. Ain’t nobody got time for that!).

I’m still on season one, but I’m fully drawn into this series and will definitely be “paying it forward” to help fund more seasons. This one is a keeper. To access the series, totally free, just download the app “The Chosen” to your device and simulcast on the television or watch on your handheld device. I’ve been watching it on my phone and enjoying it immensely. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below!