The first time a friend recommended the new television show The Chosen, I quickly dismissed it. I’ve seen plenty of movies about the life of Jesus – some good, some bad, many boring. But it’s hard to find any good entertainment to watch these days – especially as a family. So by the second or third time someone recommended it, I popped some corn, gathered my kids and asked my husband to figure out how to stream it.

The first surprising thing about The Chosen is that it’s only available online or through a free app (We’ve been watching through YouTube). The second is that it’s funded through crowd-sourcing, having so far raised a record-busting $20 million, according to its website. Also surprising, while the series only launched this year, it’s already been translated into fifty languages and been viewed in 180 countries. But what surprised me most is that I enjoy it.

Rather than plopping some bathrobe-wearing actors on a hillside and having them totter around after a Scripture-quoting Jesus, the writers gave Jesus’s followers backstories and personalities. There’s Matthew, the tax collector, rejected by his family and whose closest companion is a dog; Simon, whose money problems force him to collude with the Romans; and Jesus, who builds an access ramp for a latrine and a playhouse for a little girl.

Hokey? Yeah, a little. But it’s also refreshing. Who were these men and women who believed that a carpenter was the long-awaited Messiah? What did Jesus do in his downtime between healing the sick and turning water into wine? How did one man with a rag-tag group of followers have such a lasting effect on history?

Here we see Mary Magdalene, set free from demons, welcoming friends to a Shabbat feast with a traditional Jewish prayer. We see Simon, drinking with his fishing buddies to escape the growing pressures at home. We see Jesus dancing at a wedding and performing his first miracle to prevent a family’s disgrace. Such scenes help me picture Jesus not as a flannel cutout on a Sunday school picture board, but as a real person whose words and choices still affect my life today.

One reason for the mega-watt success of the series is it’s a talented, multi-ethnic cast. Another is its high-quality film making. No surprise since it’s directed and co-written by Dallas Jenkins, who’s been directing and producing movies for top Hollywood studios for twenty years. Plans for the series include seven seasons – no easy task, but especially now.

“Between COVID-19 and the fact that we’re doing this outside the system, it has been a challenge to know exactly how and where we can produce season two,” Jenkins said in a July press release. But filming was expected to begin in Utah this fall, and I’m eager to see what comes next.

The Chosen, season 1

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the fall picture book The Lantern Hill Light Parade and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.