When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (Series Review)

Why are we still here?

Plot Summary

When Constable Jack Thornton returns from the North back to the nice little town of Hope Valley, everyone expects him to finally marry Elizabeth Thatcher, which the series has been building up for way too many seasons now.  Thus, the TV couple finally ties the knot and is married long enough for Elizabeth to get pregnant, and Michael Landon Jr. and company follow this up by the long-awaited and long-expected death of the male lead, which leaves Elizabeth (shockingly) free to love again.  Elsewhere in Hope Valley, the other characters are doing the same things they always did with no significant alterations in their character arcs (except Jesse is a good guy now or something like that), but when you have a rabid fan base and unlimited season renewals, why would you try anything creative as a writer?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

If anything improved in this season of When Calls the Heart, it’s that the production got slightly better.  Video quality is still crisp, and camera work is still professional, but the sets and locations seem to have improved somewhat.  Props are pretty much the same old stuff.  The soundtrack is that same recycled and very tired and uncreative score that can be found in pretty much any other Hallmark production.  Further, the editing is pretty standard in Season 5, and overall, there’s not much keeping this production from being nearly perfect (except for the soundtrack), which shows you that it pays to have a good budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What was Season 4 about?  I already forgot.  The railroad?  Anyways, I challenge any Heartie to tell me what Season 5 is actually about except for completing Michael Landon Jr.’s favorite romantic chase storyline with the female lead’s marriage, pregnancy, and eventual husband’s death.  Shocking turn of events, I know.  Well, Hearties can be consoled that Michael Landon Jr. is known for rebuilding the romantic chase for the young widow by introducing a new love interest later in the series.  By killing off Jack and freeing Daniel Lissing from this nonsense, Landon Jr. and company opened up a whole new world of storylines to pursue for at least three or four or five more seasons, so you can rest easy!

Acting Quality (1 point)

Are we still here?  These same old tired cast members are still old and tired.  Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Daniel Lissing, Kevan Smith, Pascale Hutton, et al. haven’t changed much since last season.  Michael Landon Jr.’s approach to casting, acting, and makeup is no better than it’s always been.  However, there are a few bright spots from some of the peripheral cast members that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, most of Landon Jr.’s casting work seems like a plastic surgery pageant.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

At least this season creates a story arc that is somewhat interesting, which is the loss of Jack.  It was really the only card this show had left to play, so now this move opens up a whole new world of plot possibilities.  However, I don’t expect many of them to be any good.

 

Conclusion

As I predicted months ago, after wasting away at least two seasons kicking the can down the road ad nauseum and trolling with his typically pageantry and empty characters that are ripped off from a Janette Oke novel series that doesn’t even remotely resemble the dollhouse show this series has become, Michael Landon Jr. has finally come full circle with his favorite storyline of all: the young widow plot.  As can be seen throughout the Love Comes Softly series, including Love Comes Softly and Love’s Unending Legacy, Landon Jr. is infatuated with the chase of a romance, but once the couple marries and has some kids, it’s time to kill off the husband between movies and introduce a new romantic chase for the young widow.  It’s no surprise to see the long overdue exit of Jack Thornton from this series, especially since Daniel Lissing probably has better things to do.  Expect next season to introduce Elizabeth’s new love interest and her new chase after the grief has subsided (please bring back Charles).  Also, since we’re going to keep mindless renewing this troll-fest, let’s go ahead and experiment with some other cast members this show needs right now.  I vote for Erik Estrada, Morgan Fairchild, Kris Kristofferson, and Corbin Bernsen, to name a few.  Cast-member-guessing is the only thing keeping this show interesting at this point.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

 

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Peculiar, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

When new Christian Blake Goodman breaks his arm, he loses his (provisional) scholarship to play football at a big university and gets stuck going to the OCCCCC, where they have no sports.  However, they do have a quirky student population, a local campus ministry where most of the series takes place, and of course, a raging atheist professor bent on destroying Blake’s new faith.  What Christian entertainment about higher education would be complete with all of these tropes?  But that’s not all!  No, this series has many more zany elements to offer that put David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze to shame.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though the budget is small, the production really isn’t even half of the problems with this series.  Video and audio quality, for the most part, are fine.  There are some odd camera angles, however, as well as a lot of weird special effects, overlays, and annoyingly interruptive flashbacks or character imaginations.  The soundtrack is a ridiculous cheap track, and there are constant annoying sound effects that are enough to make you go crazy.  It goes without mentioning that one episode where half of the dialogue is sung (very badly), along with horrible lip-synching.  Elsewhere, sets, locations, and props are fairly and understandably limited, and there is really no editing to speak of.  However, as previously mentioned, this isn’t even the beginning of the problems with this horrific series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-3 points)

Peculiar is rightly named as such, even though Insanity or Stupidity or Offensive would also work.  This series is majorly childish in its approach and downright stupid at times.  Many portions feel like Tommy Blaze gone wrong (as if that’s possible) due to off-the-wall and even offensive humor that takes cheap shots at Jews and people who could be special needs.  Other ‘comedy’ is only funny because it is so poorly executed that it seems like a child wrote this.  Space probably won’t permit a full exploration of the problems in this section, but we will try our best.  Besides the absurdly predictable atheist professor character, all of the other characters are just generally off-beat as they espouse an odd brand of Christianity and mishandle otherwise important topics that they try to explore.  The series is also full of obnoxious ‘funny’ asides and head-scratching tongue-in-cheek jokes about itself, as if this whole thing is a satire.  I would believe that it is making fun of Christians on purpose, except for the fact that each episode tries to spoon-feed the audience a cute and trite little Christian platitude.  Also, as if things aren’t bad enough at first, the musical episode really takes the cake.  As whole, Peculiar is very unexplainable and generally strange in basically every way.  To fully experience the zany madness, you have to see it for yourself.

Acting Quality (0 points)

The lead actor bears a very striking resemblance to the maniacal mannerisms of David A. R. White, with awkward delivery, forced humor, and an air of superiority.  The other cast members aren’t much better, just less full of themselves and more awkward.  Most lines are overly enunciated, and emotions are greatly lacking in realism.  Torry Martin isn’t even enough to save this very small cast from itself, even though there are some attempts in the end to improve.  The improvement isn’t significant enough to register any life here, especially when it started out so bad.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As episodes end in awkward and weird ways, this series churns out one thing after the next in very (mercifully) short episodes.  Though there are slight attempts at plot arcs, they are just cheesy romantic nonsense, and there are no character arcs.  Each episode also begins with an unwanted and long recap of previous episodes, as if you missed anything.  Essentially, not much can pull this series out of the nose dive it started out with.

Conclusion

Peculiar is a very surreal experience, almost like a Christianity twilight zone.  In this possibly worst series ever, all nightmarish clichés and caricatures of Christians come to life in a ten-episode experience from Sheol.  Every bad thing we’ve ever pointed out in Christian entertainment is rolled into one series as a package deal, along with even worse things.  This series should have been canned, banned, and whatever else it took to make it go away forever.

 

Final Rating: -2 out of 14 points

 

 

Young Disciple, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Eli is done with the street life of being a gangsta.  He has found faith in Christ and wants to make a new life for himself and his family, but the old life keeps calling him back in the form of gang lord Prime, who has Eli’s brother in his clutches.  Will Eli be able to escape the bondage of the streets and live the life God wants him to live?  Will his brother be pulled into the old life Eli used to live?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, Young Disciple suffers from a severe lack of adequate funding, as well as mismanagement of the resources that were at hand.  This is evident in the cheap video quality and the weird camera angles, as well as the poor audio quality and the odd sound effects used throughout.  The lighting is also not what it should, as the sets and very cheap and limited.  There aren’t many locations to speak of, and the soundtrack is too loud at times.  While there is some improvement throughout the season, it’s not enough to overcome this series’ very rough beginning.  Also, the editing is very raw, thus rounding out an underwhelming effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

While Young Disciple attempts to portray realistic characters and the struggles and circumstances they go through, the delivery is lacking.  While the creators of this series likely meant well with what they were doing, the presentation very much hurts their intentions.  Dialogue is too lazy, and most conversations tend to meander and even repeat themselves over time.  Too many scenes appear to be grasping for content rather than trying to develop the characters.  Besides this, there are too many side characters and subplots that are hard to follow or understand.  The storyline of this series is confusing and is too disorganized to be understood easily, even though there was plenty of potential here.  Unfortunately, this series just misses the mark all the way around.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

Though this amateur cast is definitely trying, they really would have benefitted from some much-improved coaching and development.  There are too many sequences of yelling and juvenile arguing.  Too often, emotions seem very flat and pedestrian.  Line delivery is inconsistent at best.  It’s unfortunate that this section continues to demonstrate the theme of mismanagement in this series.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)

Besides the oddly abrupt episode endings, Young Disciple has story and character arcs that are very hard to follow, even though they can be interesting at times and actually demonstrate some potential.  Moreover, this series tends to adapt the one-thing-after-the-next episode model that creates a storyline without much continuity.  Thus, this rounds out an overall disappointing experience.

Conclusion

Though Young Disciple was underfunded, this does not mean it had to be this bad.  It seems like the writers were trying to make something big in the storyline, but its delivery is off the mark.  Had this plot been much stronger and had there been more continuity in the series, Young Disciple could have overcome its shortcomings and stood out as a creative series.  As it is, it certainly deals with some pertinent issues that need to be portrayed in Christian films and series, but not like this.  Perhaps they will have better luck next time.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 14 points

 

Hope Island, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

As penance for his past indiscretions, Revered Daniel Cooper is sentenced to take over a small church on the small island community of Hope Island, off the coast of the northwestern United States.  Though skeptical at first, he finds a charming town of quirky people who accept him with open arms.  The days on Hope Island are not without intrigue and conflict, but at the end of the day, they all like each other and everything stays pretty much the same all the time.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, Hope Island can look archaic at times, but it’s not all bad.  On paper, the production is fine, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, and there are some dumb sound effects used throughout.  The opening sequence is long and boring, and most of the flashbacks have a very strange and almost un-watchable quality about them.  Further, the editing is pretty standard, and overall, this production is just above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s really no surprise this vaguely Christian series on the old PAX channel didn’t get renewed.  It contains nothing creative and settles for many predictable small-town concepts, elements, subplots, characters, and tropes.  The storylines therein are very safe and pedestrian as each character fits perfectly into their molds: the main character with a secret past who comes to a new area for a new start, his obvious love interest (who doubles as the diner character) who doesn’t like him at first, the young white couple whose relationship we’re supposed to be interested in, the quirky self-seeking schemer and his clueless sidekick, and all those one-episode characters who appear only once in over twenty episodes, even though this is a tiny island with a couple hundred people on it.  Besides this, there are far too many attempts at comedy that aren’t even funny and are actually quite juvenile.  Also, there are some odd attempts at ‘edgy’ content that fall completely flat and feel out of place and desperate.  Christian themes are only used when convenient, and conflicts are easily resolved with coincidences and convenient turns.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to note here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a professional cast, these cast members are mostly fine and typical.  However, they have some odd, head-scratching moments at times.  Other times, they are too awkward, especially when they are trying too hard to be funny.  However, there are enough good moments here to make this section average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Hope Island follows the predetermined inspirational series formula that rolls out one thing after the next.  Each episode is its own 45-minute bubble of time that has little effect on the following episode and receives little effect from the previous episode, except for the predictable romantic subplot arcs, which are the only notable story or characters arcs present here.  This series is basically a collection of shallow conflicts that are introduced and quickly resolved and never mentioned again, thus not warranting any points in this section.

Conclusion

PAX was trying to blaze new trails in Christian\inspirational made-for-TV entertainment before UP existed and before Hallmark rebranded themselves as a plastic dollhouse.  Now PAX has turned into that absurd channel called ION and has even more laughable content than Hallmark.  Hope Island is a microcosm of the late 90s\early 2000s attempts at mainstream Christian content that didn’t work out, not only because of its split personality of trying to please two different audiences or because of its underwhelming production and acting quality, but mostly because it’s so boring.  It was hard enough to sit through over twenty episodes of this; I can’t even imagine what another season would be like.  Alas, we never saw another season, which is a blessing.  Now, as I continually say, it’s time for a real, truly quality Christian series to be made.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

Malibu Dan the Family Man, Season 1 (Series Review)

What DARW does best

Plot Summary

Malibu Dan and Holidae Sinclair run the southern California early morning show Good Morning Malibu.  Dan is always getting himself into comedic scrapes, while Holi is always looking for a better media offer.  They work with a goofy but likeable crew, but most of all, Dan considers himself to be a devout family man.  What else could go wrong in Tommy Blaze’s latest zany comedic endeavors?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Much like Hitting the Breaks, Malibu Dan the Family Man is a sitcom with an average production, which means it comes with that annoying laugh track again.  There are also other sound effects used now, however.  Another annoying aspect of the sitcom genre is the use of ridiculously fake backgrounds and cheaply limited sets, as well as a total lack of actual locations.  Props are fine, however, as are other standard production elements, such as camera work and video quality, which keep this production from being totally worthless.  However, the editing also suffers from lack of creativity as it is quite choppy.  In the end, however, these few production positives are the only ones that exist in this unnecessary series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

If Tommy Blaze and company were so desperate to make another sitcom, why not just make another season of Hitting the BreaksMalibu Dan is really no different—just some rearranged characters and different cast members.  Who would have noticed if some cast members changed for a new season of Breaks?  As it is, Malibu Dan includes the same old tired and ridiculous messages Blaze and David A. R. White have been hanging out to dry for years, such as an absurdly stark gender divide, their patronizing view of Generation Y, and the endless pursuit of media fame and stardom.  As usual, David A. R. White is the bemused husband\father who gets himself into a comedic venture that solves itself in twenty minutes or less.  Everything is the same, and there is nothing new in PureFlix.

Acting Quality (0 points)

With the same old egotistical PureFlix cast members—the Whites, Brad Heller, Kevin Downes, Gregg Binkley—Malibu Dan throws in a few more, such as comedy staple Victoria Jackson and Erik Estrada with a few more plastic surgeries since the last time we saw him.  Regardless of the changes, the zaniness and the over-the-top non-subtlety is still present and still makes for an eye-rolling experience as the leadership of Blaze continues to push ‘Christian’ comedy to the limits of absurdity.  The other cast members are swept along in the wave of nonsense and must wonder how they got stuck with this crew.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Sitcoms are not made for continuity.  There are no story arcs or character arcs as each episode exists within its own twenty-minute bubble in which all conflicts introduced are promptly and easily solved in time to tack a trite Christian antidote onto the end.  Thus, no points can be awarded here.

Conclusion

As long as the PureFlix faithful continue to garner funding for these frivolous projects, they will keep making them to satisfy their longings to parade themselves around like idiots in the name of Christian entertainment, ever in the pursuit of fame and stardom, just like the characters they portray.  They are as shallow as the comedy they create, but as un-ignorable as David A. R. White’s bombastic displays of idiocy.  They project themselves as the leaders in Christian film and the saviors in a dark world of Christian persecution, but if this is all we have to lead us, it’s no wonder so many people scoff at Christian media.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

Hilton Head Island, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

The powerful Trisk family funs the influence ISLE News Network, and they are headed up by the patriarch Daniel Trisk.  However, when he has a sudden stroke on air, the entire empire is threatened.  Victoria Trisk, wife of Daniel, wields her power over the family while her husband lays in a coma.  Everyone in the family has a secret to guard, and each one of them wants the upper hand in the ISLE News Network business.  Will they remember their Christian faith and learn what really matters in the midst of all their conspiracies?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Though there are attempts at making this ‘hope opera’ series a good production, many of them fall flat.  Beginning with a disorienting opening sequence and continuing with time and location captions, this series commits quite a few errors.  Though location footage is excellent, we never see the characters go to any of those places and instead are forced to watch them awkwardly stand around in cheap and limited indoor sets and in front of painfully obvious green screens.  Issues like these seem to suggest the PureFlix team didn’t know what they were doing with this series, even though video quality, camera work, and audio quality are fine.  The soundtrack is mostly generic, and there is a lot of awkward editing throughout, including lingering scenes and fadeouts.  Unfortunately, a lot of this series’ production is a cover for shortcuts and cheaply done work.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This ‘hope opera’ also commits pretty much all of the clichés that exist in the severely limited genre of soap operas.  Everything is overly dramatic for no reason, and every conflict seems forced and trumped up, as well as the premise itself.  It feels like this series exists in some alternate world, like a child’s play world, rather than the real world.  Most, if not all, of the characters are annoying and impressed with themselves as most of their dialogue is filled with information dumps of things that happened off screen.  For that matter, there is a lot of talk about these characters doing media work, but we rarely see any of it.  The Christian themes therein are extremely forced and plastic; however, near the end of this season, things take a sudden turn towards remotely interesting rather than the previous fingernails-in-the-chalkboard style they were going for.  Unfortunately, this is too little too late as too many loose ends and unnecessary subplots are introduced in the latter half of the season.  Though there are some interesting attempts at creating flawed characters, it’s just not enough to save this series from itself.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The cast of Hilton Head Island is perhaps among the most plastic-looking and fake-looking we have ever seen, including Hallmark casts.  The makeup work in this film is freakishly awful and out of place.  Besides this pageantry, as previously mentioned, cast members stand around awkwardly like they don’t know what to do.  Their line delivery is unnatural and stilted, while emotions are very wooden and forced.  A lot of the time, they are trying way too hard, especially in scenes that are supposed to have high emotion.  However, there is some improvement noted throughout that keeps this section from being zero.  As a side note, why did Bradley Dorsey choose this mess to restart his acting career with?

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Most of the time, episodes break and transition in the oddest ways.  Also, the same old transition sequences are used over and over again between scenes.  Though there are some attempts at character backstory, many concepts tend to recycle and repeat themselves throughout this series.  There are also way too many subplots going on for any hope of organization to exist.

Conclusion

Once again, PureFlix tries to breach new territory in the Christian entertainment world, and once again, it’s a swing and a miss.  We definitely need a series that has intrigue, conspiracy, and flawed characters with no clear heroes, but this is not the way to do it.  The soap opera mentality is doomed to failure from the start, and the plastic Christian message of this series is laughable, not to mention the utter pageantry embarrassment that this cast is.  Better luck next time, PureFlix.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

Noah’s Ark [1999] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

If Hallmark is to be believed, Noah lived in Sodom with Lot and constantly tried to stop people around him from fighting wars.  Then a strange version of God decided to scare Noah into building an ark to save him and his white family.  Once on the ark, the storm comes, and Noah and her family are all stuck there.  Thus, they begin acting crazy and absurd until it’s finally all over with.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Who knew Hallmark dabbled into Bible series in the 1990s?  For the most part, the production of Noah’s Ark is fine, especially when it comes to video quality and camera work.  However, there are some random lapses of audio quality throughout, along with a loud soundtrack.  Sets and locations are also somewhat limited considering the intended scope of this film, but props are fine.  There are also some very cheap special effects and obviously fake backgrounds, but the editing is surprisingly fine, and other elements show some improvement throughout.  In the end, this is just an average production, but there are a lot of other issues to point out in this series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1.5 points)

When a Bible movie or series begins with a disclaimer telling you that they took creative license with a historical account, they are basically telling you to get ready for a whole lot of crazy.  What is the actual point of altering historical accounts for fun?  What if somebody altered more recent historical accounts for personal enjoyment?  Trying to squeeze Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah into the story of Noah is just all wrong and cripples this series before it even begins.  Besides these obvious problems, the portrayal of God in this series is downright strange and bizarre, but this is only a part of this series’ overall weirdness.  There are other bizarre characters and insinuations, fueled by strange dialogue and useless asides that waste time.  Along with this comes several off-the-wall attempts at comedy and some totally head-scratching drug-trip moments that come close to making this debacle a parody.  In short, there really isn’t much good to say about this section.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Like many attempts at bringing Bible stories to life, Noah’s Ark gives no care to cultural authenticity in casting, mixing American and BRITISH cast members of recognizable names to sell this show.  Besides this, the cast is overall too dramatic, even though they do have plenty of good moments.  The costuming is also fine, but it’s not enough to make this section any more than average.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Though this ‘series’ only has two episodes, the continuity is mostly fine.  There are some interesting character arcs and story arcs, but the many blatant content errors are complete inexcusable.  Thus, this mishandling of historical fact brings this whole series down in flames.

Conclusion

Too often, Bible movies and series become about Hollywood trying to make some quick bucks on a Christian audience.  But don’t get too high and mighty, Christian film makers—you do it too.  Even Christians sometimes take great ‘creative’ license with historical accounts (see The Book of Esther).  The bottom line is that there are so few good Bible movies and series on the market, and this is an absolute travesty.  Biblical films and series should be the best of the best, not a laughingstock.  We’re still waiting for this day to come.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

Hitting the Breaks, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After racecar driver Randy Wilcox crashes his car in a race, his family convinces him to retire.  Thus, he decides to move the bed and breakfast in rural Colorado that his father willed to him.  What the Wilcox family finds there is a lack of modern conveniences and a collection of quirky characters who live eccentric lives.  Yet through the comedic mishaps they endure, they begin to like their new home, despite the inconveniences.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Though the production of this series looks good on the surface, it really just boils down to a silly sitcom.  Video quality is fine, but camera work has a lot of shortcuts taken in it due to the genre.  The genre also brings with it an obnoxious laugh track, as if we are to believe that this was recorded in front of a live studio audience.  However, other audio quality is fine, even if the soundtrack is extremely generic.  Furthermore, sets and locations are severely limited, once again due to the sitcom genre.  Finally, editing is very standard and uninspiring.  Basically, PureFlix still knows how to make things look good on the outside without any real substance.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Much like past comedy projects from the bizarre minds of David A. R. White and Tommy Blaze, Hitting the Breaks is one half lazy and one half downright zany and nonsensical.  Full of cheesy small town characters that are obviously copycatting other films and series, one has to endure constant reality television confessionals that litter the series.  In these ten episodes, each one follows a predictable formula: David A. R. White gets himself into some comedic escapade and then has to get out of it in twenty minutes or less to leave himself time to read a ‘life lesson’ from his father’s journal at the end that attempts to force a purpose into this madness.  These ‘life lessons’ are laughably cheap Christian messages, thus leaving the series pointless and purposeless.  Most of the comedy isn’t even funny, whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong reason.  The dialogue is chock-full of stupid catchphrases and caricatures as everything generally gets zanier and less explainable as the series progresses.  In the end, it’s like they just run out of ideas and find a random way to end it.  Basically, there is little to no point in this mess.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

For this barn-burning cast, PureFlix trotted out ever crazy person they have ever had in their films and put them all together in one place.  Everyone is as absurd as can be expected, especially the Whites, Kevin Downes, Moran Fairchild, and everyone’s favorite Jennifer Lyons.  Gregg Binkley makes a special spectacle of himself throughout the series as he tries desperately to be the new Barney Fife.  It’s surprising that Tommy Blaze didn’t make an appearance in this cast, yet the cast of Ray Wise is actually appropriate for once and saves this section from the abyss.  But it’s still not good enough to count for much.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

With extremely short episodes that repeat the same formula over and over again, it’s safe to say there is no continuity here.  There are no story arcs or characters arcs to speak of.  Thus, there is nothing good to say here either.

Conclusion

Once again, PureFlix is one step ahead of other film makers by breaking new ground for Christian entertainment.  Though this is the first legitimate Christian sitcom, that doesn’t mean it’s any good.  The PureFlix crew basically just packaged up all the craziness they’ve had pent up since Me Again and put it all into one wild series just for the sake of making it.  There is zero purpose and no clear direction here and it only further serves as an embarrassment to Christian entertainment.  Needless to say, the world is still waiting for a truly legitimate and interesting Christian series, which is something that is obviously very difficult to come by.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

 

7th Street Theater, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the new cast of the 7th Street Theater finally settled down, the team begins to face new challenges that they must face.  New social issues are in desperate need of being addressed by the cast through their bland skits.  But more importantly, a new threat arises to their business model as a disgruntled rival theater owner seeks to destroy their work.  With the 7th Street Theater be able to survive the onslaught?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The newest and final (?) season of the 7th Street Theater has really no unique or surprising elements.  The only notable difference is some slightly improved camera work.  Otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same.  Video quality and audio quality are typical.  The Jasper Randall soundtrack is still intact.  There are still no locations and the same old limited sets are utilized.  Furthermore, there is really no editing to speak of.  In the end, if this is the end of this series, it’s an anticlimactic one.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Another season of this series brings another one full of forced drama and fake conflicts as everything in this universe centers around the happenings of the theater with no care about what the characters do outside of it except for a lot of references to off-screen content.  This third season continues to grasp for content as it constantly exhibits the limited and isolationist worldview of the Christiano brothers.  Even more so this season, they adapt a Christians versus the world approach and complain about common cultural problems rather than offering real solutions.  They are still lost in their own world in thinking this concept is actually interesting or even sustainable.  The ending really makes no sense, yet it appropriate for this saga, which remains empty and wanting.

Acting Quality (1 point)

As the same cast members continue to phone in their performances, there is really nothing new to mention here.  Emotions are still plastic and line delivery is still lazy.  There are fewer cast member changes this season, yet it’s really hard to believe that they were able to keep at least half of this cast together for so long.  What were they really getting out of this?

Continuity Quality (.5 point)

It’s very hard to believe there are over sixty twenty-minute episodes in this saga.  That’s a lot of dedication for not much return.  Yet this season’s continuity quality has slightly improved due to some slight attempts at continuation and arcs.  However, it’s not really enough to make any real difference.

Conclusion

It seems like this series is now over, and it has done so in the most non-dramatic fashion.  There is truly no way to understand how and why this series was made for so long except for the fact that it was extremely easy to make.  It’s very difficult to see the true benefit of this saga due to its out-of-touch portrayal of people and apparent lack of understanding of real life and real people.  If a Christian series is ever to be successful, that’s a big if, then reality needs to be portrayed in a way that engages audiences rather than bores them.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

7th Street Theater, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Though the cast of the 7th Street Theater is constantly changing, their messages are still the same.  They continually create plays about Christian topics over and over again and present their plastic worldview to supposedly sold out shows.  Since they are committed to doing the same things all the time, the only drama they have to contend with is constantly changing cast members.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The production of the second season of this series is more stable than the first, but it basically comes out the same.  Video quality is fine and camera work is regular.  Audio quality is also fine, despite a pedestrian Jasper Randall soundtrack.  There are once again no locations to speak of and the same old severely limited sets are utilized in this lazy production.  Editing is mostly off the table as well.  Basically, as if the first season of this series was pointless enough, this second season is even more so.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

There is literally nothing new about this season that hasn’t already been discussed.  The same old one-dimensional characters are paraded around—even when the character changes due to cast changes, it makes no difference.  Every episode feels like a repeat of an old one as they constantly repeat the same ideas, sequences, and conversations.  Still the biggest plaguing issue in this saga is the fact that it lacks true connection to real people as they spin their wheels and grasp for content.  A series can only be sustained through top-level characters and realistic circumstances—it would be nice to have some arcs too.  However, 7th Street Theater lacks all of these skills.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As previously mentioned, the only difference with this bland cast from the first season is the fact that they are constantly switching some of them around.  However, it doesn’t help the fact that these cast members, though they may mean well, are too overly practiced in their delivery.  Emotions are hardly ever believable.  Essentially, there is not much unique to say about this season.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Once again, there is no continuity in this season as each episode is presented with no real relation to the others, except for a few lame attempts at ‘cliffhangers’ that no one is interested in.  There are still no character arcs and no story arcs.  There was little to no point in making season, much less this series.

Conclusion

While in some way the Christianos might mean well in what they do, they are still not good at communicating the messages they want to communicate.  However, some of the things they do communicate are off-putting and paint an impossibly perfect view of Christians who have no real struggles.  This series doesn’t exist in reality and thus is never going to make any real difference.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

7th Street Theater, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

When a Christian businessman decides to invest in a Christian drama theater, he hires a stage director, Rudy, an office manager, Johanna, and five cast members, Travis, Jon, Jamie, Kelly, and Andi, to put together weekly plays centered around Christian themes.  As the actors and actresses write the shows and rehearse them to perform them, they learn life lessons that they intend to teach their audiences.  They also do life together and form a community with each other.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Since this series is entirely based on a bunch of people sitting around in two to three theater sets, you can imagine how cheap and limited these sets are.  There are no locations to speak of, and props are kind of silly, although this concept is also embraced as normal.  A lot of production shortcuts are taken and are justified by the format.  Early in this season, video quality is blurry, but this improves throughout.  Camera work is relatively stable.  Audio quality is fine throughout, but Jasper Randall delivers his same old silly soundtrack that can be found in any given Christiano production.  Finally, editing is almost nonexistent as most scenes drag on way too long to pump the runtime.  Every episode also ends with an annoying freeze frame.  Basically, though this is an average production, it has a lot of work to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

The Christiano brothers have never been known for their subtlety, and the 7th Street Theater saga is the most obvious messaging ever.  This series is a venue for them to push their forcefully fundamental ideas through extremely scripted and childish dialogue.  It’s full of typical goody-two shoes Christian characters who don’t make any ‘bad’ mistakes, as well as a few strawman non-Christian characters and allusions to ‘bad’ things that can’t be talked about.  This series overall demonstrates just how much the Christiano brothers live in their own little world, especially with the priceless episode that serves as apologetics for that horrid thing called Pamela’s Prayer, which is an entirely different topic that space does not permit a full analysis of.  Basically, this series is everything you can imagine from the Christianos, and worse.

Acting Quality (1 point)

With a severely small cast, over 400 minutes of runtime is too much to see them over and over and over again.  They are extremely bland and overly practiced in their delivery.  They come off as fake, plastic people and even have weird racial undertones.  Though there is some improvement throughout the season, this is a very poor job.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

This saga is allergic to continuity.  As one thing after the next happens, there is an extreme amount of redundancy and repetition.  There are zero story arcs and absolutely no character arcs—everything stays relatively the same throughout this pointless season.  Thus rounds out an unfortunately unsurprising failure.

Conclusion

Though there is probably some part of the Christiano brothers that means well in their entertainment, they have no idea how to subtly communicate a Christian message or even how to relate to real people.  In their world, Christians are goody-two-shoes plastic people who are insulated from ‘bad stuff’ and exist in a bubble where they all tell each other how good they are.  But when you think about it, this is probably just another day in the life for most Christian film makers.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 14 points

 

The King’s Messengers, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Anwaar Osem and David Sutherland are on the run from the powerful force that has taken over the American government and has sent its enforcers to capture and kill those who resist their anti-Christian rule.  As they hide in the woods, they decide to record the truth about Christianity for all the world to see, even though the enforcement tries to stamp it out.  Will they be able to spread the truth and save people’s lives before it’s too late?

 

Production Quality (.5 point)

Despite a somewhat strong beginning and several years of production experience, this Crystal Creek series is not what it should be.  Camera work is very shaky throughout, like a camcorder is being used.  Video quality is fine, but there are way too many scenes filmed in the dark.  Audio quality is also below standard as sound effects that sound like they came from Final: The Rapture are included.  The soundtrack is also underwhelming.  Sets, locations, and props are severely limited and cheap-looking.  Finally, editing in this series is very poor a lot of unnecessary scenes and sequences are included, seemingly just to make the ‘episodes’ longer.  In short, a 2017 production should be much higher quality than this.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Though there are plenty of potentially interesting and creative ideas at the heart of this series, they are never properly developed.  This season overall lacks focus as it relies on a very vague and unexplained dystopian premise and stock suspense dialogue.  There are far too many unrelated and empty characters that are put through unrealistic circumstances.  The subplots are overall disjointed and any ‘twists’ that are employed are actually quite cheesy.  Finally, the end of this season is very confusing and really doesn’t inspire one to want a second season.  It’s very difficult to see the justification for this so-called series.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Can someone explain to us why Daniel Knudsen consistency uses an obviously fake British accent?  It’s very off-putting and annoying.  Elsewhere, this is a typical Crystal Creek cast with a few new additions that have some talent.  However, acting coaching is still lacking as a lot of the line delivery in this series is monotone and phoned in.  Emotions are difficult to grasp.  It’s possible that this cast could do better with coaching, however.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Each so-called ‘episode’ is basically just the same plot over and over again.  Thus, there are no character arcs or real plot twists, as previously mentioned.  The format this ‘series’ is placed in makes it more like a movie than a season, since the breaks between the episodes are totally arbitrary and unnecessary.  They all run together, thus creating zero continuity.

Conclusion

We are certain that the Crystal Creek Media team means well, so we hope they will accept constructive criticism and use it improve in the future.  They have the drive to make movies and series, which is good, and they have the means to consistently produce them, though not very well.  They definitely like to build strong messages in their stories, but they need to build strong stories to hold their message properly.  They need to pool their resources to make one good production rather than a collection of bad ones.  Finally, their acting pool is limited, but they can be worked with if better coaching is employed.  We know all of this is easier said than done, but it’s so worth it in the end.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

The Ten Commandments [2006] (Series Review)

Another crazy young, white, British Moses

Plot Summary

Moses, a Hebrew, grew up in Egypt, raised by the royal family, but after being driven from the land for committing a crime, he was forced to live in the desert among the Midianites.  He though his lot in life was to live among the Midianites forever, but God had other plans as He called Moses to go back to Egypt to free His chosen people, the Hebrews, from slavery.  Reluctantly, Moses went back to be the deliverer of his people and to witness God’s wonders.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s clear that a lot of time and money was put into this made-for-television miniseries.  Video quality and camera work are professional, as are audio quality and soundtrack.  Sets, locations, and props are realistic and historically authentic.  However, there are some cheap special effects throughout that put a damper on things.  Also, although this miniseries is nearly three hours long, the editing is still poor as some content is cut off while other content is given too much time.  However, overall, this is a respectable and well-funded effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Unfortunately, that’s where the complements end.  It seems like anytime a mainstream company, even when they are joined by a Christian company, tries to make a Bible production, it fails miserable.  There are obviously exceptions to this (The Passion of the Christ and Nativity Story), it happens a lot.  This rendition of The Ten Commandments is filled with incessant heavy-handed narration that tries to force the audience to get to know the characters too quickly.  Narration also serves as a bridge for the plot, which speeds by at breakneck pace, while at the same time committing unnecessary historical and Biblical inaccuracies.  Though it’s ambitious to take on so much content in a miniseries, it’s almost too much content to handle, especially when time is spent on strange and seemingly useless portions of this story, in addition to all the unnecessary extra-Biblical content.  Besides these issues, there is a lot of cheesy sensationalism through this series, including a strange portrayal of God.  Thus, historical truth is freely edited and added to as the writers see fit.  Basically, where this could have been an interesting series, it fails.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Once again, this series is another instance of culturally inauthentic casting, including blatant BRITISH cast members and actors with ages that do not match the historical character they are plating.  Besides these issues, line delivery is quite poor, even though these are supposed to be professional actors and actresses.  Sometimes they are too dramatic and forceful with their emotions.  Makeup is also a huge problem as it is mostly overdone.  In the end, this is another disappointing section.

Continuity Quality (1 points)

Though there are some interesting character buildups throughout this series, their age progression is not historically correct.  Some success is found here in using the series format to create character arcs, even as the story arcs are already written for them.  Time transitions are also intriguing, but as previously mentioned, they usually move way too fast to try to cover too much time.  In the end, this miniseries leaves a lot of potential behind.

Conclusion

There is little to no point in trying to rewrite history in order to sell entertainment, whether it’s on the big screen or the TV screen.  When you already have the story laid out for you in a historical document, what’s the point of altering it?  What would someone think if a creator altered a different historical account that’s not in the Bible?  The Bible is not something to play with and change for convenience.  But don’t get too cocky, Christian film makers—you’ve done it too.  Perhaps one day we will have a high quality Biblical series or miniseries that will be worth celebrating.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason
Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

After the marriage of Lllllllee and Rosemary, stuff just sorta keeps happening in Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  Rosemary has a daily ‘funny’ escapade and continues to parody herself until she becomes a perfect character like the others.  The town counselor, Abigail, tries to take over the mayor’s office from the breathy Gowen while she’s still trying to run her café.  That odd fake-looking guy named Bill is still hanging around being mysterious and doing sheriff stuff.  Elizabeth and Jack are still performing their endless and painful will-they-won’t-they dating dance until the writers finally get tired of it and decide to send Jack to the north to fight the good fight.  A railroad subplot is introduced (I wonder where that idea came from) to try to keep this television series on life support.  But who cares what happens anyway—ratings are up and a fifth season is on its way already, so who are we to talk?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Season 3, the production of When Calls the Heart has remained relatively stable since the early, low-budget days passed.  Video quality and camera work are professional as always.  Audio quality is standard, but that same old stupid soundtrack gets really old, especially when you hear it on other Hallmark movies.  Sets and locations are extremely limited as the series further settles into its small town feel.  There’s no branching out here, that’s for sure.  Editing also standard and very phoned in as each episode follows and mindlessly predictable progression.  They stretch out, one after the next, like indistinguishable zombies in Michael Landon Jr.’s makeup jobs.  What more can we say?  The money is clearly spent pretty wisely, but for what?

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a change from Season 3, this season’s storylines bring some minor complexity to the screen, especially where the railroad is involved.  However, the writers overplayed their hand with the railroad characters and made them too evil in some kind of weird attempt to make the breathy Gowen a nice guy.  Regardless, the railroad intrigue is resolved far too easily and dispensed with as quickly as it was introduced.  Besides this, Season 4 is full trite subplots and asides: Elizabeth helps a troubled child with something, Rosemary always has a new scheme, the fake-looking Bill is mysterious, Abigail is the town hero, Lllllllee does business stuff, Pastor Hogan does protective stuff, Cody is a middle school boy, Jesse is still hanging around for some reason, and Jack has to ‘fight the good fight’, as we are reminded in nearly every episode.  Too many characters are fixed and too many conflicts are easily resolved.  Random ‘mysterious’ characters are introduced to only be discarded or used as more fodder for manufactured drama.  Overall, with tons of inconsistently used characters and a host of overused ones, Season 4 of this series overall lacks direction and focus, but what else is new?  The writers are clearly either trolling or phoning it in because they don’t have to try.  Why try something risky when safe pays so well?

Acting Quality (1 point)

New season, same old cast full of fake-looking plastic people and Hallmark retreads.  No emotions are believable and everything seems manufactured and childish.  There’s nothing new to talk about here except for the fate of Daniel Lissing.  Is this an elaborate scheme to generate attention or just the loss of a main actor?  Only time will tell.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As noted in last season, Season 4 has no plot or character arcs that should be commonplace in recurring series’.  Most characters are static or become more perfect.  There are no plot twists or character complexities.  Though the railroad storyline had potential to be complex, it simply did not reach its full potential.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart has long been a series that has lost its way.  Living off of the old days at the beginning of the series and constantly reminding us through flashbacks what these cast members used to look like before they became #Hallmarked, Landon Jr. and company are just phoning in episode after episode as their sappy series gets mindlessly renewed time and time again.  But what does it matter as long as they have a faithful following who are intent to grab on to anything of remote substance produced by the pharmaceutical-backed mother channel that still tries to pretend like it’s about greeting cards.  It still remains true that When Calls the Heart fills a huge void of wholesome entertainment that no one else seems to be able to fill with anything more substantial than this.  So here we sit, in mediocrity and safeness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

The Stranger [2007] (Series Review)

Seriously?

Plot Summary

You never know where Jefferson Moore is going to pop up and solve all of your problems.  Whether you’re looking for hope, having trouble with a professor, need some interpersonal assistance, need a boost of faith, or any other issues, Jefferson Moore is there to fix the conflict in less than thirty minutes.  If you look close, you might be able to see his robed cameos.  In short, this is basically a series for the sake of having a series.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

For the first of The Stranger, production quality is extremely poor, so much so that it barely warrants its creation.  The typical soft light obsession is present and lighting is very poor throughout, especially in the indoor sets.  Video quality is quite grainy, and audio quality is terrible, include a loud and clunky soundtrack.  There are strange and awkward zooms throughout as well.  Though the production improves in the middle of the series, it’s far too little far too late that does nothing remedy the past offenses.  Finally, there is no editing as all content is included.  As we will see next, that’s not saying much.  But essentially, the production of this series is so bad to start with that there is no justification for its existence.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Must like its copycat series The Encounter, The Stranger follows a formulaic and predictable model for each of its episodes.  Each one is full of meandering boring conversations and is based around a shallow story concept.  Not much happens as Jefferson Moore shows up to fix stuff, so you know exactly what’s going to happen just by reading the episode description.  The characters are empty and stereotypical—the dialogue carries an annoying Christian message and is full of platitudes and trite sayings.  As expected, there are also a lot of quick fixes to problems.   It makes it all the more childish that things are fixed in less than thirty minutes apiece.  In the end, there is little to no reason to write these juvenile and disconnected stories just for the sake of having a series in which everybody already knows what happens.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Much of this cast demonstrates forceful and annoying acting.  They exhibit unrealistic emotions and lazy line delivery.  While there is some good here, it is still overshadowed by unprofessionalism.  Also, as we have mentioned before, Jefferson Moore is basically Bruce Marchiano’s predecessor, and all that that entails.  Basically, this is just another lazy effort.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

When the same thing happens over and over again in a series of episodes, there is no hope for continuity.  With such a long list of disjointed characters, there are no story arcs or character arcs present.  This type of series may be easy to replicate, but it’s certainly forgettable.

Conclusion

After The Perfect Stranger and Another Perfect Stranger, was there really a need for a series about Jefferson Moore doing the same things that are in these movies?  As if the first two films were even interesting at all, now we get bonuses.  Of all the movies that could have been made into series, this was the one that broke through and got the funding.  For heaven’s sake people, please demonstrate some originality.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

The Encounter, Season 1 [2016] (Series Review)

With this creepy look, who doesn’t want an encounter?

Plot Summary

When someone is going about their everyday activities, they never know what is about to happen or who they are about to meet.  They all have struggles and secrets that they don’t want anyone to know, but they would be free if they just knew someone they could trust them with.  But people never know when they are about to meet Someone Who will change their life forever.  They never know until they have their own Encounter with Jesus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

The Encounter series follows a typical production formula that PureFlix has been using for years.  They check the boxes for making the production look good on the surface, including video quality, audio quality, sets, props, and locations.  The soundtrack is sometimes engaging but mostly standard.  Sometimes there is too much shaky camera work, especially in the poorly shot actions scenes.  The biggest issue here is that large amount of wasted time throughout the series.  Most episodes are 25-28 minutes long, but the plots are usually so thin that this is too much time.  The exception to this is of episodes one and four, which will be discussed later.  But in the end, this series demonstrates an overall typical and average production effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

For eight episodes, The Encounter rehashes the same types of ideas, concepts, and conversations over and over again, just with different characters.  Outside of episodes one and four, there is no creativity here, as the opening sequence tells you what’s going to happen in each episode.  Besides being predictable, these stories are also very quick and punctuated, like they’ve been made in a quick plot factory.  While there are some good issues raised in the series, there are too many quick fixes and easy solutions based on creepy and plastic Jesus dialogue.  Thus, the messaging is quite shallow.  However, there is some potential here, as the first episode is very interesting and should have been the focus of the whole series so we could have gotten to know these characters better.  Also, the fourth episode would have made an interesting movie, if done properly.  But overall, this series just hops from high point to high point and discards substance and realism along the way.  It’s a good idea done very poorly.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While there are bright spots in this large scale cast, there are also plenty of issues.  For one, it seems like Bruce Marchiano, who has done well portraying Jesus in the past, has lost his touch. Other cast members are typical PureFlix standbys and rejects who seem to be lazy and phoning in their performances.  But as it is, it just comes out as average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

When the same ideas repeat over and over again in each episode and new characters are constantly being introduced, there is no chance or hope for continuity in this season.  There are no story arcs or character arcs.  We need to see what happens to these characters after their initial encounters, which is why it would have been great to have the characters from the first episode be the main focus of this series.  Yet the way it has been done is shallow and lazy, thus warranting no points here.

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with having Jesus intervene in everyday situations, but spitting out a whole bunch of episodes that are all basically the same doesn’t accomplish anything.  It’s easy to create a bunch of surface characters and then leave them; it takes true skill to craft meaningful characters that we can connect with.  It’s also a great idea to create a Christian series, but we need something better than this.  We need sustainable ideas that make people want to follow a set of characters across an arc.  PureFlix has the resources to do this, but will they?

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 14 points

 

A.D.: The Bible Continues (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After the death of Christ, His followers were lost and confused.  But following His miraculous Resurrection from the dead, He appeared to them and gave them new strength to carry out a new task: taking His gospel to all people.  After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, His apostles and other followers stopped at nothing to tell everyone of what they had witnessed in and through Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.  Though opposition came at them from every side, the cause of Christ did not fail but only gained more followers.  Even as Christian persecution became a global event, even the ‘worst’ of sinners came to follow the Resurrected Savior.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Following closely on the heels of mixed results of The Bible Epic Miniseries, A.D.: The Bible Continues uses similar production elements, yet improves upon them.  The surroundings are still gritty and realistic, allowing the audience to see that the events after the crucifixion of Christ were very real.  The camera work is exquisite—many things indicate that money was well spent in A.D.  The musical score is engaging and the special effects are used responsibly.  Really the only production complaint to raise is some slightly inconsistent editing—were more unnecessary parts cut and more essential parts amplified, production would have been perfect.  But there is still much to be proud of here; Mark Burnett and company definitely learned from past production mistakes and proved that they can do better in A.D.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

In contrast to the breakneck pace of The Bible, A.D. elects to follow a slower pace.  Since this is not an exclusively Biblical series, historical context is responsibly explored—it actually aids and enhances the Biblical narrative.  The political elements are intriguing—some of these characters are better than others—yet this portion of the series tends to eat up too much of the runtime.  Some screen time should have been taken away from certain political characters, such as Caiaphas’ unrealistic wife, and given to Biblical characters with more potential.  Yet there is still much to enjoy in the Biblical plot lines.  The events of Acts are portrayed very well; A.D. actually accomplishes the goal of bringing a part of the Bible to life.  Historical truths are introduced in slightly unexpected ways without compromising authenticity.  While the early Christians could have been developed better, they are pretty good as they are.  There are also peripheral characters that are intriguing, yet tend to get squeezed out of the picture.  Were it not for a good deal of wasted time, the overall plot of A.D. would probably have been perfect.  It is a pretty good example of what a Biblical-historical series should be and can serve as a blueprint for the future.

Acting Quality (2 points)

While British actors and actresses are still employed, A.D. does something revolutionary: cast diversity in first century Judea.  Some may consider African characters in this narrative to be inaccurate, and while there should still be more Middle Eastern characters, there is really no historical precedence to deny this.  In other areas, emotional expression and line delivery is fairly believable, allowing the audience to connect with the Biblical and historical characters as real people.  Overall, were it not for overuse of British actors and actresses, this portion could also have been perfect.

Continuity Quality (3 points)

The arc of A.D. is particularly epic.  The driving purpose behind the series is very clear.  There are multiple exciting character arcs that were just coming to full completion right before the series was cancelled.  But cancellation is not necessarily the fault of the writers, since we sincerely believe they were doing the best they could do.  Overall, the short time we were able to enjoy A.D. was well spent when it came to continuity, arcs, and driving purpose.

Conclusion

It’s a real shame that A.D. was cancelled, because it had nowhere to go but up.  It was progressing at an epic pace, had so many positive elements, adapted a historical approach to the days after Christ’s earthly ministry, and was ten times better than The Bible Epic Miniseries.  It had so much explosive potential, but it was cut off at the knees.  One factor that potentially led to the cancellation was trying to please too many people.  Perhaps if fewer edgy elements were employed and more family-engaging elements were used, then the show might have survived on Christian audiences.  But that may not have been enough.  Even still, A.D. was a key step in engaging even the Christian population in being more interested in the historical nature of the Bible.  There needs to be more of a bubble-up approach to these types of series, and independent means, such as on-demand series, may need to be used in order to make series like A.D. successful, since national broadcast ratings are often too fickle to sustain new concepts.  Future ideas for Bible series need to build off of the positive elements and the strong points of A.D. and to improve on its mistakes.  Such a series would be a thing to behold and something worth getting behind.

 

Final Rating: 9.5 out of 14 points

 

The Bible Epic Miniseries: New Testament (Series Review)

Plot Summary

After being exiled and invaded time and again, the nation of Israel longed for the long-awaited Messiah Who would save them from their troubles.  Yet when the Messiah appeared, few even acknowledged His coming and some tried to thwart His birth.  As Jesus grew, He began His earthly ministry, choosing His followers from the least expected places.  Even still, many ignored His deity and others tried to undermine His work.  But He loved every person equally and demonstrated His power through miracles and authoritative teaching.  In the end, Jesus gave Himself up, taking on the sins of the world and dying with them so that the price would be paid for all who would accept it.  After raising from the dead, Jesus instilled new hope in His followers and commanded them to take the message to the ends of the earth.  Today, we still feel the effects of His earthly ministry as we have the great privilege to take part in His continuing work.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For the most part, money is once again well spent when it comes to production in The Bible New Testament episodes.  Sets and locations are mostly authentic and costuming is historically realistic.  The surroundings are overall a plus, setting new standards for Bible entertainment.  The camera work is excellent in all aspects.  The musical score is pretty good, but there are some unnecessary sound effects throughout.  CGI is overused to cut corners.  But the biggest detractor of this series’ production is the editing.  This aspect does not improve in the New Testament, and is actually worse since less time is covered.  Even when the show finally sticks with the same cast of characters and surroundings, the editing is just as choppy as before.  Mark Burnett and company put on a good show on the surface, but this series’ beauty is only skin deep.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The final six episodes of The Bible are painful to watch.  As previously discussed in Son of God, there are many glaring errors.  The characters are lofty and inaccessible—dialogue is wasted and seems robotic.  Huge creative license is taken to the point of inserting useless historical events in order to fill time.  Rather than develop the characters, sensationalism and violence eat away at the runtime.  Jesus is portrayed as a lofty zen master who disturbingly becomes surprised when things happen or when he ‘sees’ something that’s going to happen.  The disciples are like cardboard cutouts, even beyond the scope of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  I’m all for highlighting the role of women in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but Mary Magdalene is given far too much screen time, stealing lines from the disciples and defying historic events.  We don’t even get to hear or see her backstory—she just appears as some kind of repeater for Jesus.  Other historical inaccuracies crop up as well, including altered versions of Biblical accounts.  As mentioned in Son of God, this entire series was written for a few well-crafted scenes, including the calling of Levi\Matthew, the adulterous woman being brought to Jesus, and the torture\crucifixion sequence that holds elements very similar to that of The Passion of the Christ.  The final episode is perhaps the most painful as viewers are strapped in for a maddening ride through the rest of the New Testament, hopping from one high point to another in a matter of minutes.  To reiterate, with less historical scope to cover in the same amount of time as the Old Testament, the New Testament episodes should have been better—they were actually worse.  It all makes for a disappointing end to a series that otherwise had a great idea.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The acting quality also significantly diminishes in the New Testament, while keeping up with previous errors, such as the cardinal sin of Bible entertainment once again—the overuse of British and Caucasian actors and actresses.  Line delivery is lazy throughout the New Testament and real emotions are either nonexistent or over the top.  Actors and actresses are given more screen time in the New Testament, but it doesn’t help.  Coaching was definitely needed.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

The overall continuity of the New Testament is slightly more seamless than the Old Testament, but it still fails to deliver a driving purpose to the audience.  Overarching first century Judaic themes exist, such as the anticipation of the Messiah, the Roman oppression, and the religious system, but there is little else noticeable.  What is missing is the connection of Jesus to prophecy and Old Testament events, and the theme of forgiveness of sins only through Him.  Jesus is portrayed more as a community organizer disrupting a religious system than the Son of God.

Conclusion

As The Bible came to a close, a lot of things were left undone.  Millions of Americans watched this series, and we can’t help but feel that they were cheated of knowing what the real Bible truly contains.  Besides the gritty feel of the series, there is little that can cause viewers to feel connected to the characters and the struggles they went through.  If there ever was a time that Americans (including those who claim the name of Christ) needed to know what is actually in the Bible and how real it actually is, it is now.  The Bible promised to do this, but it did not deliver.  It’s no wonder that co-producer Roma Downey said afterward that they weren’t concerned with historical accuracy as much as they were concerned with making an emotional connection.  Yet in this ill-advised quest, true emotional connection was never made because viewers are still left wondering if they can ever be like those seemingly inaccessible characters from Bible times.  The people of the Bible were just like the people of today, yet Burnett and Downey portrayed them otherwise.  In doing so, their mission failed.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

 

The Bible Epic Miniseries: Old Testament (Series Review)

Plot Summary

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He created everything, including humans.  But humans sinned against him and rejected His plan for them over and over again.  Yet despite human rebellion, God still had a plan to redeem mankind, and this plan was to be fulfilled through the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham.  But when the Israelites continued to disobey Him, He punished them and sent them into exile and captivity.  Nevertheless, God’s plan for humanity marched forward as those who loved Him awaited the coming of His promised Messiah, the One Who would save them all.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Production is definitely the strongest point of The Bible.  With a strong budget, almost everything was left on the field—almost.  Camera work is excellent, including the video quality.  The sound quality is great and the musical score is compelling.  Everything about this miniseries was intended to be epic and dramatic, and production-wise, this is mostly accomplished.  Yet there are still concerns.  Special effects are overused and CGI usage is too obvious.  The editing is the biggest error that plagues this series.  From the beginning, Mark Burnett and company likely bit off more than they could chew.  Some episodes are edited within themselves better than others, but most of them are far too choppy for anyone to truly grasp what needs to be grasped.  As a ‘season’, the Old Testament is a roller coaster of plot and character confusion, as will be discussed next.  In short, big money requires big results, and things just did not measure up in the Old Testament.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The Bible began with a great idea: telling a wide audience the main message of the Bible.  However, the message is lost somewhere among magnified violence, historical inaccuracies, ninja angels, inaccessible characters, hasty dialogue, and a long, winding labyrinth of time than attempts to span thousands of years in just six hours of television time.  The audience is tossed from one high point to the next without being able to appreciate the characters or even understand what actually happened in the Bible.  Just as one character is introduced, they are dispensed as time races forward to another popular story.  Narration and location titles attempt to bridge gaps of time, but it just comes off as lazy.  As previously mentioned, the characters look like real people, but they don’t act or talk like it.  Dialogue is swept along in a maddening tide of events and excessive violence.  The only positives that can be brought up here are the central concept of the series—bringing the Bible to life—and the fact that Biblical events are portrayed as real historical events, not interesting and fluffy ideas from kid’s books.  Yet plenty of historical license was taken with the plot in order to make it suit runtime.  Throughout the series, meaningful spiritual messages are stripped away and replaced with humanistic ideas that seem to indicate that stuff just happened without any real working of God.  In the end, in trying to do everything, not much was actually accomplished.  Cramming more than half of the Bible into roughly six hours was never a good idea.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As usual, The Bible commits the cardinal sin of Bible entertainment: British actors and actresses.  A few here and there is one thing—it’s hard to have a fully authentic cast—but when nearly every character is so obviously Caucasian, it gets silly.  For the most part, the acting is pretty good.  Some actors and actresses are better than others, and frankly, some of them barely get a chance to do anything.  But overall, the acting can’t be considered as anything more than average.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

The Old Testament already has a continuous theme and driving purpose, yet this was not adapted in the miniseries.  Each episode seems largely isolated from the others, like the events before Christ were just unconnected and random.  However, there is some mention of continuity, such as the nation of Israel and promise of the Messiah, that saves this section from being zero.  But we expect much more than this from a historical narrative that is already laid out.

Conclusion

The Bible is just another prime example of what could have been.  The money was there, but with such funding and a spot on a national network comes compromise, unfortunately.  However, one good thing does come out of this miniseries: it hopefully shows someone that the Bible is real and gritty, not a collection of nice stories that happened a long time ago.  Burnett definitely set the standard for realism in Bible entertainment.  Hopefully there is now no turning back from this point.  The Bible was a cultural phenomenon for a time, but it is hard to discern what its true legacy will be.  Had a more meaningful message been adapted, lasting good could have been accomplished.  Yet it is left as a below average series that could have been better.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Following the shocking proposal of Charles, both Jack and Elizabeth are left confused about the true nature of their relationship.  They must sort out how they really feel about each other, even in the midst of other controversies, including Bill Avery’s dark secrets, the constant schemes of Henry Gowen, and the town’s new adaptations to the logging industry.  Also, new and budding romances are aplenty in the newly christened Hope Valley, along with new colorful characters.  Like always, the people of Hope Valley will have to navigate each new challenge together and keep remembering that hope is just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

So, for starters, the production quality of When Calls the Heart diminishes significantly in Season 3.  The camera work stays the same as always, but the sets and locations are severely limited, with obvious reuses of them.  The characters rarely do anything outside of the winding street of Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  As usual, the costuming and makeup is worse than ever, making it impossible for the audience to believe that these people are supposed to be low to middle class frontier people.  The musical score is abysmal and the editing is all over the map, mostly settling for an episode-by-episode approach.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but as will be discussed later, it disrupts the original purpose of this show.  In short, corners were cut in this season, demonstrating an overall lack of regard for quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Not only is the Season 2 ‘cliffhanger’ resolved with lightning speed, it is quickly replaced with one mindless storyline after another.  People do this and that, Harriet Olson Rosemary schemes stuff, the town has events, people come and go, and Jack and Elizabeth continue a mind-numbing and painful dance of on and off romance.  The Hamilton characters are kicked out; we’re not sure if this was a blessing or a curse.  Bill Avery, once a promising double agent character, is reduced to a washed up guy who hangs around town.  Henry Gowen continues his usual bad guy stuff and generally accomplishes nothing.  Ever the town counselor, Caroline Ingalls Missy LaHaye Abigail acts like she’s doing things like running a diner and riding horses and taking care of orphans.  Elizabeth attempts to teach and play acts a hard working frontier woman while Jack does Mountie stuff.  Lots of things are talked about that happened off screen.  The Christian message is long gone by now, replaced with trite Joel Osteen sayings from Abigail and Pastor Hogan.  Shallow subplots are introduced and quickly resolved.  Overall, there is zero creativity in this season and the much-anticipated season finale climax fizzles out with the New Year’s fireworks at the beginning.  The writers give us no reason whatsoever to want another season, because there is no direction whatsoever anymore in this series.  But in the upside down world of Hallmark, Michael Landon Jr. and company trolled the ‘#Hearties’ for an entire season of false pretense and proved that they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed.  The mind boggles.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting has been on a downward trend since the first season, but Season 3 reaches new lows.  The starring cast demonstrates they have no intention to try to be good at acting, nor do they have to try.  Any air of professionalism demonstrated in previous seasons is gone, replaced with mindless line delivery and forced emotions.  Every scene seems very staged and fake, just actors and actresses saying lines they don’t really care about.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being zero is some slightly interesting acting from certain cast members.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the original purpose of When Calls the Heart has been washed away in that flash flood or that mud slide.  The continuity collapsed along with the mine (again).  There is no driving purpose to Season 4.  Once this show’s strongest point, the continuity has been completely abandoned in favor of a mindless stretch if silly episode that accomplish next to nothing.

Conclusion

This was such a disappointing season to endure.  There was so much potential in this show, but it has been tossed by the wayside.  It’s so sad to know that an opportunity to create truly quality and far-reaching Christian entertainment has been squandered in favor of more fake and manufactured ideas.  We get that from Hallmark all the time—why not change things up?  The viewers are not stupid, so why treat them that way?  Creators need to think better of their audiences and give them shows that provoke the imagination and challenge the status quo, not lull them to sleep or incite undue laughter.  It is clear that they knew they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed, and it is likely that Season 4 will still be heavily watched.  But we at Box Office Revolution are still waiting for someone to use Hallmark resources for a better purpose: to create a show or movie series that is dynamic and truly changes things up.  We sincerely believe this is what God has called some Christians to do, and we wait to promote and support whoever will accept the challenge.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the high-stakes trial against the corrupt Henry Gowen’s coal company brewing in Coal Valley, Elizabeth Thatcher, Jack Thornton, and Abigail Stanton all have other issues of their own to deal with.  Just as she and Jack begin growing closer together, Elizabeth feels a pull from her well-to-do family in Hamilton to come back them.  She soon feels her relationship with Jack become clouded by an old childhood friend.  Jack’s troublesome brother resurfaces and forms an ill-advised connection to Elizabeth’s family.  As Abigail discovers the hard truth about Bill Avery, she also receives word of a family member she never knew she had.  With new and sometimes frightening things on the horizon, the people of Coal Valley must band together and be prepared to face the unexpected.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite increased popularity and an obviously increased budget, Season 2 of When Calls the Heart does not gain any more ground in production quality.  For what it’s worth, it doesn’t lose any ground either.  Camera work is the same, including great angles and video quality.  Sound quality is the same, and unfortunately, so is the vanilla soundtrack.  The introduction of new surroundings—Hamilton—is both a blessing and a curse.  As they progress, series should change and do different things as to not get stuck in a location rut, but Hamilton also brings with it a license for Michael Landon Jr. and company to commit one of their favorite errors—pageantry and over-costuming.  Characters in both Coal Valley and Hamilton are transformed, almost into dolls.  It would be one thing to pose a distinction between rich city characters and frontier characters, but this does not occur.  In other issues, the editing does not improve in Season 2, as it is still equally choppy as Season 1.  In short, Landon Jr. and company once again fall into the typical Hallmark trap: pretty good production with overdone and unrealistic costuming.  This puts a damper on a series with huge potential.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The season begins on a strange note by discarding an otherwise interesting wildcard character and by quickly and easily resolving the coal mine trial without any real suspense or appreciation.  It’s like the writers were just trying to rush to something else, but it’s not clear what they were rushing to.  The Hamilton subplots are intriguing, but it’s hard to feel like there’s any real meaning or purpose behind them.  Season 2’s central plot and subplots not only water down the original Christian message, but they also feel shallow.  For the most part, the original characters remain mostly intact, but the newer characters are not developed as they should be.  Bill Avery perhaps has the most interesting character arc and shows potential for the next season.  However, Season 2 ends on a head-scratching note with a slightly forced cliff hanger that only seems to be begging Hallmark for a renewal.  In summary, while there was great potential in a Season 1 follow-up for further character development, Season 2 falls flat and does not meet expectations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite a largely similar cast to Season 1, Season 2’s cast takes the foot off the brakes, so to speak, and seems to not try as hard as before.  Several actors and actresses, including Erin Krakow and most of the Hamilton characters, seem to be overplaying their roles and forcing emotion.  Some actors and actresses remain the same, but the biggest issue here is that no one improves.  This should be the case in a television series.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Within the season, Season 2 is fairly consistent as far as internal subplots.  It is hard to discern its overall arc except for indecision.  However, the relationship between Season 1 and Season 2 is disjointed.  The increased budget popularity seemed to make the writers think that they did not need to preserve the honest originality of Season 1, because they didn’t.  This was a disappointment.

Conclusion

There was much anticipation and expectations following the unprecedented success of When Calls the Heart, Season 1, yet Season 2 failed to meet these.  As a season itself, it was about average, and would have been fine as another pilot season.  But sophomore seasons should build of the successes of the first, eliminate mistakes, and overall improve, not start over at square one.  The writers have given themselves an interesting choice and framework to work within for Season 3, and it will be interesting see how it goes.  This concept has loads of potential in its corner—time will tell how it plays out.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Elizabeth Thatcher always dreamed of helping students in struggling western America towns, but when she arrives in Coal Valley, she realizes that her privileged eastern life has not prepared her for the task at hand.  Recently hit with the tragedy of the local mine collapsing and killing most of the men in town, the survivors, mostly widows, are still reeling and trying to come to grips with their new lives.  Elizabeth is tasked not only with teaching children who just lost their fathers but also with adapting to the new unfamiliar and rugged surroundings that stand in stark contrast to how she grew up.  She finds solace in her friendship with Abigail Stanton, the strongest of the widows, who is determined to bring the mine owner to justice for the death of her husband and son.  Elizabeth’s life is also complicated by her budding relationship with local Canadian Mountie Jack Thornton, who has been sent to investigate the nature of the mine collapse.  Elizabeth, Abigail, and Jack must not only grapple with the challenges in front of them, but must also discover that love is not what you expect at first.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

It’s definitely about time that someone started making good Christian television series.  There’s no better way to start than to adapt from a talented Christian author with established novel series.  As far as production goes, the first season of When Calls the Heart has meager beginnings but a lot of good honest and raw material.  The camera work is professional, including good angles and video quality.  For the most part, in a break with previous habits of Michael Landon Jr. and his crews, the costuming is mostly realistic to the time period and setting.  The setting and surroundings are realistic, even if the sets are somewhat limited.  The musical score is just average.  The editing needs some work, since there are unnecessary rabbit trails, but this is to be expected of these sorts of TV shows.  The main point is that for a pilot season in mostly uncharted territory, season one was mostly a production success.  With a few small things tweaked, it could have been perfect.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Though season one slightly departs from the original plot structure crafted by Janette Oke, it is not a major mistake at this point.  The overall plotline stays mostly faithful to Oke’s original purposes.  Within the overarching plot, there are multiple subplots, as expected from a TV show, some of which are quickly resolved and others of which are intriguing.  Throughout this season, the main characters—Elizabeth, Jack, and Abigail—are fairly well developed through witty and believable dialogue.  The circumstances and events that the characters experience are realistic.  In the end, this section is held back from being, once again, by a host of small issues, such as underdeveloped or stereotypical supporting characters and subplots not reaching their full potential.  Even with this, the plots are very interesting watch and the end of the season makes the viewer want more.  In short, Season 1 ended on a high note and left the door open for greater things to be achieved.

Acting Quality (2 points)

The cast of Season 1 is a mixture of professional and semi-professional.  For the most part, the actors and actresses deliver their lines well and demonstrate believable emotion.  Unfortunately, some of the supporting cast leaves something to be desired and the main cast does not live up to their full potential.  As is the case with the remainder of the season, small issues plague the acting and keep it from being its best.  But despite these small problems, the cast shows great potential for future seasons.

Continuity Quality (3 points)

When it comes to within-season continuity, Season 1 achieves a perfect score.  The driving purpose of the season is to discover the truth behind the mine disaster, and this is not wavered from.  Character arcs are both static and dynamic, a perfect balance.  By the end of the season, it feels like the characters are different than they were at the beginning, without compromising personality traits.  This should be the goal of continuity.  Season 1 sets the standard for continuity quality.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart, Season 1 has almost everything we can ask from a pilot season: above average characters, intriguing plotlines, realistic surroundings, a professional cast, and a driving purpose.  Small alterations to plot and\or character quality would have changed everything for Season 1 and would have made it Hall of Fame, something to truly be proud of.  But even as it is, Season 1 is enjoyable and will forever be a landmark achievement in the history of Christian TV shows and series.  It created anticipation of another season and proved that Christian shows can be quality.

 

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points