Barabbas, Season 1 [2012] (Series Review)

Billy Zane to Portray Barabbas, Murderer Chosen Over Jesus, in ...

Plot Summary

Barabbas led a band of rebels against the occupying Roman government, but his criminal activity led him to have close contact with Jesus at His own trial. Barabbas was set free in exchange for Jesus, but afterward, he was faced with a series of choices. What would he ultimately decide?

Production Quality (2 points)

As a well-funded production, Barabbas has fine video quality and camera work. Its sets, locations, and props demonstrate great historical authenticity. Audio quality is passable despite a generic soundtrack. The biggest issues with this section is the poor editing, which is evidenced by quick cuts and abrupt transitions. Otherwise, this is likely the season’s best element.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Even though this miniseries contains a slightly interesting premise, it’s difficult to connect with the characters as they seem to just be pawns in the plot. Barabbas has some believable aspects to his personality, but all of the characters need a lot more work with more substantial dialogue and flashbacks in order to avoid their being very blank and generic. As usual, Jesus is portrayed in a very odd way, and the narrative is full of pronounced and forceful drama. Action and fighting scenes fill time and circumvent opportunities to establish reasons why the characters do what they do besides what the storyline wants them to do. This wasted time also causes important scenes to be quickly skipped through, which causes off-screen content to be referenced rather than shown. Some scenes go by really fast for the sake of hitting certain high points while others contain some oddly suggestive content that seems very out of place. Although there are too many characters as too many things are trying to be done at once and while the main character’s motivations don’t make much sense, the ending is actually unique. However, it takes forever to get there and lacks the proper build-up, which rounds out a section with slight potential yet plenty of problems.

Acting Quality (1 point)

In keeping with other offerings from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the acting of Barabbas is only dramatic and theatrical. Many cast members come off as robotic, and most of the actresses seem like they’ve been coached (or even forced) to sound like they’re always out of breath. Much of the makeup work is unusual, and the cast isn’t always culturally authentic. Elsewhere, the injury acting is quite poor. Nonetheless, despite these obvious concerns, there are some positive moments of acting, and it tends to improve with time.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Throughout this fairly short miniseries, it’s hard to keep up with the different timelines. Many things just happen with no warning, lead-up, or explanation. Also, the tone is constantly changing throughout the saga, which hampers continuity. As such, there’s often no real driving focus even though it’s named after a historical character. Nonetheless, much like other elements there is some slight potential in the series’s latter third, which is enough to save this section from a null score.

Conclusion

In the end, there’s unfortunately not much to work with in Barabbas. It had a lot going for it to be a unique take on a biblical narrative, but fell short in nearly every category. It could never decide what it wanted to be and thus isolated all potential audiences. Now, it’s simply been forgotten by much of the Christian realm and only serves as an example of how not to do it.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

Sons of Thunder, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Sons of Thunder | Pure Flix

Plot Summary

Simon, ever since becoming a Christian, doesn’t want to be in his motorcycle gang anymore, but the gang leader won’t let Simon out very easily. Afraid for his girlfriend’s life and uncertain of the future, Simon decides to go on a road trip since he thinks this will keep everyone safe. Along the way, Simon hops from town to town, trying to make enough money to pay his way. In each area, he’s able to magically help someone before he has to return to his pursuit of unknown goals. The question is, will he ever be safe from the grasp of the biker gang?

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For the most part, in keeping with the new ways of a well-funded PureFlix machine, Sons of Thunder sports a respectable production. This is evident in the video quality, camera work, and audio quality, including a pretty good soundtrack. Sets, locations, and props are also above average. Despite some obvious continuity errors and less-than-perfect editing, this production improves as it goes. Thus, this section is easily the strongest point of the series.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

From the get-go, the first season of Sons of Thunder is full of constant narration, which is only combined with cheesy, juvenile dialogue that’s quite obvious and expository in most scenes. Many of the plot’s circumstances come off as unrealistic and trumped up, and many of the situations characters find themselves in seem quite staged and contrived just to move the narrative forward. This makes it difficult to know who the characters actually are and why they do what they do other than the fact that they are pawns in the whims of the storyline, which forces everything to reach certain conclusions, no matter how unnatural the premises may be. Some characters have extreme swings in their behaviors without legitimate explanations or catalysts, all just to make specific instances transpire. Besides these obvious problems, the fact that the protagonist can just stumble from town to town without any clear direction or objective and always find some kind of sticky situation to patch up with his wisdom before quickly leaving without good explanation is pretty ridiculous. Why would so many people trust him and benefit from him right in a row, and how would one person benefit from so many coincidences? Elsewhere, the villains and ‘bad’ characters are beyond cheesy strawmen, and basically all of the action sequences are unrealistic. However, surprisingly, not all is bad in this section since there is a consistent presence of partially effective flashbacks that build some semblance of a backstory for the main character. Further, there are some interesting themes explored in a few of the episodes, such as desperate people doing illegal things for desperate reasons, but any good is easily wiped out by the cringe-worthy climax that leaves the viewers with a painfully obvious attempt to create a second season of this madness. Therefore, only half a point can be awarded here.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Moreover, despite obvious plot problems, the acting of this series actually isn’t half-bad. Though there are moments of unsure delivery and while some performances could be better, this section is at least above-average. Dramatic scenes are a bit overacted at times, and the villain cast members were presumably coached to be absurd. Nonetheless, this aspect of the season shows improvement with time, which is enough to warrant this score.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Sons of Thunder follows a typical recurring drama model that hearkens back to The Lone Ranger where every episode has different characters save for the main ones. As such, the protagonist hops from situation to situation, easily resolving problems within the given episode time frames. In this pursuit, episode conclusions aren’t backed up by logical progression and are rushed for the sake of time. Every episode ending is essentially the same, and while the flashbacks tend to interrupt this mold, it’s not quite enough. Another predictable aspect of this series is its use of the premiere and finale episodes to explore the bigger subplot outside of the smaller episodic ones, and though not all is bad, it’s just not quite there.

Conclusion

Despite itself, this series is actually best PureFlix Original series to date, which is really saying much considering the other options (see The Encounter, Hitting the Breaks, Malibu Dan the Family Man, and Hilton Head Island). Sons of Thunder has moments of potential and is definitely well-funded, but it just commits too many avoidable errors, mostly pertaining to poor writing. However, this isn’t anything new when it comes to PureFlix, so, at this point, we unfortunately don’t expect anything less from them.

Final Rating: 6 out of 14 points

The Dream Motel, Season 1 (Series Review)

Watch The Dream Motel | Prime Video

Plot Summary

Jesse and Matteo are angels who have been assigned to do various tasks on earth, one of which is to fix up an old motel in rural Georgia so that they can win the spiritual war of owning buildings around the world. If the angels can own enough buildings, they can apparently lead more people to salvation, but if the demons in disguise keep taking over God’s properties, they’ll somehow be able to bring more darkness to the earth. Can Jesse and Matteo stop them one motel guest at a time?

Production Quality (1 point)

Although the video quality and camera work are mostly fine in The Dream Motel, save for a few shaky action shots, there aren’t many other positives to point out here. Audio quality is too inconsistent, including annoying background sounds, and there’s basically no soundtrack at all. Also, outdoor lighting is fairly poor, and the sets, locations, and props are often cheap to the point of not even representing what they’re supposed to represent. Further, there’s no real editing or transitions throughout the season, and there some awkward fadeout moments. To top things off, there are bad special effects throughout, which rounds out a mediocre effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Besides the fact that The Dream Motel is a boring stock plot based on robotic dialogue and wooden characters, the world constructed in the premier and finale episodes makes no sense at all for a number of reasons. For one, it’s unclear from Scripture whether or not angels have emotions or free will to wrestle with various philosophical issues like these characters do. For another, why would God need magical locations around the world to do His bidding, and how could demons steal them without His allowance? How are atheism and secularism powerful enough to halt Christ’s will? Why would demons even have an interest in stealing magic buildings rather than actual people? These premise problems aside, the villain is stupidly obvious, some of the characters seem unnecessarily outraged at logical things, the narrative incorrectly portrays realistic circumstances involving HIPAA protection, and it’s downright creepy to have smiling angels tell humans private things about the people. It feels like this storyline exists outside of reality even though scenes drag on as lines are painfully dragged out of the characters, who talk in circles to fill the runtime, and although boring activities of daily living, expository dialogue, and off-screen content make The Dream Motel seem like most poorly crafted Christian entertainment. With basically no personality or motive for the characters and far too many coincidences to hold up the plot, this series is just a collection of disasters.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Having very stilted and overly practiced acting is almost a given when it comes to Rossetti Productions, and The Dream Motel doesn’t disappoint. Using the patented Rossetti style of basically reading lines for a church play, the cast members exhibit forced wooden emotions that make the viewers think that the actors and actresses don’t actually care about what they’re doing. Some cast members seem unnatural or even uncomfortable in their roles, and a portion of the theatrical annunciation is off-kilter. Many scenes feel like one-takes as some actors and actresses appear to forget their lines in some instances and awkwardly grasp for something to share that can fill the blank silence. Essentially, there’s nothing positive to note in this section.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

Following a predictably typical series model, The Dream Motel offers premier and finale episodes that depart from the norm while all the between episodes are standard recurring dramas that introduce characters only to discard them before the credits roll. Concepts explored in the pilot aren’t returned to until the last episode, which concludes with a cheesy cliffhanger ending. While this section isn’t all bad due to some recurring subplots among the main characters, it’s still a run-of-the-mill offering with missed opportunities for continuity.

Conclusion

There are just so many things wrong with The Dream Motel from the get-go. Basically a redux of The Encounter, only with angels, this Rossetti series is based on illogical and questionable concepts yet still commits errors beyond this. Even the best ideas can be easily derailed by poor storytelling, low production quality, and abysmal acting. With so much experience under their belt and a trailed of wasted opportunities, it’s hard to know where the Rossetti Productions team is headed at this point, but this series is definitely not worth your time.

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

The Power Couple, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Image result for the power couple penavega

Plot Summary

Gabby and Vince Powers are both superheroes with the same goal of saving the people around them from certain evil. However, they can’t seem to keep their marriage out of trouble. Thus, in order to be ready for their toughest assignment, the couple decides to attend marriage counseling, but it only seems to make things worse. Will they be able to settle their differences before it’s too late?!?

Production Quality (1 point)

Although not all of the production qualities of The Power Couple are bad, such as okay video and audio, there are also quite a few other concerns to note. For instance, cheap special effects are used throughout the series, and camera work is inconsistent, including some unnecessarily tight shots. Similarly, the sets, locations, and props are fairly limited, and the soundtrack and its accompanying sound effects are beyond cheesy. It also goes without saying that many scenes seem like there aren’t enough people in the shot to adequately support the number of individuals the scene is supposed to represent. Further, the editing leaves much to be desired, which, along with the other problems, overall contributes to an underwhelming performance in this category.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Despite The Power Couple‘s childish premise, the dialogue is surprisingly not all bad as this story attempts to do something different and tries to present real issues. However, it’s simply not enough as the superficial nature of the narrative overtakes any small amount of potential there might have been. This is evidenced by too many very poor attempts to be funny and lots of surface conversations that prevent us from properly understanding who the characters are. Additionally, many biblical and possibly substantial concepts are awkwardly shoehorned into the plot; these ideas are improperly used to magically fix the characters’ problems in illogical and unrealistic ways. Then, before the viewer is prepared, the storyline abruptly ends and expects the audience to beg for another season. In short, though there was a very slight amount of potential in this idea, it wasn’t enough to rescue the narrative from triviality and lazy writing.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For the most part, the acting in The Power Couple is pedestrian and sometimes a bit worse. Emotions are usually forced in unrealistic ways even though line delivery is mostly fine. Some cast members are better than others, but all of the costuming is horrible. One positive note is that it’s good to see a husband and wife (Carlos and Alexa PenaVega) star alongside each other, but this section is overall a disappointment.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

While this series has a basic amount of continuity, as evidenced by continuations between episodes and consistent subplots being focused on, it’s still not as good as it could be. For one, each episode is extremely short, which raises the question of this even needing to be a series at all. Further, all character and story arcs are basically predictable and expected with no real twists and turns. Therefore, this rounds out a very underwhelming effort.

Conclusion

It’s very unclear how and why The Power Couple was made, but it’s unfortunately a squandered idea that could have been better in different hands. For one, this type of concept requires higher amounts of funding and a lot of writing collaboration to ensure cheesiness is avoided. In the end, it seems like whatever was spent on this series would have been better used in a different way, such as being saved for higher quality productions.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

The Chosen, Season 1.2 (Series Review)

Image result for the chosen season 1 jesus
The Critically Acclaimed Hit Series Completes Its First Season

Plot Summary

After Jesus chose a majority of His followers, He began to slowly but surely reveal His nature to the world through public miracles and teachings. Though He mostly ministered in obscurity, His work drew the attention of multiple different spheres of influence: common people, powerful politicians, and power-hungry religious leaders. However, Christ never discriminated in who He chose to follow Him as He broke down social and cultural barriers in order to proclaim His love for all humanity.

Production Quality (2.5 points)
Much like the first half of Season 1, this season’s second half boasts a very high-quality production that both lives within its means and makes the most of what it has. Though camera work can be a bit shaky at times, much like the former half, there are virtually no other production flaws to note here. Video quality and audio quality are both flawless as the camera captures poignant scenes that feel like real life. Sets, locations, and props are incredibly authentic and demonstrate extreme care for historical accuracy and attention to detail. Perhaps the most impactful element of the production is the exquisite soundtrack that is creatively and artistically placed to enhance key moments and to draw the audience into the story’s emotional experiences. Further, editing is seamless and presents a well-crafted plot in a professional manner. In the end, Dallas Jenkins and his very talented creative team have once again showcased their God-given talents in a very responsible manner that has revolutionized Christian entertainment at a time when it was desperately needed.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)
However, there’s still more to say. It’s undeniable that the extreme humanity of The Chosen’s characters are what make the series more than a run-of-the-mill Bible drama. Tyler Thompson and the other writers clearly went great lengths, as prompted by the Holy Spirit, to not only ensure the accurate cultural profiles of the characters but to also make them very flawed and relatable to all audiences, which is something other Biblical productions have been allergic to. The Chosen doesn’t just show the viewers a collection of well-known miracles and stories: the lead-up and fallout of each important event is carefully crafted and woven together with other intriguing subplots. All of this is good enough without even mentioning the way some scenes are presented in artistic manners that are nearly flawless in their presentation. Dialogue and conversations between characters are very deep, meaningful, and even philosophical at times, which is something we rarely see in Christian entertainment. Basically, there are more positive qualities in this section than can be named, which has warranted a separate discussion on how the subplots interlock and interact. In the end, The Chosen creative team has transformed the development of series and characters in Christian entertainment, and there’s no going back from here.

Acting Quality (3 points)
With virtually the same cast from episodes one through four plus others who add more life than there already was, the acting of episodes five through eight does not waver from its previously perfect score. In fact, many of the cast members build off of their roles and become even more comfortable in their characters. Emotions are right on target such that they can be felt by the viewers, and line delivery is basically perfect. This cast is so heavily talented that it’s posing a good problem for Box Office Revolution’s upcoming Actor and Actress of the Year Awards, which is a type of dilemma we have unfortunately never been faced with in our reviewing experience.

Continuity Quality (3 points)
Continuity is where many Christian series completely drop the proverbial ball because the episode are often disconnected and self-contained. However, every episode of The Chosen that has been released so far are somehow able to be both self-consistent as well as connected to the bigger picture, which is an important component of a great series. One way the continuity is best demonstrated in through the use of flashbacks to cover both previously overlooked New Testament stories along with relevant Old Testament accounts, and this latter inclusion is one of the added bonuses of episodes five through eight. Finally, the ending of each episode is epic and demonstrates how much this creative knows what they’re doing and how much they have relied on God to get this project right.

Conclusion

The second half of The Chosen’s first season also receives two x-factor points for presenting the greatest stories of history in the ways they should have been portrayed all along as well as for being re-watchable and binge-able. There’s hardly anything we would want changed about The Chosen at this point except for an even bigger budget to do better things with since Jenkins and the rest have demonstrated an ability to responsibly steward the resources God’s given them. As a side note, we receive no compensation or reward for our reviews and advertising of this series, but we wholeheartedly support its full release and strongly encourage you to both watch Season 1 during this year’s holidays and to share it with as many people as you can. This is first time a season of a Christian series has been critically acclaimed and placed on the Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame. We believe The Chosen has a rare, God-given opportunity to change not only the Christian entertainment world but also Christian culture as a whole because it’s a fresh, high-quality look at well-known stories that are timelessly relevant for all people.

Final Rating: 13.5 out of 14 points

When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

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It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

Home-Schooled, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

In just one moment, Sarah’s life is completely transformed and turned upside down. When she receives word that she has become the guardian of five of her youngest relatives–homeschooled kids in the Midwest–she has no idea how she will balance her big city life with her new, unexpected responsibilities. How will she manage this new lifestyle that has been chosen for her beyond her control?

Production Quality (.5 points)
Words cannot express how horrible this production is by 2019 standards. The only remotely positive element is the fine video quality, but otherwise, it’s a total wash. Even a $20,000 budget is no excuse for wildly shaky camera work, weird camera angles, and perspective that never stops moving around unless the cameraman sets the camera down in the most inconvenient locations, like behind a running sink. It goes without saying that the series intro sequence screams Windows Movie Maker. When it comes to sets, locations, and props, things are limited to the inside of a large, echo-filled house and blinding outdoor locations filled with incessant leaf-crunching. There are also plenty of loud background sounds, both inside and outside, and they aren’t mitigated by the extremely invasive soundtrack that’s meant to “balance” things out. Finally, the editing is as choppy as possible, including lagging scenes and abruptly cut-off sequences. Essentially, this is an awful experience.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
What exactly is the purpose of this so-called plot? First of all, there’s hardly any content to speak of, but whatever amount is there is dominated by typical family member squabble storylines and the most cringeworthy dialogue possible. This creates robotic, programmed characters that easily fall into homeschooled stereotypes. All this alleged story really has to show for itself is a bunch of awkward people hanging around a large house none of them can pay for and engaging in a lot of childish coincidences, forced drama, convenient situations, and infantile conversations. Further, the screenwriters completely bungled their portrayal of the child custody process (lawyers NEVER make home visits to check on custody situations), which makes us wonder if they did any research at all on how this transpires in real life. In the end, this “plot” has nothing good going for it.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For one thing, the cast of Home-Schooled is quite small, so errors are more easily seen. For another, the cast members are not coached very well at all, and many of them are intended to play characters who are younger than they actually are, which makes things very odd. Besides this, the acting is just generally awkward and forcibly dramatic. Line delivery is very stilted, and emotions are quite wooden. There are also some bouts of annoying yelling and screaming. In the end, there’s nothing good to highlight here.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
With such short episodes (many of them are ten minutes or less), it’s extremely difficult to justify even making Home-Schooled into a series. If you must make it at all, why not just make it a regular movie? This aside, there are no prevalent themes or overarching storylines that are even able to create continuity between the episodes. With such short runtimes, there’s really nothing to write home about in this section. The only other thing to add here is to ask the creators to not make anymore seasons without some serious changes being made.

Conclusion

The rule of thumb in Christian entertainment is this: if the story and budget aren’t there, can the project or at least put it on hold until you’re sure Jesus wants you to make it. Putting out low-quality projects isn’t being a good steward of what you feel like He wants you to do. Instead of rushing forward and clamoring to make something just for the sake of making a Christian series, wait and see what He really wants you to create because He’ll provide the budget if it’s for real. Moving forward with half-measures (or less than half-measures) is always going to be a problem.

Final Rating: .5 out of 14 points

Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

The Chosen, Season 1.1 (Series Review)

Image result for the chosen christian series

Plot Summary

When Jesus first began His earthly ministry, He had already chosen those He would minister to and use to transform the world around them. They came from all walks of life: lower class fishermen, upper class religious leaders, well-to-do tax collectors, and lowly street prostitutes. Regardless of background or belief, Christ determined to use regular people to carry out His work…however, it couldn’t happen until they had life-altering experiences with Him.

Production Quality (2.5 points)
The highest independently crowdfunded effort in entertainment history has certainly paid off. There’s no question that a lot of hard work was put into making this first season, and it shows in nearly every aspect of it. Though the perspective camera work is a bit rough at first, it definitely gets better and isn’t noticeable at all in later episodes. Similarly, the lighting is realistically dark in many scenes, which was hard to perfect at first, but again, it greatly improves as it goes on. Other than the poorly animated opening sequence that has a great idea behind it, there are no other problems to point out in this nearly flawless production. The sets, locations, and props feel very realistic and authentic as the series creators demonstrate a clear commitment to looking at the characters in accurate cultural contexts. Video quality is crisp throughout, and audio quality is seamless, including a very engaging and creative soundtrack that reflects historical themes. As a whole, this production is a reflection of how this series is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the industry, and thankfully, the positive qualities didn’t stop with just this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (3 points)
It would’ve been very easy to spend all the time on making the production worthwhile after all the money and time that was invested in it, but Dallas Jenkins and company refused to settle, yet the storyline is a major reason why this series will transform Christian culture and even reach outside the church. The reason why it’s so transformative is because it demonstrates a profound understanding of the real people who encountered Jesus and portrays them in very accessible, down-to-earth ways. These Bible characters are no longer “heroes of the faith”–they are imperfect people with backstories, motives, flashbacks, and personality tendencies just like us. Not only do they feel like everyday people, but the writers also wisely chose to focus on them in their cultural contexts as a heavy emphasis on Jewish tradition is subtly explored. The use of flashbacks to build character motive and backstory is also highly effective in helping us understand where they’re coming from and why they do what they do; this is often a missing ingredient in most depictions of Bible characters. Besides the characters being so well-developed, their subplots are interwoven very well as their stories realistically cross back and forth and creatively weave together to prepare for the next steps. Further, the psychological themes and artistic concepts of the series are presented in very natural ways without forcing too much on the audience while still being creative. In the end, there are many more positive aspects to highlight about this season (more than can be listed here), which is a very surprising feat in Christian entertainment. There’s no doubt that this is the best Christian series season to date, and it’s the first one to be inaugurated into the Hall of Fame.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)
The casting and acting of The Chosen show a commitment to cultural authenticity in more ways than one…where a fully cultural cast member couldn’t be used, correct accents were taught and coached, which adopted a model similar to the one used in Nativity Story. No matter what, dedication to effective coaching is evident as the cast members showcase subtle talent in their line delivery and emotional portrayals. While there are some minor costuming issues, it’s nothing much to write home about, and we can’t wait see how these recurring cast members will continue to shine in future seasons.

Continuity Quality (3 points)
Never before have we seen a Christian series (other than some parts of A.D.) that actually tries hard to interweave its subplots in ways that make them cross at appropriate times and keep the audience engaged in what may happen next. These are actually storylines you want to follow as the character arcs bend at realistic times and flow dynamically into each other. While it can be difficult to interest a Christian audience with familiar Biblical accounts, The Chosen sets up great backstories for well-known stories and provides great reasons for why things happen the way they do. In the end, there’s no question that this is the best Christian season to date.

Conclusion

Hence, The Chosen, Season 1 wins two x-factor points for re-watchability and for presenting important content in very audience-friendly ways. Dallas Jenkins and his team have established themselves as the future of Christian small screen entertainment, so your support of VidAngel is greatly appreciated (go to the link to watch the first season)! The more we support Christian entertainment that’s actually worthwhile and worthy of promoting to the people we know, the more likely it is we will see a real change in both the field and the culture as a whole. If you’ve already supported this first season, make sure to tell a friend that it’s well worth their time and money. We expect great things from this crew in the coming days.

Final Rating: 13 out of 14 points

Daily Bread [2017] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

When a solar flare passes through the earth’s atmosphere, all electricity and electronic devices cease to work, which throws the entire planet into chaos. The cast and crew of a famous cooking show are stranded in a mansion in the middle of nowhere, a group of isolated preppers, and a homeschool colony are all forced to cross paths in unlikely ways as they fight for survival with guns and MRE’s. In the end, who will survive the deadly new world that’s been created since the power went off?

Production Quality (1 point)

On the bright side of this season, a lot of good time and money was spent on the video quality and drone shots in the episodes. Thus, for the most part, camera work is acceptable. The same can be said for the sets, locations, and props, even if some of them are overused (liked num-chucks). One of the most glaring issues to point out in this production relates to audio quality, as there are a lot of loud background sounds in outdoor scenes and echoes in indoor scenes. The audio as a whole is very uneven as many scenes are full of clattering noises and as the soundtrack is all over the map since many songs are not situation-appropriate and since the music often overpowers spoken dialogue. It goes without saying that the introductory sequence is arguably better than the rest of the series, mostly due to the fact that the editing throughout the season is horrific with many cut-off scenes and many choppy transitions that throw scenes at the audience one after the other with little organization. As a whole, unfortunately, while there could have been something here, it just didn’t pan out.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Needless to say, it gets worse too. The most glaring issue with the plot is obviously the 48340982 characters that have to be kept up with due to the sheer number of subplots that this season forces upon the viewer. For the first half of the season, every episode is constantly introducing new characters to the point of embarrassment. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the sheer number of subplots throughout the course of this season, and this causes many subplots and storylines to become ‘extra’ and easily discard-able. Even if these subplots were the best in the world, it’s very difficult to understand the actual point of people randomly wandering around and acquiring guns and possessions in violent ways immediately after the power grid collapses. What are the characters defending themselves from? How are we supposed to know who they are as people? What does any of it have to do with a cooking show? Any hope or time there was for real content was frivolously used on trivial scenes and utterly purposeless asides. Narration randomly pops up throughout the course of the season, and flashbacks are used inconsistently where they should have been a focal point. A more consistent use of them would have been one of the only ways to fix this mess, along with eliminating nearly half of the characters and coming up with a real central focus other than prepping for an unknown and unseen apocalypse. What’s going on in the world outside of these characters? What is the government’s response? These are all unanswered questions that would be pertinent in this genre rather than sequences of forced drama, conversations depicting off-screen content that seems way more interesting than the actual season, cooking montages, and literal recitations of the Constitution and other forced Christian content. Basically, it’s better luck next time with trying a different genre.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Due to the high number of characters, this obviously leads to the assembling of a giant cast. One would think this would mask the minor weaknesses of some cast members, but that’s not the case as there are many acting errors, including overly practiced line delivery and stiff emotions. Some line delivery is half-hearted, unsure, and slightly mistaken at times, and many scenes depict cast members awkwardly standing around talking to each other like they’re not really filming a scene because it seems impromptu. Besides this portion of acting, the costuming is extremely random, and the hair and makeup do not jive with the notion that these people have been trying to survive an apocalypse away from civilization for days. Basically, this is just another mistake-prone aspect of this season.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

As previously mentioned, there are many, many storylines to contend with here, but despite this, there is actually some continuity between the episodes. However, the story and character arcs aren’t any good since there are no substantial instances of character growth or dynamic storytelling. There are, of course, the usual instances of romantic subplots and villain plans, but other than that, there’s not much continuity to mention here.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt in the world that Christian entertainment is starved for new genres and new concepts, and we have to commend this creative team for sticking their necks out there to try something unique, but this isn’t the way to do it. Regardless of genre, characters have to always be deep because audiences want to connect with real, accessible people. Science fiction stories can be difficult to write and even more difficult to produce professionally, which is why proper planning and truly creative writing are essential. The budget may not be there, but if the storyline is dynamic, it shows that the creator is ready for bigger and better things. If you’re faithful with the little God’s provided you, He will give you the bigger budget down the road.

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points


The Prayer Box (Series Review)

The Prayer Box, DVD -

Plot Summary

Welsey wants to do the right thing even as his sister lays in a hospital bed struggling in her battle with cancer.  Wesley faithfully attends church, even though his mother has forsaken the faith for now, and he fervently prays at the altar every week.  However, he is hurt when he sees that his pastor is throwing away the prayer requests people put in the prayer box at the altar.  Thus, Wesley launches a plan to redeem the prayer box and convince God with his deeds that his sister deserves to survive the battle with cancer.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

It’s clear that although the budget for this miniseries was somewhat limited, Kevan Otto used his funds responsibly and maximized the potential from them.  This is evidenced by clear video quality, good camera work, and professional audio quality.  The soundtrack is somewhat generic, but it gets better as the series progresses.  The sets, locations, and props are well-constructed and well-utilized as they appear to be realistic for the situations.  The main drawback here is the slight need for refined editing in order to avoid including as much B-roll footage for filler scenes as it did.  However, this is a very good production, which signals that Kevan Otto has finally turned over a new leaf in his career.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The Prayer Box is a testament that even Kevan Otto can create good entertainment when he has a good team and when he actually uses employs a talented screenwriter.  Using an actual screenwriter in a series rather than having the director double as the screenwriter is rare, but it great assists in the proper development of story and characters.  This definitely an advantage to this miniseries as a majority of the dialogue is well-crafted and serves to develop character personalities and character motivations without having them fall into stereotypes or pre-determined molds.  Also, the conversations among the characters drive the plot forward rather than having them tossed along by random circumstances.  The premise of the story is also realistic and believable, including the portrayal of churches.  There is also quite a bit accomplished in the story without narration, and the Christian messaging is very poignant and on point.  However, there are a few drawbacks to this plot, including some slightly boring elements in the first episode and some scenes that feel like they’re just kicking the can down the road instead of developing the characters deeper like a series should be able to due to having more time to do so.  One example of this is one too many off-screen characters that are only talked about rather than seen, but this could be due to budget constraints.  There are also other opportunities for content enhancement, and while the ending is effective, it’s somewhat vague, but it definitely does its job.  As a whole, this is easily the best Christian series to date and a great opportunity for Kevan Otto to start afresh in his entertainment ambitions.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

The acting of The Prayer Box is definitely one of its strongest points.  This includes surprisingly good child and teenager acting and arguably the best performances to date from Carey Scott and Reginald VelJohnson.  The only drawbacks here are some slightly overdone makeup from some cast members and some slightly under-performed scenes, but it’s nothing too major.

Continuity Quality (2 points)

One big question with The Prayer Box is whether or not it really needed to be a series since it only has two total hours of runtime.  While it’s great to create a miniseries out of a book to release it directly to PureFlix on Demand rather than making a half-baked direct-to-DVD film no one will ever see since this is something we absolutely need to see more of, it’s hard to see why a two-hour series was needed.  If the funding allowed, more runtime would have been good to further develop the characters if at all possible.  However, despite these minor nitpicks, the flow of this series is mostly good except for a few abrupt episode endings.  As a whole, it’s refreshing to see a series, albeit a short one, that is committed to above average continuity and flow between episodes.

Conclusion

Even though The Prayer Box is a very basic and generic storyline, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done when streaming series employ true screenwriters to create content.  Trisha Mammen definitely has a lot of talent as a screenwriter, and Kevan Otto has definitely found a new stride in his career that needs to continue; it’s highly possible that this film could have made the Hall of Fame as a film.  Though we’ve criticized Otto in the past for his poorly created films like A Question of FaithGrace of GodIn the Name of GodOnline, Lukewarm, Decision, and WWJD 1 and 2, after The Prayer Box, it’s possible that his future entertainment ventures could be transformed with a second wind of much better source material and more well-funded productions.  It just goes to show that anyone can make a turnaround with better resources and that we are always willing to recognize improvement and success – no matter who it comes from.

Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points

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

 

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

 

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 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 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