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

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The Chosen, Season 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

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

 

Noah’s Ark [1999] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (-1.5 points)

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

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

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

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

The Ten Commandments [2006] (Series Review)

Another crazy young, white, British Moses

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

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

Acting Quality (0 points)

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

Continuity Quality (1 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason

Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

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

 

Production Quality (2 points)

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

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

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

Acting Quality (1 point)

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

Continuity Quality (0 points)

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

Conclusion

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

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

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