Miracles are rare in the 21st century, but watch pretty much any episode of The Chosen and they are bountiful. But the biggest miracle of all is perhaps the fact that a historical drama centered around Jesus of Nazareth (a warm and welcoming Jonathan Roumie), set in 1st century Galilee as He preaches, gains followers (and enemies) and, on occasion, raises the dead and walks on water, has built a passionate legion of faithful viewers. How did a crowdfunded production become a heavenly international sensation?
The holy cards were stacked against The Chosen from the start. Faith-based television is historically hit-or-miss. The Academy Award-winning 1956 classic The Ten Commandments, which has aired on ABC nearly every Easter season since 1973, regularly reaps solid viewership (3.2 million when it last aired on April 1, 2023). But in terms of scripted TV, for every spiritual success (think Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel), there are just as many failures (anyone remember ABC drama Of Kings and Prophets or the Anne Heche sitcom Save Me?).
The Chosen’s accessibility—it’s been available to stream for free online at thechosen.tv since Season 1—didn’t hurt in making the show a hit, but it also drew in curious audience members with fresh takes on well-known biblical figures that never feel out of touch. Roumie effortlessly shepherds a comforting and gentle strength in his Jesus, whether He’s confidently preaching the Sermon on the Mount to thousands or graciously healing someone in private. And He’s unapologetically human. He laughs hard and pokes fun at His Apostles, shows His frustration with hardheaded religious leaders, joyously dances at a wedding in Cana and even frolics in the Sea of Galilee.
His 12 Apostles—the actual “chosen”—come with relatable baggage, broadening their flat Bible counterparts into colorful characters. Hotheaded fisherman Simon (Shahar Isaac) scrambles to provide for his wife, Eden (Lara Silva). Later, the young couple suffers a miscarriage and Simon blows up at Jesus for not protecting them. Outsider Matthew (Paras Patel)—who has been likened to being on the autism spectrum—is lonely and ostracized from his family. Nervous Andrew (Noah James) struggles with feelings of anxiety.
The show’s female cast also shines a light on women in a time period when they were often overlooked and underutilized. The iconic Mary Magdalene (Elizabeth Tabish) deals with shame from her past, thoughts of suicide and the loss of a parent. She bonds with the honest Tamar (Amber Shana Williams) over the latter. Jesus’ caring mother Mary (Vanessa Benavente) grapples with the idea that her adult Son—the Messiah—no longer needs her.
The Chosen so beautifully weaves its many perspectives together, often creating compelling duos, like awkward Matthew finding a surprising ally in gruffly sympathetic Roman centurion Gaius (Kirk B.R. Woller).
Finally, the show brings dimension to the New Testament’s most famous lines of Scripture, and the messages never come across as preachy. They’re edgy and nuanced, with fun bouts of humor and a deep sincerity and unwavering respect for the source material.
After 24 episodes (27 if you count the three Christmas specials), The Chosen has lifted the hearts of fans, who give thanks both through an overwhelming amount of online praise and the generous crowd-funding donations that continue to raise the drama’s production quality year after year (over $40 million has been collected so far). And given that the Christian megahit has been pitch-perfect since the original 2017 pilot, we have faith that the flourishing show will only continue to collect more and more loyal disciples on its righteous journey. Amen!
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Chosen special issue, available on newsstands and for order online now at TheChosenMag.com
The Chosen, Season 4 Premieres Thursday, February 1, in Theaters