“The Chosen One” is a streaming hit ( News New York )

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas — In the biblical account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus uses two fishes and five loaves to feed a large crowd. The little food is supernaturally multiplied to the five thousand people who came to hear him speak by the Sea of ​​Galilee.

Re-enacting that scene might seem like a typical television miracle: 9,000 extras gathered over a three-day course at a Salvation Army camp south of Dallas this summer. The actors were not paid, but the television studios did. Many of them had gone to stand in the heat of the country in Texas, with a prize of $1,000 for each show being donated.

“The Chosen One,” the inexplicable hit television series, went down as the first multi-season show about the life of Jesus — and one of the greatest mass media ever produced. The show will start its third season online in mid-December.

Conceived by a little-known creator, producing no major stars and primarily funding, at first, through small contributions without a Hollywood studio, the series began in an obscure proprietary app and is now given away for free. Its IP is 2,000 years old. However, despite the odds, the faith-based drama series has become a bona fide phenomenon in many parts of Christian culture, attracting a fervent ecumenical fandom while remaining largely invisible to others.

Globally, 108 million people have watched at least one part of one of the “choice” events, according to an analysis prepared for the nod of its producer Sandy Padula, an independent consultant. The show is now also available on streaming platforms including Peacock, Amazon Prime Video, and, as of this week, Netflix. The creators recently announced that the third season of the show will also be available on the new “Selected” app.

The first two episodes of the show’s third season premiered in theaters on November 18, and brought in more than $8 million, ranking third at the weekend box office behind mainstream films that played in more theaters. A limited theatrical release during last year’s Christmas special extended weeks beyond its intended run and amassed $13.5 million in ticket sales — a fraction of the box office for Hollywood films, but a record for Fathom Events, a major distributor that specializes. in special events and short-run screenings.

The show first appeared in 2019, but it wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic that it found its audience. The first two seasons are eight stories each.

When Felicia Maize’s large evangelical church in the suburbs of Dallas was temporarily closed in March 2020, friends reached out to her and her family to encourage them to attend.

“This is where Jesus blinks his eyes,” Mrs. Maize recalled telling one of her friends. He was not rigid and removed from the old picture; he was like a best friend, he said. They were hooked for a few episodes. The show spread among his family members by word of mouth, and “everyone supported it,” he said. “We binged on Jesus.”

Mrs. Maize had come to Texas with her husband and two sons, who were standing in the baking afternoon sun waiting to be called to the cameras. “We are not warm!” he said hilariously about the apocalypse’s warning against lukewarm faith, and a description of the passion of fandom.

Part of the camp was an Instagram-friendly playground, where they remembered having the time of their lives with cutouts of members of the cast and picking up a large gift shop. Other regions were converted to Galilee in the first century, including the depiction of the coastal city of Capernaum, where the Gospels describe Jesus attending synagogue and healing people.

The series is based on the four Gospels, which follow Jesus from his birth in a stable to his resurrection by the Roman Empire. But the creator and director of the show, Dallas Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, took up new stories and developed personalities in the people surrounding his main character.

The “chosen” Jesus is serene, charismatic and intimate – like an errant pirate. In the world of the “chosen” Mary Magdalene is a drunkard and a victim of sexual assault. Matthew, a publican student, is on the autism spectrum, and Little James, a student, has expressed the physical disability of limping. (The actor who plays James Little, Jordan Walker Ross, has scoliosis and mild cerebral palsy).

Mr. Jenkins’ method of expanding the characters around Jesus means that there is enough material to fill out the seven seasons planned, and enough new story lines to warrant the dreaded “spoilers” in one of the most famous narratives in human history. The show involves relationships, suspense, political machinations and emotional moments.

Ryan Swanson and Tyler Thompson, who write with Mr. Jenkins, have written credits including “Game of Thrones,” “Wira,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek” — the latter of which is about “the leader and 12 other Mr. Swanson he said.

The fact that the “choice” affects the prestige of secular quality TV is related to its appeal to an audience that has increasingly given up on entertainment products that are often inferior imitations of mainstream hits. Many fans say that the good production of the show draws them in. “It’s a lot less cheesy than what I’m used to seeing,” said Lucas Burgis, a Catholic writer who wrote an essay titled “Why We Love Chosen” just last year for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. He generally avoids Christian media, but the show is “like in I’ll find Netflix.”

Neal Harmon, co-creator of Angel Studios, distributor of the previous two seasons, says the show was his first breakout hit: “What House of Cards” was for Netflix, “Selected for Angel Studios,” he said. . (As a marketing team, Mr. Harmon and his brother Jeff are behind viral advertising campaigns for products like the Squatty Potty and Poo-Pourri).

Accounts abound of unbelieving viewers unexpectedly ending up in tears as they watch scenes like the one in the first episode, in which Jesus approaches the devastated Mary Magdalene, whom he never found. “Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you,” he tells her, looking into her eyes. He continues: “I have called you by name,” he says. “You are mine.” The music flies.

The show also ended on a cliffhanger, with biblical characters using words like “not too dirty” and “I’ll be persistent.” But what stands out are the countless moments in which Jesus interrupts what he is doing as a witness and mentions his struggle, even if he does not sign the matter. “I see you,” he tells the wife of one of the students. “I know it’s not easy at home when your husband is doing all this.”

The title “The Chosen One” can be interpreted as referring to Jesus himself, his disciples, or even to any of his disciples, including those who watch television about him in 2022.

“Jesus is a personal God,” Mr. Jenkins said. Mr. Jenkins grew up with an intimate view of what seemed like a piece of Christian culture blowing into the mainstream: He is the son of Jerry B. Jenkins, who co-wrote the best-selling “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic Christian thrillers.

Mr. Jenkins relies on the board of one evangelical Christian, one Catholic scholar and one Messianic rabbi to consult on the scriptures. But controversies sometimes flare up. For the second time, Mr. Jenkins addressed the accusations of blasphemy about the questions in which the image of Mary Magdalene “turning away” from sin was preserved.

The appeal of the show to many viewers is significant not State.

“You can’t infuse American politics with first-century Judaism,” said Erin Moon, an evangelical podcaster in Birmingham, Ala., who recommended the show to listeners. It’s something very pure, or focused, that you don’t see much in American churches these days.

“I just preach the Gospel” is a cliché among some Christians who are tired of fighting cultural and political battles in spiritual spaces, Ms. Moon but in his opinion “the chosen one” pulls it down.

“The Chosen One” is “my literal favorite TV show,” he said. “It’s something I can evangelize.”

Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in the show, played the same role in three short films directed by Lord Jenkins. Like most of the actors in the show, he also looks like he could have been born in the Middle East: his father is Egyptian.

Some viewers, it is not difficult to blow Mr. Roumie with the role of the son of God.

But the spiritual leader himself in some way assumed the role of actor. It has a partnership with Sanction, a Catholic meditation and prayer app that has also worked for celebrities like Mark Wahlberg and Brett Favre. In fact, in the production of Sanctification, she collaborated with Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ”, directed by Mel Gibson. (The two men had never met in person, Mr. Roumie said, joking that “the world might implode.”

In the first months of the pandemic, Mr. Roumie introduced a daily session on Instagram, praying the Divine Mercy Chapel and the Rosary for thousands of people. Tuning into the prayers “became part of my routine,” said Anusha Jebanasam, director of the Facebook fan page for Lord Roumie.

Mr. Jenkins, the other face of the show, introduces the episode online and often interacts with fans; is often known in public. The fact that the show is crowd-based means that many viewers feel invested in its success and see themselves as part of a community. When Mr. Jenkins announced on social media about the upcoming event, “he will answer people in the comments,” “I can’t do it, I’m going to be in Bible studies..'”

In June, Ms. Jebanasa traveled from his home in Sydney, Australia, to serve outside in Texas

“All these 5,000 people here are new friends,” said Lori Mejaly, a Catholic from Detroit, who was sitting at a table next to George Pechulis, a Baptist from Wyoming whom she had recently met. “We are all under one God.”

To prepare for the taping, Mr. Pechulis trimmed his beard a few months later, and Ms. Mejaly did a Google search for “first century clothing”. She styled it in Birkenstock sandals, a gold coat and a shiny head scarf.

Ben and Crystal Woods, who had traveled from Indiana, said he “chose” the Lybian stone during the most difficult period of his life. Their middle child, Calla, died at the age of 9 in 2019. Then comes the isolation of the pandemic. Grieving at home, and unable to attend church in person, they began to watch the drama with two other boys.

Mrs. Woods often prays while watching the show, imagining for the characters to interact with Jesus and receive his help and attention. He watched the episodes with a small group from the church, with his neighbor and his family.

To prepare for the family’s appearances outside, Mrs. Woods tried her hand at sewing for the first time, sewing a shirt for 7-year-old Lila.

Watching the show was “good for my soul,” he said.

Hours later, on the other side of the camp, Mr. Roumie, the actor who sings Jesus, stood in front of the memorizing crowd in a short sugar coat, waiting for the cameras to start rolling again.

At about 6 p.m., temperatures were still in the 90s. Stacks of store-bought pita bread and dried cod fish from the local Asian surplus were piled high in baskets. Crew members passed out bottles and umbrellas of water. The air felt like warm seafood. But when Mr. Roumie picked up his phone during the break and smiled into the car’s camera, the crowd erupted into cheers.

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