TV Review: ‘The Passion’

The Passion Review Live Musical Jesus
Michael Becker/Fox

Fox deserved considerable credit for invigorating the live-musical form that NBC has championed with its production of “Grease Live,” but the network hit the skids with “The Passion,” a project that seemed to pander on multiple levels. Beyond catering to Christians who often lament a lack of fare aimed at them on mainstream TV – albeit in the most Sunday-school-lite of ways – the rock songs and contemporary setting sought to package scripture for the “American Idol” crowd. Throw in the procession involving an illuminated 20-foot cross, and cursing the darkness felt preferable to watching for a full two hours.

For starters, “The Passion” was only partly live, with portions of the narrative involving Jesus (Jencarlos Canela) and his disciples taped in advance. What remained thus played more like a live concert – and incidentally, an ode to the resilience of New Orleans – than a coherent telling of Jesus’ story.

The producers sought to address those shortcomings – indeed, clearly anticipated them – through Tyler Perry’s ongoing narration, which beyond filling in gaps gave the impression that he was auditioning to run his own mega-church. But while Perry gave the assignment his all, what emerged was at times oddly sterile, such as the images of people in the live audience staring up at screens, watching Canela and others belt out pop tunes.

Charitably, one could call this a noble experiment. The performances were fine, if seldom especially stirring. With a few exceptions, there was a logic to most of the songs, although it will take a more informed biblical scholar than this one to find the connection between Jesus and the theme from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”


The Passion Fox

‘The Passion’: Breaking Down Fox’s Live Music Event

Other flourishes, however, were simply head-scratching, perhaps foremost among them the decision to have entertainment reporter Nischelle Turner conduct man-on-the-street interviews with those accompanying the procession, as if there isn’t enough heft to the Greatest Story Ever Told to flesh out a couple of hours sans commercials. For all the people on hand who were having an emotional experience, there were also some awkward unintended moments, like a woman cheerfully waving as the camera panned the audience while Perry somberly explained the horrors of crucifixion.

The irony is that Jesus’ story has been wedded to contemporary music before, not the least being Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Whatever controversies that rock musical engendered among the faithful – and there were many – its hit-filled score surely would have been an improvement over this “Idol”-ized version of Jesus’ final days, if only to hear Jesus sing “Gethsemane,” or let Judas wail “Blood Money” as opposed to Chris Daughtry’s powerful but somewhat puzzling rendition of “Bring Me to Life.”

Hollywood is often accused of being tone-deaf when it comes to issues of spirituality and religion, and “The Passion” painstakingly sought to be respectful, down to Perry’s disclaimers aimed at non-believers. Admittedly, many of the media types obliged to watch aren’t the target audience for such an endeavor. Divorcing the religion from the content, though, just sitting through this hybrid telecast until the saints went marching out was its own kind of cross to bear.

TV Review: 'The Passion'

(Special; Fox, Sun. March 20, 8 p.m.)


Broadcast from New Orleans and produced by Anders Media and Dick Clark Prods.


Executive producers, Allen Shapiro, Michael Mahan, Mark Bracco, Jacco Doornbos, Adam Anders, David Grifhorst, Robert Deaton; director, Grifhorst; segment director, Deaton; writer, Peter Barsocchini; based on an original format by Doornbos; executive music producer, Anders. 120 MIN.


Host/narrator: Tyler Perry. Performers: Jencarlos Canela, Chris Daughtry, Prince Royce, Seal, Trisha Yearwood, Yolanda Adams, Michael W. Smith  

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  1. Ann says:

    This could have been a touching tribute to a beautiful story. The things that distracted were Tyler Perry laughing as he came back on camera and the too numerous commercial breaks.

    • GeVonna says:

      I thought he was laughing because he was having trouble with the teleprompter and he was trying to play it off.

  2. LIN says:

    This special was refreshing to me. Good job adapting modern pop songs to tell the story of Jesus. I think this would be appealing to young people. The young singers (Jesus and the disciple.s) as well as
    Trish Yearwood and Seal were all terrific.

  3. Beverly says:

    In a society that like their music, TV and movies The Passion was a great way to tell the story of Jesus. Tyler Perry was a great narrator and when he described the crucifixion brought me to tears. He told the story of Jesus and did it beautifully. I personally would have liked to see more christian rock songs used to tell the story and not sure why they weren’t but just glad to see the message of redemption and the price paid for us.

  4. Polly says:

    While we enjoyed the production very much, we were hoping to see it again. I know the other FOX productions have been repeated. However, we have not been able to find this in the tv previews. I was surprised to see that on Easter you are showing Grease again. That would seem to be the perfect time to see this very relevant production of The Passion. My hope is we will have the opportunity to enjoy it once again and others will too.

  5. C jasper says:

    I thought it was a great production.they we’re scripturly correct and. It was tastefully done.

  6. Linda Sylvester says:

    Thank you mr perry for such a wonderful interpretation of the Passion of Jesus in modern language. I loved how you tied New Orleans And there suffering during Katrina to come out of that disaster in victory. Wow everyone did a great job!!!!

  7. God's Love says:

    AWESOME!The word getting out there!Spread God’s word!Educate all or reeducate those that R familiar .POSITIVE!People coming together,All people together hearing & Cing God’s Love & Jeseus Love.Love,Love,!Thank U Mr.Perry and all involved 2 make this ginormous project come 2 life!!Phenomenal!!!


    I put it on dvr., starting watching, realized it was yet another fail attempt by the homosexual community (super rich white people) to twist the WORD OF GOD and put out their depraved messages that GOD is somehow going to allow all manner of garbage, so do whatever and be whatever manner of filth you choose to be ,because it’s all okay. What they fail to preach in their sick, hidden agenda propaganda is that THERE WILL COME A PAYDAY. THERE ARE ABSOLUTE RIGHTS AND WRONG. It only took a few minutes of watching to realize the confusion they were trying to prey upon the weak minded. SOME PEOPLE are more susceptible to social engineering than OTHERS. One thing we know for sure, SOME PEOPLE love to live in a state of evil, wicked, and depraved behaviors enough so to try to make it look wonderful, loving, and innocent. Don’t ever be deceived by false Christian behaviors is the message GOD revealed to me instantaneously as soon as I saw the wicked surrounding, the fake humility, the depraved thought process unfolding to convince the ignorant that they were watching something”good.” PATHETIC BOHEMIAN GROVE sickos.

    • Craig Knox says:

      I am sorry you stopped watching because you are not a christian and seemingly fail to listen to the very message and belief that Jesus died so painfully for on the cross.

      Keep living in that old testament world Jesus came to change. Jesus did not weight us with 10 commandments we as a people are not capable of obeying. He gave one. “Love one another.” He scolded those who would condemn a hooker or anyone.

      You are what religion as an organized body fails and has turned into nothing more than a hate group that pushes people away from the amazing message and truth that is, was, and will be Jesus Christ. Shame on you for that.

      Jesus has never forsaken my homosexual self. Jesus also didn’t say, “Whoever believe in me, except homos, sinners, people different from you, will have ever lasting life” unless you have some coveted secret hate monger edition of the bible.

    • Iknowtheholyspirittoldme says:

      You are absolutely right. I just felt the presence of evil as I watched it for only few minutes. This wasn’t to glorify Jesus; it was to prey on the weak minded!! It’s sad how people just accept anything that people say. They’re preparing these people to accept one world religion.

  9. Carmen Emmanuelli says:

    This was a piece of art. It was a good musical not only for adults but for young people. Anyway I loved it.
    Who interpreted Judas?

  10. Derrick says:

    Honestly, I didn’t even realize this was supposed to be on last night, but I was channel surfing and happened to catch it. I was….confused by it, to say the least. I admittedly tuned in toward the middle, so I didn’t understand exactly I was watching. A rock concert? Why is Jesus wearing a leather jacket? Why do those microphones look like weird moles on their faces? Is this supposed to be a live look at people watching pre-recorded scenes on a screen? What. Is. Happening? I could only take about 10 minutes of it before I changed the channel.

  11. stevenkovacs says:

    It was actually very well done, for such a serious event, though puzzling why they couldn’t get A-listers for the top roles, a la ‘Grease Live!’
    Overall, a little bit biblical, a little bit pop musical, but done with respect to the material and audience.

  12. pjb says:

    Well, it seemed pretty lame to me.

  13. Tara says:

    I commend Tyler Perry for his modern day take on the last days of Christ. I thought it was tasteful and well thought out and appealed to many. I personally liked it. It was such a blessing to see a very diverse group of people watching in the live audience and walking with the cross itself. This is what our country needs; more coming together. Instead of division. I am hoping this will be replayed again or available to purchase!!

  14. Reagan says:

    Look, I’m a Christian. I didn’t watch the Passion live, because I saw the previews and knew it would be more like Jesus Christ superstar than the actual Bible. I love the fact that there is something about Jesus in mainstream media, but the articles/pictures/videos I’ve seen about last night’s performance disturb me. Isn’t the story of Christ’s sacrifice powerful enough without modernizing it? Does it have to be changes to ‘fit in’ with today? Or can the actual, true story of Christ touch hearts by itself?
    A ‘heartthrob” as I’ve heard the lead actor referred to, is not the best Character to be playing, well, God Himself, and it just downplays it tremendously.

  15. Lisa says:

    Thank you Tyler Perry. I concur with most of the positive comments about The Passion (Live). As for the reporting of Nichelle Turner, I liked it. We must acknowledge that the social climate of the time of the crucifixion of Christ was very similar to the injustice today, minus social media and technology overall. Some came as supporters of Jesus, some came to deny Him, some came just for sport.

  16. Teresa says:

    I watched The Passion and my eyes welted up multiple times. I am not a typically religious person, but the performance was very moving, and I could feel the value and impact it brought to the people watching. The singers/actors and the songs were perfectly relatable for today’s’ times. With all the drama and chaos going on in the world right now, it was good to have something to watch that would incite a little perspective. Tyler Perry did a great job narrating. To Brian Lowry, I know it is your job to “critique,” so I won’t take your review of this show too seriously. It was not created to win an Oscar, or to be on par with Jesus Christ Superstar. It was created for its own sake, and that is to recount and celebrate the life and death of Jesus in a unique narrative way that was relatable to the masses. I, for one, found it very moving.

  17. Myra Roach says:

    I think the people who criticize it may not have a true love of the Jesus and what He went through to save OUR sins. I agree that it was not as detailed and played out as well as Jesus Christ Superstar, but this is where the person watching would have to know what happened and be able to tie together what was done.

  18. Mary says:

    I have to say that I am so proud of Mr Perry stepping out in a world so biased and trying every way they can to blame the blameless of there own faults . If not for The Lord our God and the Sacrifices made for us of his one and only son , who knew no sin yet died for sin there would be know world , humans earth ,nothing . Congrajulations Mr Perry for stepping out in faith , be blessed and strong

  19. mdbrenna says:

    Wow.. I thought this was a great opportunity to unite people under a common story. Tyler Perry did what he should be doing uniting all races. It showed that he can be a true leader and help show that people can be together not divided. With BLM and Occupy and all the other divisive things we are seeing today, this was a refreshing show that could at least peak the interest of many. What you wrote is very disturbing to me, you sound like an angry bitter human. Couldn’t you look at this for what it was? 2 hours of people getting together to enjoy something.. Terrible critique…

  20. B. Raptis says:

    I am a born again Christian,,,,and not a baby one at that…..I loved it and applaud Mr. Perry for his boldness and thought it was done wonderfully…..while I didn’t recognize some of the songs I know the story well and it was right on……thanks to whoever was involved for getting the message out to those who need it…would love
    to see it again and headed to get the soundtrack….

    • John Dell says:

      The Passion was awesome, this is what Sunday night TV should be for families to watch and enjoy.
      I think Tyler Perry and Fox did a great job. I am so glad I was recording it because I watch it twice.
      Also I was so happy to see so many diverse families coming together. I am hoping they made a soundtrack.

  21. John Miller says:

    First of all I know that the critic has an opinion so do I. After all the reality trash on tv now, what a great show, my opinion

  22. Mary says:

    The Passion was very moving and touching. It was Fantastic – I too applaud Fox, Tyler Perry and the cast members who did a fantastic job!!! We need more like this on TV

  23. James Kalinowski says:

    I applaud Fox. I was moved by the Passion. I thought using modern songs brought Jesus into today’s world. These songs and messages are all around us. We need to open our hearts and let Jesus in. Thank you Fox for bringing GOOD to Sunday television.

  24. Letag says:

    Wow – this article is written just as Pontious Pilates’ audience response, “crucify him!” I challenge the author of this piece to create something innovative and original and see if it is easier for your reviewers to criticize it rather than embrace it.

  25. cflower1101 says:

    Absolutely LOVED “The Passion”! It was truly emotional for me. Tyler Perry and the cast/singers were all AMAZING! Thank you to all

  26. Ken says:

    Didn’t even come CLOSE to matching the emotional/visual power of Norman Jewison’s excellent film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock-pop opera classic Jesus Christ Superstar. The Passion was a bizarre mish-mash.

  27. olivia says:

    Tyler Perry,well done.Truly enjoyed the modern day version of the Last Supper,The Crucifixion,The Risen Lord..Mr. Perry you grabbed the audience attention.Well put together. To each and every singing artist…hats off..The roaming announcer,Nitsche,good job gathering the essence of New Orleans and other stories.All be to the Glory to God!

  28. Michael Klein says:

    My wife and I watched it and the great points were the powerful performances of the entire cast. The singing was wonderful. The downfall, the TV reporter and the interviews. The reporter was awful and obnoxiously loud. It wasn’t needed and it took away from the performance itself. Tyler Perry was okay, but a bit over the top as was the panning to the audience. The carrying of the cross would have been good, if only seen from the sky at a distance. C+

  29. Sonya Wilson says:

    I truly enjoyed The Passion. Watching the emotions of the cast members and hearing Tyler Perry narrate one of my favorite stories was amazing. I felt as if I were walking with Jesus on the way to the crucifixion. Amen Tyler Perry for not being afraid in this politically correct world for standing as a Christian and exposing others to His word.

  30. Jacques Strappe says:

    Hokey and heavenly stinky cheese like one would expect from The Resurrection of Madea..

  31. Larry Johnson says:

    You are crazy. This resonated in a deeply, meaningful way.

    • Randy says:

      Right on Larry! It was moving and the songs reflected each moment beautifully and are ones I love listening to on the radio as well. I’m saving the show on my Genie indefinitely. Praise Jesus who soon comes!

      • Rex says:

        People have been saying he’s soon coming for MILLENNIA! And yet he never shows up. But you keep on believin’, bruthah Randy! I’m sure he’ll be here in your lifetime, just like he was supposed to be for everyone who drank the Koolaid centuries before you. ;-)

  32. Bee says:

    I totally enjoyed The Passion. It seemed to show what it would be like in this day and age! I loved it and sure many others did too.

    • freemnfrog says:

      ill pray for u my friend…

    • Robert says:

      Kudos to the net work for presenting a religious themed story with a timeless message in a reality tv format in prime time that uses the idols of the young. This project is on the “road less travelled” as the passion narrative and all of the radical elements of Jesus’s life is all about. And while it will not likely meet the technical, peculiar, and somewhat strange requirements of critics it was worth watching unlike the vast majority of current offerings of TV, film, written, and the internet media.

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