You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘The Passion’

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

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.”

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.)

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

Crew: 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.

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

More TV

  • MMA Alters Faces of Asia Sports

    MMA Alters Faces of Asian Sports Broadcasting

    Bruce Lee was ahead of the curve by about four decades when he predicted back in the early 1970s that combat sports would one day take the world by storm. Hong Kong’s favorite son had encouraged his own students to mix up the styles of martial arts they were being trained in — to combine kung fu [...]

  • Variety Kit Harington Game of Thrones

    Kit Harington on How 'Game of Thrones' Mirrors Real-World Politics

    In Variety‘s March 19 cover story, Kit Harington opens up about the final season of “Game of Thrones” and growing into adulthood as part of the biggest show on television. In a conversation in London in December, Harington opened up about the similarities between the series’ politics and our own. “I think it’s always been about [...]

  • Chris O'Dowd

    TV News Roundup: Chris O'Dowd to Star in 'Twilight Zone' Episode

    In today’s roundup, The CW has released two clips from the upcoming “Riverdale” special “Heathers: The Musical,” and Chris O’Dowd will star in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  CASTING Chris O’Dowd will star in CBS All Access’ rebooted “The Twilight Zone” episode titled “The Blue Scorpion.” The series will premiere with two episodes on [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Wendy Williams Sober Living House

    Wendy Williams Reveals She's Been Staying in a Sober-Living House

    Wendy Williams, during an emotional monologue on her talk show on Tuesday, revealed through tears that she has been staying at a sober-living house. “So you know me for being a very open and truthful person,” she began the segment on “The Wendy Williams Show,” fighting through tears. “And I’ve got more to the story [...]

  • Hong Kong Industry Executives Seek Clarity

    FilMart: Hong Kong Industry Executives Plead for Clarity on Mainland Chinese Tax Policies

    At a time of heightened scrutiny of tax affairs in China’s entertainment sector, even industry veterans in Hong Kong are struggling to figure out how to operate in the new financial environment and pleading for more clarity from the Chinese government. Hong Kong produces about 60 films a year, three-quarters of which are typically co-productions [...]

  • Michael Jackson R Kelly

    'Leaving Neverland,' 'Surviving R. Kelly' Composers on How They Scored Sexual Abuse Docs

    How do you put music to child sexual abuse — especially if the accused predators are musical icons? That’s the challenge composers Chad Hobson and Nathan Matthew David faced as they scored HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” and Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly,” respectively. The documentaries are built around interviews with the alleged victims of Michael Jackson (two [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content