From left, Simon Zee (Alaa Safi), Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) and Simon Peter (Shahar Isaac) in a scene from the fourth season of The Chosen — released exclusively in theatres Feb. 1. Photo courtesy of The Chosen/Mike Kubeisy

From modest origins, 'The Chosen' blooms

  • February 7, 2024

From humble beginnings as a crowdfunded TV series, The Chosen’s popularity has bloomed, its first three seasons accumulating more than 600 million views across streaming apps like Peacock, Amazon Prime and Netflix, while boasting 10 million social media followers.

Now, the fourth season of the first-ever multi-season television show that follows the life of Jesus as told by the Gospels has premiered in theatres with the first three episodes rolling out Feb. 1. Following this theatrical run, the series will debut on the streaming platforms as well as broadcast and cable TV and on The Chosen app.

Even those who may not follow the show can’t deny its burgeoning popularity. 

The modesty of its origins remains a feature of the series, according to two of the show’s executive producers who double as writers. They say the process of putting together meaningful episodes for this season mirrors how it’s always been done.

“We would find a section of Jesus’ ministry that we wanted to portray dramatically on screen and figure out how we’re going to have a beginning, middle and end and think about the beats in between that would punctuate it. We do the same thing now as we move into the writing of seasons six and seven,” said Ryan Swanson. 

Tyler Thompson agreed that although the show has evolved into something larger than life, the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

“At the end of the day when it’s time to plan a season, it’s just the three of us sitting down in some remote place, opening up the Bible and seeing what timeline we are going to cover,” said Thompson, who was in Toronto with Swanson in late January and sat down with The Catholic Register. 

The third person is Dallas Jenkins, the original creator and director of The Chosen who was named one of the top 50 showrunners in 2023 by The Hollywood Director.

His praises were sung by Thompson and Swanson, who related how Jenkins has been able to maintain his day-one commitment as the show has grown and become a global phenomenon. 

“He is unique among showrunners in that he directs every single episode, and that’s not something normal,” Thompson said.

“He’s been the same guy since I met him, even if his schedule has grown quite a bit he’s able to compartmentalize and get intensely present for each task that he’s taking on,” Swanson echoed. 

Speaking to the popularity of the show, which is already on pace to be the most translated series in history as a result of its worldwide appeal, Thompson and Swanson credit the subject matter — after all, Christ’s story is widely seen as the greatest story ever told.  

That said, plenty of time and care have been put into both the writing and filming process of The Chosen to best ensure a sense of Biblical and historical accuracy. They’ve relied on Thompson’s background in Hebrew studies and Old Testament literature for things like period names, costumes and practices, but also utilize local and international scholars for accuracy.

The Chosen can tell Jesus’ story exactly as it’s written. We won’t mess with one letter of how that was originally written and we will portray it as authentically as we can,” Swanson said. “To give you some emotional surrogates, we’re going to tell the story from the perspective of the people who might have been impacted by those Biblical events.” 

The show has drawn criticism from outside of its fanbase due to the portrayal of Jesus, some deeming Him to be “overly humanized.” The writers, however, say this was done intentionally. 

“Portrayals of Jesus as lofty and divine are plentiful and readily available, both in the show and elsewhere,” Thompson said. “What we felt was missing in this landscape was a relatable, humourous, emotional, brushes His teeth and gets His fingernails dirty type of Jesus, so we wanted to fill that.” 

With the first few episodes of the fourth season out now, viewers can expect the series to follow the arc of the Gospels themselves. As the story progresses towards redemption, it first has to traverse the valleys before it can rise again, meaning themes of loss and uncertainty are interlaced throughout the season. 

“We will have taken Jesus very literally to the gates of His next chapter,” Swanson confirmed.

“You’ll notice the closer you get to the end, the forces are closing in, things are getting more tense, opposition is rising, people start dying. It is intense but we didn’t decide that, we’re just portraying how the story goes,” Thompson said. 

Groupings of episodes from the new season will continue to debut on big screens across the globe this month, with episodes 4-6 set to debut on Feb. 15 and episodes 7-8 by Feb. 29.

Both writers say the dramatic scope of the new season lends itself to a cinema release. 

“There is something about the audience’s heart rate racing as things get exciting or upsetting and that communal experience, it isn’t church, but it’s also not unlike church the way people’s emotions are all riding the same wave. You can’t replicate that at home,” Thompson said.

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