Hard as it is to bring much new dramatically speaking to the story of Jesus, History tries with “Jesus: His Life,” an eight-part miniseries that awkwardly mixes detailed reenactments with extensive input from biblical scholars. Billed as being “told through the eyes of those who knew him best,” it adds a mediocre wrinkle to the greatest story ever told.
The concept underlying “Jesus: His Life” involves presenting each of the chapters through the prism of figures that surrounded Jesus, including Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Judas, Pontius Pilate, and Mary Magdalene.
Like so many of these dramatic/documentary hybrids, the collision of having these characters “narrate” their experiences, augmented by commentary from experts and academics, doesn’t really work on either score. The running commentary makes it difficult to get caught up in the drama, while the intricate nature of the dramatization introduces a florid element closer to Cecil B. DeMille epics than serious history and scholarship.
“How could I possibly believe that she was carrying the son of God?” Joseph asks in the premiere episode.
Somebody must like the format, since History and a few other networks keep returning to it, perhaps because it’s a somewhat less expensive way of tapping into the appetite for scripted content.
The producers include author and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, who is among the various faith leaders interviewed.
History will air back-to-back episodes counting down to Easter Sunday, joining what’s become an annual lineup of programming timed to that occasion. In that context, “Jesus: His Life” represents such a modest addition to the rich trove of available material devoted to Jesus – from dramatic movies to documentaries – that it’s difficult to make a case for making it.
According to History, the project represents an effort to tell Jesus’ story “in a new way.” Yet “Jesus: His Life” basically feels like a classic example of one of Hollywood’s most familiar pursuits – namely, merely serving old wine in a new bottle.
“Jesus: His Life” premieres March 25 at 8 p.m. on History.