Miniseries tries to stay true to spirit of the Good Book

Mar 3 2013 - 8:38am

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History
A woman is about to be stoned when Jesus, played by Diogo Morgado, intervenes in “The Bible,” a miniseries beginning today on History.
History
A woman is about to be stoned when Jesus, played by Diogo Morgado, intervenes in “The Bible,” a miniseries beginning today on History.

History's "The Bible" would be more accurately titled "The Bible's Greatest Hits (Sanitized for Your Protection)."

But give the 10-hour, five-part program credit for being up front about its intentions. Today's premiere (7 p.m.) begins with this get-out-of-jail-free disclaimer: "This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book."

The premiere is indeed true to the spirit of the Good Book, if a bit sparing on details. The story begins with a Scottish-accented Noah narrating from Genesis as his ark bobs on high seas. His narration includes the briefest of visits with Adam and Eve before "The Bible" moves on to the story of Abraham, which takes up much of the first two hours.

Nothing here is as ridiculous as NBC's 1999 "Noah's Ark" miniseries, the nadir of biblical interpretation that featured Noah warding off pirates. But "The Bible" probably should not be taken too seriously or venerated. It often plays more like an action film than a serious interpretation of a holy book.

The premiere presents multiethnic angels who take human form to visit Sodom and Gomorrah, where angry villagers rage against Lot for reasons that go unexplained. The God of "The Bible" describes Sodom as a "city of sin," but the program is ambiguous about what that sin includes (it mostly looks like a freak show with people blowing fire). "The Bible" does not suggest the Sodomites are planning to rape the angels, a common interpretation. The angels draw swords -- in slow-mo, Quentin Tarantino style -- and slay villagers who seek to do them harm.

Jesus (Diogo Morgado) arrives by episode six (airing March 17) and gets crucified in episode nine (airing March 31, Easter), which also features Roma Downey ("Touched by an Angel") as Mary, Jesus' mother.

Downey also serves as an executive producer on "The Bible" with her husband, "Survivor" executive producer Mark Burnett. They have not shared this credit before, making it feel like a cynical attempt to trade on viewers' residual good will for Downey from her "Touched by an Angel" days, an effort to reassure the faithful that "The Bible" is fit for their consumption.

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