- Deseret News - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The first episode of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s new Bible miniseries, “A.D. The Bible Continues,” began with a literal whisper and ended with a heavenly bang. But will it be enough to keep audiences coming?

According to early ratings reports, the answer is hard to predict. Though “A.D.” premiered as Sunday night’s top rated program, it didn’t quite meet the debut of its biblical predecessor.

The series is a continuation of Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey’s previous mega-event miniseries “The Bible,” which aired on the History Channel (“A.D.” is being broadcast by NBC) for 10 episodes in 2013.

“The Bible” pulled in well over 100 million viewers over the course of its run and was eventually edited into a feature film that grossed more than $60 million worldwide in 2014.

With an ambitious budget, sweeping cinematography and — of course — plenty of media buzz, NBC, Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey are clearly hoping that audiences are thirsty for more religious drama.

Critically, both “The Bible” and “A.D.” received decidedly mixed reviews, but critics seem at least slightly more impressed with “A.D” overall. According to the review aggregator Metacritic, “The Bible” received an overall score of 45 out of 100 (according to their weighted aggregation system) and “A.D.” received a score of 54.

“Yes, the (extra-biblical) additions sometimes feel shoehorned in, and, as in ‘The Bible,’ the storytelling gears still sometimes clunk,” USA Today’s Robert Bianco wrote in a fairly representative review. “But anyone who loved The Bible and yearned for a sequel is likely to find A.D. satisfying.”

The producers of “A.D.” also seem to have learned from the mistakes of recent biblical misfires.

“Unlike last year’s big budget films ‘Noah’ and ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings,’ this year’s big budget mini-series event ‘The Bible: AD’ features a diverse cast that was almost as diverse as Jerusalem was back in the day,” NBC’s Adrienne Samuels Gibbs wrote on Sunday.

According to the show’s producers, “The Bible” received similar backlash to “Noah” and “Exodus” for the lack of diversity, and they wanted to set the racial record straight this time around.

“We decided then if we had an opportunity to do this again that we would remedy that,” Ms. Downey told The Associated Press.

But was the draw of diversity enough? As many have pointed out, the media landscape is rapidly changing. Even since the airing of “The Bible” in 2013, streaming services have drastically altered how viewers experience television shows, with an increasing emphasis on unrestrained sex and violence becoming even more prevalent due to a lack of censorship in streaming services.

“Are there ratings after the Crucifixion?” The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger asked at the outset of his review. I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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