TV review: ‘Dovekeepers,’ ‘A.D.’ bring faith stories to life
Options for Easter-time TV viewing once were limited to Snoopy frolicking in bunny ears and Charlton Heston carrying the Ten Commandments.
Then, the History Channel aired the 10-part miniseries “The Bible” in 2013 to record-setting ratings. Fast-forward a few years, and the tube has become crowded with faith-based stories.
Not surprisingly, two of those options this year — CBS’s “The Dovekeepers” and NBC’s “A.D. The Bible Continues — come from TV power couple and “Bible” executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
“The Dovekeepers,” a miniseries airing Tuesday and Wednesday on CBS, is a historical romance set in ancient Israel during the siege of Masada. If you need a history refresher, Masada was mountaintop refuge in the first century for a group of Jewish fighters known as the Sicarii, who held out for months there against Roman forces.
Based on Alice Hoffman’s bestselling novel of the same name, “The Dovekeepers” focuses on how the lives of two Jewish women intersect before and during the siege.
The big story here, of course, is that one of those women is played by Cote de Pablo, and it’s no coincidence that the first episode of “Dovekeepers” airs after the show that made her famous, “NCIS.” She plays Shirah, a fiercely independent practitioner of old magic. Rachel Brosnahan (“House of Cards,” “Manhattan”) plays Yael, a surrogate daughter to Shirah.
As the women journey to Masada, each falls in love with a married man, and “Dovekeepers” spends significant story time on the melodrama surrounding the ramifications of those relationships. But somehow it also fails to fully flesh them out as the story jumps through time, pausing just long enough to show that characters have developed, but not necessarily how.
Not helping things is a story framework that has the two women recounting the story of Masada to a historian (Sam Neill in a thankless role). It helps fill in the gaps between time jumps but robs the story of urgency.
“Dovekeepers” is beautiful and ambitious, but it can be listless, especially early on.
“A.D. The Bible Continues,” which premieres Easter Sunday, is far more captivating, even though the story, set immediately after the crucifixion of Christ, is likely more familiar than Masada to even secular viewers. It airs in hourly weekly installments
The first of its 12 episodes sets a brisk pace and dispatches quickly with some of the most well-known bits around the crucifixion. It focuses more on how Jesus’s disciples struggle to build their new church and the political intrigue among the Roman and Temple authorities. Richard Coyle (“Covert Affairs”) and Vincent Regan (“The Royals”) shine early on as High Priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, respectively, bringing humanity to roles often glossed over in Sunday School.
The expected scenes are included — there’s Peter denying Jesus, here’s Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb. But the way “A.D.” dramatizes the ramifications of stories many Christians already know makes for compelling viewing, no matter the season.
“Dovekeepers” airs 9-11 p.m. Tuesday (March 31) and Wednesday (April 1) on CBS
“A.D. The Bible Continues” premieres 9 p.m. April 5 on NBC
Jeff Hidek writes for StarNews in Wilmington, N.C. Follow Hidek on Twitter: @JeffHidek.