‘The Passion’ on Fox: A Look Back, and Where to See It Now

Cross-procession-The-Passion-FoxLast night, Fox aired “The Passion,” a two-hour live musical event (live in Eastern and Central time; tape-delayed in the West) from New Orleans, recounting the Passion of Christ, from His arrival in Jerusalem until the Resurrection.

Reviews from critics — both Catholic and secular — were mixed, as was Twitter, where there were both enthusiastic responses and muted ones from Catholic sources. But, as this priest pointed out:

Click here to see an extensive post I did late last week, outlining the background and history of “The Passion,” which began in the Netherlands a few years ago. Using contemporary musical performers, it blended pop songs (with only minimal changes to the lyrics) into a stylized, episodic version of the Passion narrative. There was also a procession in which a huge, lighted Cross was carried to the final set in a riverside park, where a large audience was gathered, watching what I surmise were pre-recorded musical numbers on a big screen.

Many appeared very affected, and more than one person was in tears. Some of the public that joined the procession — which in itself was quite moving — were interviewed on camera and gave touching testimonies of faith.

There were even a few clergy in the crowd.

Priest-The-Passion-Live

While Fox has not yet announced that it will re-air the show, it is available for viewing online at Fox.com, and on streaming service Hulu, as of Tuesday, March 22. The link isn’t live right now, but it should be then. Outside of the U.S., “The Passion” will be available on streaming service Netflix.

UPDATE: Watch “The Passion” on Hulu here.

I live-tweeted the Pacific-time show at our Twitter feed, @FamilyTheater1, and here are some thoughts I’ve had on the broadcast.

  • It was family-suitable. There were no inappropriate lyrics, suggestive dancing or terribly immodest costumes. So there’s that. Commenters on my last post, on FB and on Twitter remarked that their teens loved it. And, at two hours long, with commercials, it was fast-paced enough for older elementary-school kids and up. Also, while host Tyler Perry — who was remarkably restrained and serious — described the Crucifixion, it was not shown. In terms of basic content, there’s nothing to red-flag for parents. Here’s what one Catholic FB commenter who’s a mom had to say:  

    I thought it was amazing to be able to see The Passion in an everyday/our culture production. I think it made it easier for people to understand and relate. I loved it! Made me think about how I may have responded to Jesus because I could imagine myself and he in the same culture/environment for once. Also, I realized Mary isn’t as young as we all make her out to be. At first I was thinking [Trisha] Yearwood may have been the wrong choice. But if you think about it, if Jesus was 33, and let’s say Mary was 12-16ish, she would have been 45-50ish when Jesus was crucified. I think Yearwood is 51. Just loved it…even down to a lot of the so called secular songs used. They were perfect for those moments and stations. Seriously well done!

  • The production was a bit wobbly in places, occasionally cheesy, and in some cases — Seal as Pontius Pilate being a notable exception — the acting wasn’t nearly as good as the singing. Fortunately for Yearwood (who is indeed 51), her role as the Virgin Mary didn’t require anything but singing, and that she did well. It definitely had the feel of a shakedown cruise. If it’s done again next year, I’d expect it to go more smoothly.
  • Theologically, it was pretty stripped-down and bare-bones, with most of the Scripture paraphrased rather than verbatim. One Twitter commenter complained that after 2,000 years, Christians shouldn’t have to be fed baby food. But, humans have been around for more thousands of years, and we don’t start babies on prime rib. Some people are at the baby-food stage of faith, and they may never get past it unless somebody captures them where they are. The Fox production was no “The Passion of the Christ” or “Jesus of Nazareth,” but as spectacle and an emotional introduction to the story, it seemed to work for many people.
  • Was it Catholic? Well, it wasn’t anti-Catholic. And while Mary didn’t get any spoken lines, she was a presence throughout, rather than just being relegated to standing at the foot of the Cross, so that was nice to see. Some reports said that the Catholic Church in the Netherlands was an early backer of “The Passion,” so perhaps that’s how that happened.
  • Should you watch it on Fox.com or Hulu if you missed it? If you have young people in the house, why not? Be there to fill in the blanks, but it could be a great conversation starter.

The ratings weren’t blockbuster — and nothing like Fox’s live version of “Grease” — but they weren’t bad. It averaged a 1.6 rating/5 share in Adults 18-49, with 6.6M overall viewers. This may go up when the DVR-viewing and live-streaming numbers come in.

Against stiff competition — including AMC’s “The Walking Dead” — it did respectably, improving Fox’s average from the week before. While L.A. and New York didn’t love it, Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Cleveland and St. Louis did.

Also, wrote Variety:

According to Nielsen Social, “The Passion” was the most social broadcast program on Sunday night, drawing 18.4 million impressions for its tweets. In addition, “The Passion: New Orleans” album currently ranks No. 1 on iTunes.

So, watch it without fear. It’s no substitute for the Triduum Masses — and we hope no liturgists get the idea to do something similar inside a Catholic church — but as entertainment and an introduction to the Passion of Our Lord, it’s just fine.

Image: Courtesy Fox

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.