Picks and Pans Review: A.d.

updated 04/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

NBC (Sunday, March 31, 8 p.m. ET)

Oh, what a lavish disaster. The sets, re-creating ancient Rome and Jerusalem, are stunning. The gargantuan cast is studded with near-greats: James Mason, Ava Gardner, John Houseman, Richard Kiley, Jennifer O'Neill, Anthony Andrews, Susan Sarandon, Ben Vereen and many more playing everybody from Christ to Caligula. Everything about A.D. is big—including its failure. For it doesn't take long—far less than its 12 hours in five parts—to OD on A.D. The sequel to Jesus of Nazareth tells the story of the founding and spread of Christianity. If the show is trying to proselytize—as it seems to be—it makes the mistake of trying too hard, of getting heavy-handed and not trusting the story to tell itself. Whether or not you choose to believe the gospel the story is a magnificently dramatic one, but here it is made ponderously and pompously dull. A.D. is as pretty as a Sunday school picture book, but like the figures in those books, the characters in A.D. are cardboard-thin. With a few notable exceptions—such as relative unknown Denis Quilley playing the apostle Peter—the people lack humanity; it's damned hard at first to know who's who and harder to remember why you should care. The dialogue is as stilted as a bad imitation of Shakespeare: "There is news of a revolt in Pannonia!" "That Sadducee talks sense!" Compare it to the book on which this mini is based, and you'll see good writing ruined. The script pays minute attention to historical details—like Roman soothsayers reading the entrails of sacrificed animals for signs. But characterization and drama—the elements of any story that keep you watching—are lost. And that's a sin. (The miniseries airs nightly through Thursday.)

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