Go to church, eat some ham, hunt for candy: Those are pretty much the marching orders for Easter Sunday, and you can enact them in any order you like. But once you’ve knocked out the basics, what is there left to do on this holy holiday? … I think you know the answer to that. And it involves a television.
Turner Classic Movies can always be relied on to whip out the Biblical epics this time of year. TCM gets the jump on other cable channels by offering up a 24-hour parade of Jesuses, starting Saturday, March 31 with 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (TCM Saturday 6pm). It features creepy Swede Max von Sydow as Jesus. Following that is 1962’s Barabbas (TCM Saturday 9:30pm). Technically, Anthony Quinn stars as the titular pardoned thief—but Italian sound man Rocco Roy Mangano (in his sole on-screen appearance) does make a cameo as Jesus. Quo Vadis (TCM Sunday 12am) from 1951 has even less Jesus, with Robin Hughes proving only a brief voiceover as the Son of God. There’s no actual Jesus in 1954’s The Silver Chalice (TCM 3am), but it does boast the acting debut of a young Paul Newman. Yul Brynner and Gina Lollabrigida are the titular characters in 1959’s Solomon and Sheba (TCM 5:30am), which takes place before the birth of Christ—so no Jesus here either. The Bible: In the Beginning (TCM 8am) from 1966 dramatizes stories of the Old Testament, so we get Adam, Eve, Abraham, Noah and the like, but no J.C. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur (TCM 11am) features an uncredited cameo by Claude Heater as “Jesus—The Christ.” The man of the hour finally gets a starring role courtesy of Jeffrey Hunter in 1961’s King of Kings (TCM 3pm). To close out the day, TCM drops the religious stuff entirely for a pair of Fred Astaire musicals: 1948’s Easter Parade (TCM 6pm) and 1942’s Holiday Inn (TCM 8pm).
Lifetime opens up its Easter basket to reveal a pair of recent, “faith-based” features. First up is 2015’s 90 Minutes in Heaven (Lifetime 3pm), in which Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker himself!) gets into a car accident and spends an hour and a half in Heaven. Next is 2014’s Heaven is For Real (Lifetime 6pm) in which a 4-year-old-kid goes into surgery for an emergency appendectomy, then claims to have been given a tour of Heaven by Jesus himself (who rides a rainbow-colored horse like some kind of Lisa Frank nightmare). Mike Moherhardt is Jesus in that one.
NBC keeps up the day’s Jesus theme, giving him the same live, musical treatment as Hairspray and Grease with Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert! (KOB-4 7pm). Neo soul singer/songwriter John Legend is our Jesus. Sara Bareilles is Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper is King Herod. Feel free to sing along to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
If you prefer your religious holidays slightly more nonfictional (not to mention less tune-filled), History Channel goes the documentary route, taking us to the Holy Land to dig up some vaguely science-based info on Jesus and pals with “Bible Secrets Revealed” (History 10:01am), “The Bible—Mission” (History 11am) and “The Jesus Strand: A Search for DNA” (History 3pm).
Finally, if you like the idea of church on Easter Sunday, but dislike the idea of changing out of your jammies, there’s always the option of staying home on the couch and watching “Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord” (KOAT-7 12pm). In this live telecast, the Diocese of Trenton presents Easter Sunday Mass from St. Catherine Church in Spring Lake, NJ.