PBS' "Jerusalem: Center of the World" is an enriching "biopic"
By Verne Gay Newsday | TV review

Reason to watch: 'Tis the season for thoughtful PBS documentaries on the Holy Land, and "Jerusalem: Center of the World" manages the job nicely.

What it's about: To use the term of art in the TV trade, this is a biopic of one of the holiest cities on the globe — arriving exactly one week before Passover and a week and a half before Easter. One invites derision to point out that the history of this city is very well known, but perhaps not quite as much derision to observe that the full scope of that history is not understood as well.

Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and New York-based director Andrew Goldberg ("Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century" and "The Jewish People: A Story of Survival"), the approach here is straight ahead — and linear. The story begins 4,000 years ago, yet seems to end 15 minutes ago. With the exception of a 500-year swath of history (around 1500 to the 20th century) and a painfully brief annotation of recent events, the broadcast starts with Abraham and then offers a sweeping overview of Jewish history through the invasion of the Babylonians.

A detailed look at the relatively brief Christian period begins, and that segues to the post-Christian era and the beginning of the Diaspora. Jerusalem became a Muslim city by the 7th century, was later captured by the Crusaders and a century later by Saladin, a Kurdish Muslim, who reclaimed it for Islam. Saladin's (mostly) benevolent rule set the stage for what Jerusalem is today — a city of many faiths.

Bottom line: "Jerusalem" is a wonderful idea and well executed. Based on the premise that you may have part of this history well in hand, but probably not all of it, each era is thus reduced to its simplest working parts, so that viewers aren't crushed under the weight of historic fact and arcana. Nevertheless, connections are clearly made and links established over the millennia, while the overall effect — to paraphrase the poet — is to arrive at the place where it all started, yet know it for the first time.

Grade: A