2 min read

Any show that starts off with an acid trip in a gay club on Auckland’s iconic Karangahape Road has our attention. Throw in a bunch of New Zealand’s acting heavyweights, put a Maori trans woman into the leading role, and we’re hooked.

Airing on TVNZ 2 earlier this year and now streaming on TVNZ+, “Testify” is a Kiwi drama that peers behind the curtains of an evangelical mega-church, uncovering all sorts of demons in their closet, and asking: How inclusive is the church?

The six-episode series revolves around Avow Church and the destructive power dynamics within the influential Jacobson family at its helm.


The family patriarch and Avow pastor, Scott Jacobson (Craig Hall), controls his flock effortlessly, supported by his wife Jen (Kat Browne), their obedient daughter Emmaline (Jessica Grace Smith), and adopted son David (Vinnie Bennett) – a handsome youth pastor, aptly named ‘Baby Jesus’, who just wants to love everyone (platonically, of course).

Trouble starts to brew with the return of the couple’s prodigal son, Paul (Ari Boyland), who is determined to hold the church to account for abuse he experienced as a child.

As Paul digs into the past, he uncovers a myriad of dark family secrets and a history of abuse and corruption in the church, putting Avow’s reputation in jeopardy.

At the same time, ‘Baby Jesus’ David becomes disillusioned with the church, wishing for it to be more open-minded and inclusive. As he searches for meaning in both his personal and spiritual lives, David forms a relationship with queer podcaster Dana (Paipera Hayes) – a trans woman with deep-seated grievances against the church, who is on a quest to expose the harm the church is inflicting on the queer community.

In a bid to preserve Avow’s reputation at all costs, Scott, together with his inner circle of patch-wearing, motorcycle-riding heavies, turns to intimidation tactics to keep things under control. Power plays are put into place, and drama ensues.

In just six episodes, “Testify” covers a myriad of topics – from church oppression to conversion therapy, depression, self-harm, pedophilia, corporate greed, and even murder.

The show’s diverse range of characters casts a wide net of inclusivity, ensuring the series resonates with a broad audience.

The church-based characters reflect society’s conservative personas, such as Scott – the authoritative and patriarchal leader of the church, and his wife and daughter – embodiments of the Christian ideals of wifery and motherhood.

In contrast, the show’s queer characters represent the unconventional side of society, including a spectrum of identities: LGBTQ+ individuals, people of colour, drug takers, and those with disabilities. Among these are Dana’s two best friends and flatmates: Eden (Holly Pretorius), a disabled lesbian bound to a wheelchair, and Isla (Molly Curnow), an aspiring singer-songwriter trapped in a toxic relationship and a cycle of self-harm.

With its rich tapestry of characters, unapologetic portrayal of complex issues, and deliciously dramatic plot twists, “Testify” is a series that is both entertaining and socially relevant.

New Zealand audiences can stream “Testify” now on TVNZ+, while international viewing is not currently available.

Last Updated on May 28, 2024

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