Friends and Heroes is a Christian children's program that airs on TBN, Smile of a Child TV, and was also shown on BBC TV. The show is both traditionally animated and computer animated. It takes place from 69 - 71 AD. There are three series each of 13 Episodes: Series 1 is set in Alexandria, Egypt; Series 2 in Jerusalem and Series 3 in Rome. The series was created by Brian D. Brown and Eric J. Danenberg, who also worked on The Storykeepers.
Macky and Portia finally arrive in Rome, but under very different conditions: Portia is welcomed as the privileged niece of Rome’s new prefect of police, Tiberius, while Macky has arrived in chains... and that’s just the beginning of his problems. Roman officials have decided that the trial he was supposed to get isn’t really necessary, and Macky has been sold to a school for gladiators. There, he meets Aemelia, the school’s owner and a former warrior herself, and Babatunji, the chief trainer. Together they impress on Macky that the only way out is to kill or be killed. Macky soon makes friends with Absolom, a Jewish trainee who seems to accept his unjust lot with little more than a shrug. Macky tells him the story of Amos speaking out about an unjust king, but Absolom remains unconvinced. Soon, hope arrives in the form of Luciana, a mysterious and apparently influential older woman who convinces Aemelia to arrange an obstacle course contest between Macky and another prisoner at the school: Toadie. The prize? Freedom. Macky soon finds that his side of the course is booby-trapped, but despite this, he wins – or so he thinks, until Luciana prevails on her Senator friend, Marcus, to say that the winner is Toadie – who turns out to be Luciana’s son! Despite the unfairness of the decision, Macky’s faith is unshaken. He tells Absolom the story of John, who spoke out against corruption, but then recalls that John was eventually beheaded...
When Macky refuses to kill another trainee during practice, Aemelia decides to send him to the arena the next day. Because he won’t kill, he will almost certainly be killed. Hearing about this, Portia goes to Senator Antonius, who has spoken out on behalf of the Friends of Jesus in the Senate. But Antonius seems unwilling to help. Meanwhile, the other trainees, all sympathetic to Macky – are planning a mass escape. But Absolom takes Macky aside and tells him the story of David’s lieutenants, who risked their lives just to bring him water. Absolom’s point is that all the trainees shouldn’t risk their lives just for Macky. Macky agrees to go it alone, but when the other trainees hear that Macky has left them behind, they betray him. At the same time, Portia has learned something about Senator Antonius: his late wife was a Friend of Jesus. Confronted with this, Antonius tells Portia how Jesus refused to perform miracles in Nazareth, and that he can’t go out on a limb to help one person for fear of jeopardizing the work he does for many people. But Portia persists, asking what his wife would have thought of his reluctance. Moments before Macky is scheduled to be executed, Portia and Antonius arrive at the gladiator school with good news: Macky won’t be executed, but he’s not free, either. He’s been purchased by Antonius and will now be his slave.
Macky finds that being Antonius’s slave isn’t terribly burdensome. All he has to do is serve the occasional meal and keep an eye on Antonius’s young daughter and son – Sophia and Felix – a task made easy because both kids enjoy Macky’s stories, particularly, on one stormy night, the tale of Jesus calming the storm. To Macky, Antonius is a secretive, enigmatic figure, who keeps very odd hours. Curious, Macky soon finds out why: at night, Antonius dons a mask and goes out and rescues Friends of Jesus who are in jeopardy. Macky is shocked at first, but soon decides that he’d like to help Antonius. Antonius, of course, is surprised that Macky has learned his secret, but he’s adamant in his refusal to let Macky help him. Trying to soften Antonius’s attitude, Macky reminds him of the trust between David and Jonathan, and how Jonathan even went against his own father to save David’s life. But Antonius remains unconvinced – until he walks into a trap set by Brutacus – and only Macky can save him. Soon, the mysterious Masked Rebel has a daring young partner.
Toadie has a new job: he’s managing a gladiator, but there are already problems. The gladiator’s first opponent is Macky’s friend Absolom, who has become a formidable fighter. So Toadie decides to skew the odds by adding a potion to Absolom’s pre-fight dinner. Macky has already tried to get Babatunji to free his friend, but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Even when Macky tells Babatunji the story of David bringing his friend Jonathan’s son to him, Babatunji’s only response is that his only friend is his sword. But Babatunji soon discovers that Absolom has been drugged and he goes to Antonius to stop the match. But Antonius declines to help. Officially, that is. Unbeknownst to Babatunji, Antonius and Macky immediately go to work formulating a plan to rescue the still-drugged Absolom from the arena. As the giant arena looms before them in the darkness, Macky briefly despairs that their little movement will never catch hold here in Rome; Antonius counters by telling him the story Jesus told about sowing seeds. Sneaking inside the arena to rescue Absolom, Macky and Antonius must get past a hungry lion, and then, after finding Absolom, get around a no-less-dangerous Babatunji. At the last minute, Babatunji recalls the story about David and Jonathan’s son... and lets Absolom escape. As the three leave the arena, they pass the huge foundation of the Coliseum – a site for still more mindless Roman violence, Macky believes. But Antonius tells him the story Jesus told about the houses built on different foundations, and Macky realizes that the foundation isn’t really as strong as it seems.
Marcus has a mysterious plan in the works, and he’s enlisted Toadie to help him. By accident, Portia sees some evidence of the plot, but she still has no idea of the specifics. Meanwhile, Macky is overburdened as he clandestinely plays host to several refugees. With his patience at an end, he complains to Antonius, and Antonius tells him of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers, and how one of them told him that Sarah would soon be having a baby. Later, when Macky expresses frustration with the Romans, Antonius tells him how Jesus visited Zacchaeus and how Zacchaeus soon changed his ways. Warned by Portia that Toadie is up to something unsavoury, Macky initially hides his interest from Portia, but then, in costume, he sets out to see what Toadie is up to. At a warehouse, Macky runs into Portia, who has been doing detective work on her own, and she now realizes that Macky is in league with the mysterious Masked Rebel. But before she can say much about that, she and Macky overhear Marcus, a rabid opponent of the Friends of Jesus, tell a confederate that his plan involves killing several Senators when they gather in their communal bath. Marcus intends to blame the deaths on the Friends of Jesus. Macky is shocked by the brutality of the plan, but before he can get away, Portia looks inside one of the mysterious barrels in the warehouse. It’s filled with the poisonous snakes that Marcus intends for the Senators. And, as one starts to bite her, Macky pushes her away... and is bitten himself!
Bitten by the deadly snake, Macky escapes from the warehouse with Portia. Trying to keep Macky conscious on the way home, Portia gets him to focus on an old story: Joseph’s prophetic dreams. Macky remains conscious, but not out of danger; once they get home, Antonius puts Macky to bed, but he knows that there’s little that can be done for him. When Portia tells Antonius about Marcus’s plot to kill the Senators, and that she now knows that Antonius is the Masked Rebel, Antonius enlists her in a counterplot to foil Marcus and Toadie. And, because Antonius must not fall under any suspicion, Portia must play the key role. Overcoming unexpected obstacles at the Senatorial baths, Portia is able to secretly re-direct the flow of the incoming water so that Marcus’s plan boomerangs on him and Toadie. Meanwhile, Macky remains on his sickbed and Sophia tells a frightened Felix how Jesus cured Jairus’s daughter. Soon after, Macky recovers, recalling a childhood snakebite that just might have inoculated him against this most recent bite.
Marcus has a growing suspicion that Antonius is the Masked Rebel, so he rents Toadie a neighboring villa with orders to keep an eye on Antonius and try to find the hidden passageway that apparently allows Antonius to come and go from his home unseen. Aware of the surveillance, Antonius must curtail his nocturnal activities. And now that he has some spare time, he notices that Felix is being shunned by the other boys because he’s mute. So he tells the boy the story of Bartimaeus, an old blind man whom Jesus picked out of a crowd to help. Meanwhile, Absolom encourages Macky to take on Antonius’ mantle while Antonius is lying low. Macky is reluctant – those are mighty big sandals to fill – so Absolom tells him the story of Saul, a seeming non-entity who eventually became king. Macky decides to go out on a rescue mission solo, while at the same time, Toadie causes the kids’ dog to run away, and Marcus imposes a long and tedious dinner on Antonius. Toadie thinks he has Antonius’s house all to himself and that he can search it for the hidden passageway, but he has a surprise coming: when the others left to find the dog, Felix remained behind, and now the boy must find a way to get the very determined Toadie out of the house, and keep him out.
Macky and the Masked Rebel rescue some slaves from certain death in the arena, and, as the frightened slaves hide from their pursuers, Absolom reassures them by telling how Elijah was fed by ravens and then by the poor widow. Later, an angry Marcus orders Aemelia jailed. He tells Babatunji that the only way she’ll be freed is if Babatunji agrees to help trap the Masked Rebel. Using Babatunji as bait, Marcus smokes out the Masked Rebel, but the Rebel smells a trap and the rescue goes awry. The Masked Rebel and Macky escape, while a dazed Babatunji – and an unconscious Toadie – are taken to a rebel safe house. Recuperating from his injury, Babatunji hears the Friends of Jesus tell the tale of the shepherd who placed so much importance on a single lost sheep. Soon, Antonius arrives to help Babatunji, and Babatunji finds himself unable to betray him. Instead, he tells him that Marcus is holding Aemelia hostage, and now, there seems to be no way of getting her back. Undeterred, Antonius devises a daring prisoner swap, one that takes full advantage of the still-unconscious Toadie. Once Aemelia is free, Babatunji begins to tell her the story of the shepherd and the sheep.
Frustrated by Marcus’s continual verbal assaults on the Friends of Jesus, Macky urges Antonius to speak out against him in the Senate. Antonius is reluctant to openly confront Marcus, so he tells Macky the story of Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem on a donkey. Macky counters with the story of Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the Temple... and Antonius gets an idea. He confronts Marcus in the Senate the next day, and Marcus is caught off-guard, speechless for once. Toadie offers to help Marcus get even with Antonius, but Marcus says he doesn’t need any help, and he fires the incompetent Toadie then and there, right in front of Toadie’s mother, Luciana. The next day, Marcus accuses Antonius of sending someone to spy on him. Antonius is arrested, and Macky feels the inevitable guilt for getting him into a predicament that seems to have no solution. To give Macky encouragement, Felix and Sophia tell Macky the story about the man who was lowered through a roof in order to meet Jesus. Macky and Portia decide to confront the so-called spy. They discover that he’s yet another of Marcus’s dupes, secretly scheduled to be eliminated as soon as he testifies against Antonius. Macky and Portia rescue the hapless spy, triggering a chase across Rome’s rooftops. In the end, the spy vanishes, but Macky and Portia are saved from Marcus’s thugs by Toadie, of all people.
Now trying to score points with Antonius, Toadie tells him that a financially strapped Marcus is planning to rob Rome’s treasury. Antonius takes Macky aside and tells him Jesus’ story about the vineyard owner whose son is murdered. It’s his way of telling Macky they need to take down Marcus themselves. Toadie soon returns to Antonius’s home, hoping to be paid for the tip. But Macky tells him the story of the rich people proudly putting coins into a trumpet-like plate at the Temple, and the poor woman who quietly donated all she had. The story sails right over Toadie’s head. Later, Macky and the Masked Rebel confront Marcus and his men inside the treasury. There’s a big, dangerous battle, but just when it looks like Marcus is about to be caught red-handed, Toadie stumbles in, ruining everything. Marcus escapes, and Macky is left thinking about all that money in the treasury, and how it could have helped those who are fighting the Romans. To help Macky keep his perspective, Antonius tells him the render unto Caesar story... but Antonius has regrets of his own, namely that Marcus is still walking around free. But not for long; furious that Marcus has rejected her precious son, Luciana tells Marcus that if he doesn’t leave the Senate – now – she will tell his fellow Senators about the lies, indiscretions and outright corruption she has seen during the forty years she’s known Marcus. With little choice, Marcus leaves the Senate.
When Macky tells Toadie the story of Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples, Toadie finally realizes that there will never be any material gain working for Antonius. So where should he turn? The answer comes only a little later, when Felix is taunted by some older children, and he runs away. Toadie goes to Marcus to exploit the situation. Meanwhile, Macky complains to Antonius about Toadie’s love of money and status, and Antonius tells him the story of Jesus helping the group of lepers, and being thanked by only one of them – the foreigner. Moments later, they get the news that Felix is being held for ransom by petty criminals. As the Masked Rebel, Antonius confronts one of the criminals and intimidates him into telling where Felix is. But Antonius decides to go into the place alone, leaving Macky outside to keep watch. Antonius easily defeats the thugs, who are holding an unharmed Felix, but Antonius’s mask terrifies Felix, and Antonius must remove it to calm him down. That’s when Toadie and Marcus reveal themselves. It was a trap, and Antonius is immediately arrested. Denying to passers-by that he’s involved in this, a guilt-ridden Macky hurries away with Felix. Later, when Portia goes to visit Antonius in jail, he tells her the story of Peter’s denials, and Portia realizes just how guilty Macky must feel right now.
Portia finds a dispirited Macky and gives him what she thinks is good news: that the authorities will release Antonius if he names the people he helped. But Macky knows that Antonius would rather die than do this, and he tells Portia how Jesus was condemned to die. Worried, Portia begs her uncle Tiberius to intervene on behalf of Antonius. A hesitant Tiberius agrees to send a message to the Emperor. Meanwhile, Antonius is on trial, and it’s not going well. Marcus is pushing for execution, while Antonius is remaining silent. Finally, a messenger arrives with news from the Emperor: he has decided not to intervene with the trial. Antonius is quickly condemned. As he sits in his cell the night before his planned execution, Antonius tells a seemingly uninterested guard the story of the crucifixion. But the guard turns out to be Absolom, who’s been brought in by Macky to help rescue Antonius. Antonius regains his freedom, but not before a daring chase through the catacombs, topped by a rousing chariot ride.
Injured during his escape, Antonius entrusts Macky with the scrolls that contain the New Testament stories Antonius has been transcribing. But when Macky and Portia go to retrieve the scrolls, they learn that Marcus has possession of them now, and he intends to burn them in the arena. Portia urges Macky to forget about the scrolls and leave Rome immediately, but Macky is deeply committed to seeing that their stories live on, and he tells her the tale of Jesus meeting Cleopas and the other man to help explain why it’s so important to him that the story lives on. With Absolom’s help, Macky and Portia are able to steal the scrolls back, while at the same time, Marcus falls victim to a horrible accident involving a hungry lion. Leaving Rome for a new and uncertain life, Macky asks Portia if she’s sure she wants to come with him. He tells her the story of the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus; the young man was prepared to accept the Ten Commandments, but he was unwilling to give up everything he owned. What will Portia decide? You'll have to watch the episode to see!