Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Book of Daniel

Show description from NBC.com:
A provocative, edgy and compelling new drama, "The Book of Daniel" stars Emmy nominee Aidan Quinn ("An Early Frost," "Plainsong," "Legends of the Fall") as the Rev. Daniel Webster, an unconventional Episcopalian priest who not only believes in Jesus – he actually sees him and discusses life with him. ` The limited series premieres on Friday, Jan. 6 at 9-11 p.m. ET/PT with two back-two-back episodes; returning the following week (Jan. 16) at its regularly scheduled time, Fridays at 10-11 p.m. ET/PT. Webster is challenged on many levels as he struggles to be a good husband, father and minister, while navigating an often rocky relationship with the church hierarchy, led by Bishop Beatrice Congreve (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," "Requiem of a Dream") and Roger Paxton, a senior warden of the parish and stalwart churchgoer (Dylan Baker, "Kinsey," "Happiness"). Webster also has loving, but challenging relationships with his three children: Peter (Christian Campbell, "Trick"), his 23-year-old gay son, struggling with the loss of his twin brother; his 16-year-old daughter Grace (Alison Pill, "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen"), a talented Manga artist dealing with typical teenage angst; and Adam (Ivan Shaw, "All My Children"), his 16-year-old adopted Chinese son, a handsome and cocky high school jock with a wicked sense of humor. Keeping Webster grounded is his strong, loving wife Judith (Susanna Thompson, "Once and Again") – who is also coming to terms with the loss of her son and her own future and ambitions now that her children are nearly grown – and Jesus (Garret Dillahunt, "Deadwood"), his best friend and confidante who serves as a sounding board and encourages Webster to find the answers to his questions within himself. Creator Jack Kenny ("Titus"), Flody Suarez ("8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter," "The Tick") and John Tinker ("The Practice," "Chicago Hope") are the executive producers of this production from NBC Universal Television Studio and Sony Pictures Television.


I had heard nothing about this show until just happening to see a little report on Entertainment Tonight (which I only watch occasionally) about how the Catholic church was threatening to take it off the air. Nothing like a little controversy from the religious right to promote a show! Well, it worked for me too. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

If you got all the characters straight from above, here's the rest of their dynamics. Daniel is a very caring father who is good at his job, despite the frustrations he goes through, and he has a very close relationship with Judith (they schedule love making every Friday night). Daniel's brother-in-law Charlie has disappeared along with $3 million in church money that was supposed to be used to build a school. Charlie's wife/Judith's sister is meanwhile having a lesbian affair with Charlie's secretary, who they hired to get them out of their sexual rut. Adam is dating/in love with/having sex with Roger's daughter Caroline, which upsets Roger's wife who 'doesn't want little Asian children running around her Christmas tree.' Daniel's father is also a priest who is trying to set up Peter with a girl because the family hasn't broken the news to him that's he is gay. Daniel's mother has Alzheimer's or some form of dementia and doesn't recognize her own family anymore. Because of the pain of this, Daniel's father is having an affair with the Bishop Beatrice, who also covets the painkillers Daniel is addicted to. Also not mentioned in the show description is the fact that the show opens with Grace being arrested for pot dealing and Judith has a weakness for martinis. Still with me? Daniel has another priest friend who has connections with the Mafia, and their detective work reveals that Charlie is found dead in a Florida hotel naked with several foreign objects in his rectum.

Ok, so this is all a bit cartoonish and exaggerated in my opinion, but it's Hollywood, so you have to take it for what it is. It's actually kind of funny. I have never watched a complete episode of Desperate Housewives, but many are comparing it to this show. It has all the elements of a dirty soap opera that people will clamor around the water cooler to talk about and the Golden Globes will shower with awards. Book of Daniel takes these extreme conventions of sinful primetime Dynasty-type antics and throws Jesus into the mix, and like clockwork, Christians who haven't watched a micro-second of it are literally threatening to blow up the NBC headquarters. NBC apparently opened the phone lines to their studio after the show was to air so that people could have a dialogue about the show, as the First Amendment allows, and Christians were supposedly trying to sabotage the phone lines so this couldn't take place. Yes, Mr. Bush, there ARE real terrorists in America! Guess what? They're not who you think they are!

It's hard to completely judge or review a show by its premiere. It's like reviewing the first 10 minutes of a feature film. My initial thoughts on it are that it has potential to delve into some interesting areas of discussion. The writing is decent but not always great; there are some weak moments with poor dialogue and bad sexual puns. The exaggeration of the various scandalous relations between the characters is a little bit contrived and hard to take seriously. Yet at the same time, it's probably a more honest portrayal of what goes on behind the scenes in some Christians' lives than say, 7th Heaven, where most things get resolved in a pretty package by the end of each episode. I love 7th Heaven, but its recent idealism is one of the main criticisms I sometimes have of it (plus I can't forgive them for that musical episode). But again, that's a family show, and this is not.

I can totally understand why some people are against the show, as it's not for everybody and the subject matter might be disturbing for some. But it's not entirely useless, either. There are genuine tender moments in Book of Daniel where we really see the pain these characters are going through. Daniel's father and the look of anguish on his face when his own wife slaps him for touching her (and says "don't you dare touch me! my husband is a minister!") is a very sad scene. It puts things into proper context when we find out later that he is having an affair with the bishop, and he embraces her in tears. This is why affairs happen, because of a breakdown of connection between couples. There are real moments of pain in the show that are handled with honesty. Perhaps if the religious right spent less time lashing out in hate against Hollywood, they would realize that there are people in this country going through deep anguish and hiding dark secrets, and Hollywood is writing about it. Hell, I got some dark secrets and family scandals of my own, how about you?

Anyway, the most interesting scenes for me are the moments when Daniel talks with Jesus. The dialogue is funny and heartfelt, and reminiscent of Joan of Arcadia, where God appears with vague advice and pearls of wisdom. What I find poignant is how it literally represents the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is what Christianity really is. In quiet moments I have had prayerful conversations with Jesus where I actually heard him speaking back to me in very casual language, much like the Jesus in this show. Jesus wants to be this close to us. It's a fantastic thing to see on primetime. Equally powerful is the moment when Daniel looks sadly at his mother and says he misses her. Jesus stands behind him and touches his shoulder. My friends, THAT is reality TV!

Most people would agree that Jesus is the most important person who ever lived, and nobody has had a greater impact on the world. I think most people would agree that they would love to sit down and have a casual chat with Jesus. However, if actually given the opportunity, I think most would hide in shame for fear of being judged. They might say, Isn't that what his followers do? If I actually could sit and chat with Jesus and tell him about my problems, won't he just make me feel worse because of how holy he is?

This is Jesus....

John 8
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Take a look at the Book of Daniel and see what it might be like to just chat with Jesus.

(Daniel takes out his pills and Jesus appears, taking them away)

Daniel: Oh, come on! I think I deserve one! (Jesus is silent) Half of one?

Jesus: (handing him candy) Try a lime life-saver.

Daniel: Sorry, but cherry is far better.

Jesus: Fair enough.

Daniel: You know I really care about Charlie. I went out on a limb for him, I would never, ever damn anybody. I couldn't. I was....(long pause, sighs) I'm sorry.

Jesus: I know.

Daniel: I was....angry.

Jesus: Don't worry. You don't have that much power.

(Daniel laughs)

Daniel: Why is it so easy to talk to you?

Jesus: I'm a good listener. Plus I never burden you with my problems.

Daniel: You got problems?

Jesus: Now we're talking about you.

Daniel: Tell me what to do. I don't know what to do anymore.

Jesus: Yes you do.

Daniel: No, I don't.

Jesus: It's just hard. Life is hard, Daniel, for everyone. That's why there's such a nice reward at the end of it.

Daniel: I know that's supposed to be comforting. But it's not! Aren't you supposed to comfort me?

Jesus: Where'd you read that? Some Episcopalian self-help book?

(Daniel laughs)

Jesus: That's good! You should laugh more! Hey, have you read "Jesus' Guide to a Comfortable Life?" Very comforting, that one...

7 Comments:

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1:05 AM  
Michael Smith said...

While I'm disgusted by Christian's who don't know their Lord well enough to leave Hollywood alone. Don't dilute the English language by calling this ilk terrorists. Terrorism is perhaps the lunatic fringe of insecure religious fanaticism. But you'll not find very many American Evangelicals that would kill themselves or others over this. If someone did, the rest of the church would vehemently disapprove. Except for maybe doddering old Pat Robertson. That aside, I'm glad you watched the show. My wife and I could not catch it. When we talked about the hoopla though, we discussed how this show seems to begin at the end of a crappy period in someone's life. Perhaps redemption is the end of the series? There are a lot of Christians with similar lives that don't get "right" till the spit hits the fan. And as C.S. Lewis says in "Mere Christianity" 'You never know where a Christian has begun his journey'.
Whether Hollywood was trying to slam Christians or not. I'm sure they were bracing themselves for verbal abuse. Thanks for being a Philip to the Ethiopian around this show. Mike

9:54 PM  
Reviews by Ken Priebe said...

Thanks Mike-
Yeah I know the terrorism comment is kinda out there...I meant it to be tongue-in-cheek. The forums on NBC's site surrounding the show are filled with similar comments and banter, so it was more a commentary on that whole argument. It will be interesting to see what else happens with this show...it's all kind of under the radar at the moment.

5:55 PM  
Richard said...

OMG. This story with Daniel and Jesus was f#@king great. I tend to stear clear of religous or spiritul matters because of all the religious hate in the world, but this really comforts me. Thank you.
Richard

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Jennifer Pollack said...

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