“Book of Daniel”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
September 26, 2006

A pill-popping Episcopalian priest, an affair between the clergyman’s father and the female church bishop, and a wisecracking Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that there was so much controversy surrounding the January 2006 debut of The Book of Daniel?

The series, which lasted less than a month before NBC canceled it, isn’t quite as controversial as it was made out to be. If you take religion out of the mix, you’re left with a loving but conflicted family that argues, loves, and tries to make the best of what they have.

Aidan Quinn stars as Father Daniel Webster. He’s the married father of three children–a gay college student, an adopted Chinese boy, and an artistic 16-year-old girl who resorts to selling pot to save enough money to buy herself a new computer for her Japanese anime-influenced comic drawings. When one of her brothers asks, “You do manga?” Daniel freaks out. “Is that some kind of marijuana?”

The show was canceled after just four episodes, but all eight are available on this two-disc DVD set. (The first two episodes are presented as one here.) Truth be told, with the exception of the series’ final unaired episode, the four that were televised were the strongest. The story arc revolving around Daniel’s brother–a rising politician–and the priest’s martini-swilling wife goes nowhere.

Same for the plot between adopted younger son Adam (Ivan Shaw) and his boarding school girlfriend. While the series doesn’t present the clergy as perfect religious role models, it does show them as hard working and caring.

The series has a lot of heart–sometimes so much that it resembles Seventh Heaven more than a cutting edge series. But Quinn is incredibly likeable as the conflicted priest who knows from right and wrong but can’t always prevent himself (or others) from falling prey to their darker side. And Ellen Burstyn is hilarious as Beatrice Congreve, a bishop who tells it like it is. Of Daniel’s latest lackluster sermon, Beatrice says, “I would describe your service as flaccid.” What can you say? When she’s right, she right.

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