Along the Tracks

Sunday, January 08, 2006

'Book of Daniel' not bad

On Friday night, I watched the opening double-episode of “The Book of Daniel” on NBC – the controversial new comedy-drama in which an Episcopal clergy member in a dysfunctional district struggles with both career and family with the help of occasional conversations with Jesus.

Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised.

A few words of caution are appropriate. The program, like most dramas on television today, is heavy on the sex, heavy on bizarre situations (which many people may find offensive) and heavy on “politically correct” issues to tackle: racism, religious acceptance of gays and drug use, among others.

If one recognizes these are typical themes in 2006 entertainment and moves on to the concept and the story itself, one finds “The Book of Daniel” enjoyable and even uplifting.
Everyone has problems, and to spice up the show, Rev. Daniel Webster has a choir loft full of them: A teen daughter caught selling marijuana; an adopted teen son of Asian background who can’t wait for adulthood; an openly gay son of college age struggling more with the perceptions inside his family than the world outside; a brother-in-law who loses a $3 million church school fund then dies in most untoward circumstances; a mother in the throws of Alzheimer’s disease; a long-suffering wife ready for a different role in life than women’s group facilitator; and a strict father (you guessed it – also a pastor) with unattainable expectations for his son. Long list though the above may be, there is even more – and the intersection of all these challenges can require a scorecard for the viewer.

If this heaping helping of troubles were the sum total of the program, it would be little different than what happens on “Desperate Housewives” – life and times on Ministeria Lane.

But there’s something else – and that’s what makes “The Book of Daniel” stand out.
Jesus pops in for frequent chats with Daniel. Jesus is white-robed, long-haired and bearded – straight out of a Renaissance painting. He’s also quick-witted, comfortable and confident – that’s right, Christ is cool. And His message, at least in the premiere, does not stray from what we read in the Gospels – although, admittedly, the situations involved may not have arisen too often in 1st century Palestine.

Frankly, the premiere’s main problem was too much drama, not enough comedy. The situations are bizarre – so why not have more fun with them?

Aidan Quinn is superb as Daniel – no surprise there. Experienced actors fill many of the roles, while the new faces show great promise in the opener. Garret Dillahunt plays Jesus in such a way that you wish He was talking to you.

Christian critics of the show need to step back a moment and consider that fact. If Hollywood can portray Jesus as someone we all want to be friends with, maybe those Christian critics should focus their energy on proclaiming what a friend we already have in Him.

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