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The Book of Daniel: Temptation and Forgiveness

by Michael Sciannamea, posted Jan 7th 2006 12:12AM

In the middle of his sermon, Reverend Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn) poses this question to the congregation:

"If there were no temptation, how can there be redemption?"

The Book of Daniel made its much anticipated debut Friday night on NBC with a two-hour episode. If you saw it, you know there were so many subplots that trying to recap them here will make your (and my) head spin.

In a nutshell, Daniel's life is a complicated one, to say the least. This Episcopalian man of the cloth has to deal with his teenage daughter (Grace) being arrested for dealing pot, to having a gay son (Peter) that causes confusion for him, to having an adopted son from China (Adam) who pokes fun at his Asian features and heritage, to having a neurotic wife taken to having martinis as soon as noon passes, to having a female bishop critiquing his Sunday sermons, to finding out his brother-in-law has embezzled $3.2 million from the church, to dealing with a stiff and wooden father who happens to be a bishop, to his mother suffering from Alzheimer's, to interacting with a Mafia-connected Catholic priest. (I could go further but I think you get the general idea.)

And let's not forget to mention that Daniel has lost a son to leukemia, pops pills, and has conversations with Jesus about everything that is happening in his life. At one point, with his entire world swirling around him, Daniel asks Jesus why is life so hard. Jesus responds that "life is hard for everyone--that's why there's such a nice reward at the end of it."

You get the idea, after these two hours, that Daniel is at his core a good and decent man trying his best to do good for his family and the community. However, he and everyone else have given in to temptation, whether it's Adam entering into a forbidden romance with a churchgoer's daughter that has undertones of racism behind it, or when his brother-in-law's wife enters into a lesbian relationship with the woman with whom he cheated with who may have played a role in the embezzlement of the church money. In addition, you have his father (the bishop) who ends up sleeping with his bishop (Ellen Burstyn). And of course, at it's very essence, Jesus shows up every now and then to help Daniel understand it all.

There's still more we could cover, but you probably get the general idea. Did the show live up to the hype, especially after a number of religious groups blasted it and a few (4, I believe) NBC affiliates refused to air it? It's difficult to say at this point. The concept of the show is a good one, but it seems that the creators/writers are doing their best to "shock" Middle America with all of the edgy humor and controversial subject matter.

I definitely will tune in next week, when the show reverts to one-hour episodes. What may cause viewers to get frustrated is the fact there are too many subplots going on and it too closely resembles a daytime soap. Hopefully, the following episodes will be a little tighter with one central theme and one or two subplots instead of the avalanche of storylines we got in the premiere. Let's see what happens next week and we may get a better idea of where this all takes us.

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Kaylene Perkey

I am very saddened that this wonderful show has been cancelled. We finally have a show about a minister who is human, and cares about his family and church members.

The first show was pretty wild, but most of this show is intended to be a farce, to make us both laugh, and think. It also had to introduce all the characters. This show was with quite an excellent ensemble cast, had many,many fine actors.

I do not go to church, but if I found a caring minister like Daniel Webster, I would attend immediately.
The show dealt with real issues, about real people, and showed Jesus in a sensible light.

Shame, shame, shame on the Evangelicals who refuse to open their eyes to an excellent program.

Here is a program dealing with real life issues, from Alzheimer's disease, addiction problems, having a son who is trying to be openly Gay, just to name a few.

Life is complicated. People could have been truly influenced to seek a good and decent church, with a minister who kindly deals with real problems. He doesn't just say "Jesus is the answer."

This is a travesty. I was so pleased that NBC was willing to take a chance on such an excellent program.
Maybe one of the cable channels will pick up The Book of Daniel so this can continue.

January 26 2006 at 8:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I enjoyed it, and will give it a few episodes to develop. As said ealier, pilots are usually awkward.

I also don't see how bible-belters could be upset at it, it wasn't making fun of religion, and it wasn't even making fun of 'theirs', it was about Episcopalians and a little Italian-American stereotype, which I personally found funny. I hope the Catholic priest is a recurring character in the show, actually.

January 09 2006 at 2:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cold Chilli

I liked the show. And laughed out loud many times.
I found the Jesus portrayal a little washy, but it does make sense. Jesus isn't a fortune teller and God gives you free will, he wasn't stopping Daniel from doing anything but guided him in his decision, just like someones conscious. I did like how he showed up when Daniel wanted to pop some pills. And the irony of his daughter getting busted dealing while he's supplying his bishop with some "special aspirin"

What I didn't like is how they had the 2 bishops in an affair. They are both priests. A little too much scandal all at once.

January 08 2006 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For one, I enjoyed this show. No, it's not charming, and it's not all that witty, but I found myself watching and laughing at the show.
Maybe it happens to be I can relate to the characters (especially about the comment made how "it's expensive pretending to be striaght"), and maybe it's because I see the use of religion as a plot device. I don't take the show as an attack against religion, I see it as what television is supposed to be: entertainment.

I agree on the accounts that the show has too many subplots going on at the same time, but I do not condone this. I actually found it refreshing to have things change at a stellar ADHD pace. It was just a fun show to watch.
I think, though, that people have to keep an open mind while watching the show, and they will have to watch it without over analyzing. This show is meant to be amusing, not a literary masterpiece. In this sense, I do not feel like the torrent of sublots is a bad thing.

Personally, I really wish to figure out how events are going to resolve. I do believe that when the conclusion comes, it will satisfy me.

PS: From the amount of people I know who watched this show, I think it will stay around. Maybe the Bible-Belt will condemn it, but hey, New Englanders seem to love it.

January 08 2006 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I tried watching this (like I swore to do) and, frankly, couldn't justify giving it two hours of my time. (I gave it over half an hour before giving up. Please give me some credit.) The premise is great, and I do enjoy helping to cheese off certain Christian groups (the types that would be irritated by this show, anyway), but frankly, I think it lacks a certain spark.

At any rate, if a show can't hold my attention for half an hour (and I grew up on PBS, not MTV -- I DO have an attention span), then... what? What does that mean?

But if it gets cancelled, I can rest easy knowing that it does so on its own merits, not due to pressure from insane fundamentalist organizations.

January 08 2006 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really enjoyed the show, but found myself wondering about casting Christian Campbell in that part. I realize the guy has a baby face, but he's in his 30s! Maybe I missed an explanation about his character, but if he is indeed supposed to be a teenager, why didn't they just cast a teenager?
Beyond that, though, I was taken with the show. I'm looking forward to the next ep.

January 07 2006 at 5:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I gave it a go, but it didn't do much for me. I might tune in one more time, just because pilots are always awkward and bloated due to attempts to establish characters, histories, and relationships. This show has potential in that it has good casting -- Quinn, Burstyn, Thompson, and Pill -- and as someone else said, it does have a close family at its core.

And I really don't think the creators were out to "shock" the Midwest; I think they were trying to provide a nuanced portrait of a real family, one with difficulties. However, imho, they kitchen-sinked it. They threw everything in there. It would have been better if they'd opened with a few things and introduced the other issues later. I don't know very many families that suffer so much...at least at one time. It's not about the ability to follow subplots, it's about the plausability. Alzheimer's, still coping with the son's sexuality, and the drug arrest would have sufficed. We didn't need the financial escapades, lesbian affairs, etc. at the same time. It impeded the flow. Should have introduced those things later, once everything else was established.

Of course, Joan of Arcadia it will never be, anyhow. But I don't think it's trying to be so spiritual. I get the feeling it's a family drama, where the father happens to be a minister. He could just as easily have been an accountant, but being a minister adds another dynamic -- he therefore has to be more patient and understanding. (And more concerned about public opinion.) If he'd been an accountant, the premiere would also have been just too stuffed -- but we wouldn't be getting quite the same number of complaints that the religious right is throwing out now (without having seen it). It's not like religious familes don't also have problems. I was raised Catholic, so we don't have the whole married priest thing. But my best friend growing up was a PK (preacher's kid, for the uninitiated), and trust me, they're just like any other family. Loving, supportive, functional, and effed up. Totally the same as all others, but with more pressure to be perfect.

I also thought Adam was a total a-hole, and if his character continues as presented last night, I won't watch. Totally unlikable and unredeemable. Arrogant, cocky, and mean. I think they meant him to be charming in some way, but I only saw that he was smug, glib, and totally offputting. I intensely disliked him, he was such a weasel. Enough so as to not watch in the future if they don't tone him down. Also, in my family, we siblings insulted each other, of course, but not as maliciously (though I know some families thrive on that), but the ratting out of one another's secrets? Was not cool. In fact, there was a bit of solidarity in the Us vs. Them, so I was surprised to see so much tattling.

In the end, I don't think this show will make it, but I don't think it'll be because of the religious right. (And I saw that the Episcopalian Church was actually telling its members to watch and use it as a springboard for discussion. How open minded! And they were the ones being represented.) It'll be because the writers, etc. lacked self-control and any idea of pacing. Oh, and the character of Adam.

P.S. -- To the viewer who wondered about the wealth and how much priests earn, when the sister-in-law came over and said something about Charlie taking the money, the martini-guzzling wife said, "the family money?" Her sister said, "no, the church money." So the answer is that the sisters are loaded.

January 07 2006 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
paul adams

I am with commenter number 3. Throughout the pilot you could tell that was not some oogie-boogie...conspiracy cooked up by the hollywierd liberals to destroy the concepts of jesus and the church. It was something to show that issues exist in families ALL families.

The wheel has to be reinvented. Their are no real dramas dealing with the "true" issues of the family on television today. It is good to see that somebody is writing and producing again. My,my,my could somebody have gotten the memo in programming that stated that Reality Shows were really beginning to suck.

But my real point in posting was this. 30 or so years ago, CBS began a television show with the following disclaimer:

The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show -- in a mature fashion -- just how absurd they are."

And it did...over 8 year, it changed the way we looked at one another and ourselves in society, and maybe if we watch the book of daniel...that show may in some way do for us what norman lear did as people were coming home from Vietnam and we need to laugh again and learn how to love again.

But as the irreverent dennis miller always that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Thanks for reading what i had to post.

January 07 2006 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rich Keller

Well, two things come to mind:

1. What happened here makes that whole 'Martin is a Daddy' incident on "7th Heaven" look like nothing.

2. How much do Episcopalian ministers make? They had a very nice house, were able to put their son through college, and even have someone to make their Sunday dinners for them. I guess I'll quit my job in IT.

I really wasn't shocked about anything that went on during the show. Sure, they all are being lured by temptation; however, if you watch long enough, you can tell that this is a pretty loving family. I'll be interested to see what goes on in the upcoming weeks.

January 07 2006 at 8:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ed Kulp

Edgy humor I think not. Contraveshal definatly.Why is it that hollywood seems to get a free ride to critisize and insult the one true God and the Christian faith.If this type of show was directed at the Muslim, Jewish , or Buddist faith people would be up in arms.Or at least thats what the media would feed us.Fact is Jesus Christ is God he died on a cross for our sins.Christ was not a laid back passafist who would just lay back and say well there just being kids.Christ is now and always has and will be loving, but love tells us to turn from what is bad for us Not to live in it.

January 07 2006 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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