NBC's The Book of Daniel: A Review

Joseph in Nativity Scene
Joseph in Nativity Scene,
originally uploaded by Points North.
I watched The Book of Daniel on NBC last night. I've read some reviews of it (see TheStar.com - Entering the lion's den: by ALAN SEPINWALL of the RELIGION NEWS SERVICE), but they've been along the lines of, "Book of Daniel is going to be controversial, and that's even before you consider that [Jack] Kenny [series creator] is gay..." rather than whether it's any good or not. So I thought I'd find out for myself.

The characters are distinctive, and the dialogue engaging. I like the colour rendition, and the graphics that sequence out of a scene and into a commercial are innovative. The writing is good enough to keep me watching without too much zoning out. But the plot is clearly along the lines of a soap opera, requiring you to tune in every week for fear of getting lost otherwise. And this is where it loses me. Some of the characterization gets a bit cliched:
  • A catholic priest with ties to the mafia;
  • a daughter dealing pot who's otherwise a good kid (more on that later);
  • every high-powered woman drinks;
  • every character has an obvious sin -- smoking, drinking, popping pills, hypocrisy.
When a scene showed even the housekeeper illicitly smoking, it became a bit over the top. It's as if there cannot be one normal character in this series, not even to act as a foil for the rest.

The creator definitely has a thing for drugs.
  • The daughter deals pot,
  • the father pops pills and smokes cigars,
  • the mother drinks martinis,
  • the wife of the high-powered congregant drinks,
  • the female bishop wants vicodin too,
  • the internet hacker wants pot,
  • the housekeeper smokes,
  • the congregant who comes for counselling gets high to have sex, ad nauseaum.
Kenny tries to create stories that are interesting, but in at least one case, the basic premise is unsound. A good kid, the daugher, who needs money to create animations on her computer wouldn't (a) deal pot to raise the money -- that's out of her milieu -- she's more likely to be entrepreunerial in her computer skills or go get the job she ends up getting at the end; and (b) any kid who can create animations on her computer is going to be able to find animation software on the internet and figure out how to use it herself -- she wouldn't need some guy to help her (assuming that's where this plotline is going) -- and she'd find someone in her own school to help her illicitly download if that's what she wants, not need to be on a "chain gang" to find someone. This plotline just made me want to roll my eyes.

The Episcopal Church is the equivalent of the Anglican Church in Canada and the Church of England in England. It belongs to the Anglican Communion like the others. Now they've pissed off the Anglican Communion by ordaining a bishop who's in a homosexual relationship; they also pissed off many of their own priests and parishes, and so I'm just not sure how realistic is the way this priest deals with a couple coming in for pre-marital counselling nor the way he talks about his gay son looking for a mate. Kenny says he's a "spiritual person" but he doesn't have the son and his priest-father have a spiritual discussion about homosexuality and God and what that means for his life. There are currently only two points of view you hear about in the press and pop culture: homosexuals (men that is, women rarely mentioned) are either sinful by their very nature or they're no different than heterosexuals. How about a conversation along the lines of the lesbian Anglican bishop who said she's celibate: God created her as a lesbian, but the Bible is also clear (to her) about homosexual relationships; thus her lesbianism is her particular challenge to live with, one she has to figure out how to do so within what God expects from her, as best she can. (Others may have, for example, a disability as their challenge in life.) You want to talk about controversial -- now THAT would be controversial.

My biggest beef with the series is not that Kenny is gay -- who cares really? -- or that Jesus is in it, but that it's riddled with cliches and not with truly interesting spiritual discussions, which a drama like this could carry if it wanted to. If you want another soap opera to watch, you'll like this. Me? I think I'll watch In Justice and Getting Along Famously instead. (Note to CBC, CTV, Global: bring back some decent Canadian dramas already!)

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Blue Turtle said…
It would have been controversial ... but also perhaps more historically correct ... if the Jesus was black.
Fiction to work needs to be believable. You're right, Jesus is too fair, but I don't think a "black" Jesus is any more believable. Men from the Middle East have black hair, brown skin, and brown eyes. They're distinct from Africans though. God in "Joan of Arcadia" was much more believable...and fun.