It’s not hard to figure how “The Book of Daniel” made it on the air. No doubt, some executive at NBC got hold of the script for the pilot and had an attack of sheer giddiness at all the potentially controversial topics contained within. Here’s Daniel Webster, an Episcopalian priest (Aidan Quinn) with a possibly-alcoholic wife (Susanna Thompson), a gay son (Christian Campbell), an adopted Chinese son (Ivan Shaw) who’s seeing a girl with parents who don’t approve of his, uh, non-whiteness, and a daughter who deals pot to finance her burgeoning Manga career (Alison Pill). His mother (Kathleen Chalfant) is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and his father (James Rebhorn) – who’s a bishop – is now sleeping with the bishop of Daniel’s church (Ellen Burstyn)…who, by the way, is hooked on prescription painkillers. His sister-in-law (Cheryl White) is a recent widow who’s turned to lesbianism in her grief, and, just for good measure, her late husband swiped three million dollars from Daniel’s church bank account, leading them to have to borrow money from the mob. And throughout all of this, Daniel is popping pills himself, not to mention having conversations with Jesus that are less one-sided than one might reasonably expect.
It’s like someone said, “You know, ‘7th Heaven’ would be so much better if they’d just spice it up a little,” then someone else said, “Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound.” The acting is more than acceptable throughout the eight episodes – if you’ve got a good eye, you might also spot Hayden Panettiere, otherwise known as Claire the cheerleader, from “Heroes,” in a recurring role – but Aidan Quinn is definitely the rock of the series. The problem is, he’s got so much going on around him that it sometimes feels as though the subplots involving his work at the church are almost incidental…and it’s a shame, because his scenes with various parishioners tend to be highlights of the episodes.
The tagline on the back of the DVD box is, “With a family like this…God help him.” A more apropos observation, however, might be, “God help any show that finds Jesus Christ delivering the majority of its funny lines.” That’s not a joke; our man Jesus (played by Garret Dillahunt) tends to smirk through many of his scenes. To be fair, though, there’s one episode that puts a humorous twist on Daniel’s conversations with the son of God; a young girl at the church mentions to Daniel how she talks to Jesus and that he’s standing right there…but, in this case, Daniel can’t see him, begging the question, is it one or both of these people who has an imaginary friend?
“The Book of Daniel” isn’t as bad as it might sound by that massive descriptive paragraph above, but neither is it as good as it should’ve been…and when that’s the best praise you can offer a show, it’s no wonder it only lasted eight episodes.Special Features:
It’s relatively special that, of the eight episodes, four of them have never been aired, but, otherwise, the only other feature is that of various deleted scenes from five of the episodes. Shame nobody could be bothered to do any audio commentary.