I caught The Book of Daniel on Friday night. I knew very little about the show going in, except that a few Christian groups were up in arms about the subject matter (a fact that, I’ll admit, made the show more intriguing to me). I knew the premise: an Episcopal priest whose family has a lot of issues.
The show had potential to be interesting. The pilot, however, just ended up being offensive; and I am among those who are not easily offended by what I see on television.
I wasn’t offended as a Christian. Sure, the priest’s family was not perfect. Speaking from experience, minister’s families never are. I actually kind of liked the main character Daniel, as even with his major flaws, he came across as likeable, if not a particularly good decision maker. I much prefer his character to the stereotypical judgmental and hypocritical Christian that I often see on television (which, in fairness, certainly exists in real life).
I was, however, offended as an intelligent television viewer. Somewhere between the acting and the writing, this is one of the least believable dramas I have seem in some time.
I understand the television dramas need to be exaggerated to a certain degree to be interesting. My most recent favorite, Six Feet Under, is an example. While the issues that the family deals with are all very real, it’s difficult to believe that all of them will happen to one family in such a short amount of time. In order to enjoy any drama series, one must suspend disbelief, as a realistic family with realistic problems does not offer enough of a storyline to make an interesting series.
The Book of Daniel takes this problem, inherent to most dramas, and takes it to ridiculous new heights. The first episode dealt with alcoholism (Daniel’s wife), chemical addiction (Daniel’s affinity for pain killers), drug dealing (Daniel’s daughter), racism (people’s reaction to Daniel’s adopted son), marital infidelity (Daniel’s father and sister-in-law), Alzheimers (Daniel’s mother), embezzlement (Daniel’s brother-in-law), the Mafia (a Catholic priest has connections, the only religious portrayal that I had a real problem with) and a priest dealing with a gay son. Oh yeah, and the “buddy Christ” from Dogma reappears to help Daniel through all of his problems (offering such great advice as trying tic-tacs instead of pain killers). That was just in the first two hours.
Most issues that were presented have potential to make interesting television. Unfortunately, each potential conflict gets lost in the sheer volume of the drama involved. Daniel doesn’t have the time to deal with each individual problem, so he ends up just wading his way through with the occasional fortune cookie-like advice from the buddy Christ. Its difficult to imagine where this show can go from here, and I am not interested enough to find out.
There were some redeeming qualities to the show: As mentioned above, Daniel was quite likeable, and I particularly enjoyed the difficulty Daniel had when offering council to a woman who needed to medicate herself with pot to enjoy relations with her fiancee, especially in light of Daniel’s own chemical problems. While the charge of moral relativism may be a fair one in this instance, I prefer his reaction to the simple “do as I say, don’t do as I do” approach.
Anything positive, however, was more than overshadowed by suspect writing and horrible acting.
My guess is that the show will hang around for a while because of the controversy it created. For those who still object to the show’s portrayal of Christianity: take heart. I don’t see it hanging around long.