Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Never judge a show by it's pilot: The Book of Daniel.

This past Christmas I was in Ohio and I saw a lot promos for a new NBC series titled The Book of Daniel. My first thought was that this show looks to do to organized religion what Desperate Housewives did to suburbia. When I returned home to Hollywood I was surfing the net and wanted to check up on the American Family Association. This was the group that was staging boycotts of businesses that chose to say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas” in their retail ads, in-store promotions and in television commercials. I was curious to see what this group was going to do now that Christmas was over. What I found was their new crusade with a link that read NBC Demeans Christian Faith. I clicked on the link and read their statement, “New NBC Drama Show Mocks Christianity”. The AFA has set up an e-mail campaign where they want people to write to NBC Chairman Bob Wright and complain about the yet to be aired series. Here are some of their grievances:

NBC is touting the network's mid-season replacement series "The Book of Daniel" with language that implies it is a serious drama about Christian people and Christian faith.
What promo were you watching?

The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis.
Even priests and their families are not immune to addiction.

Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus.
Garret Dillahunt looks no different than most of the other depictions of Jesus I have seen.

The writer for the series (Jack Kenny) is a practicing homosexual.
The AFA seem obsessed with the “Gay Agenda”. Currently the AFA is considering a boycott of Ford Motor Company because they support the “Gay Agenda”

The readers are directed to use a link to send a letter to NBC Chairman Bob Wright and find a prewritten letter. I would like to remind the AFA that shows in the past like Soap, Married... with Children and Desperate Housewives grew in popularity when groups or individuals protested the show on moral grounds. As I stated in my article Must See Sabbath, “I believe in God but I don’t see myself as a religious person”. I also feel that God has a sense of humor. You might say that I’m betting my eternal life on it. Since God gave us free will I’ll watch the pilot and decide for myself.

Let me start with the positive. The pilot titled Temptation opens with Daniel Webster and his wife Judith (Susanna Thompson) bailing their daughter Grace (Alison Pill) out of jail. The family interaction on the drive home establishes that this is a caring family. Revered and Mrs. Webster's addictions were seen, but not resolved nor was it glamorized. I liked that this is not Father Knows Best so to speak. I have known a couple of pastors and have the seen the difference between their personal life with all it's struggles and their alter persona. This is captured nicely in the show. The best part of the show is the character of Jesus who is a constant companion to Daniel in times of trouble or temptation. The Jesus character is not judgmental. He helps Daniel find the answers within himself and does it with great humor. In other words, Jesus is Daniel's rock

My problem with the show is the pacing. The promo implied that the show would be one comedy of errors after another and like movie previews they show the best part of the show thus eliminating any element of surprise. Many characters are witty, perhaps too witty, but being witty is no substitute for being funny. There was no physical comedy until 48 minutes into the episode when Daniel's sister in law Victoria (Cheryl White) runs after her late husband's mistress Jessie (Alana De La Garza) during his Funeral. I think the show could use some work, but has potential. I would tell the AFA that the show is a serious drama about Christian people. I have more problems with the serious part than the Christian part. I expected more laughs, but I never judge a show by it's pilot fortunately the second episode titled Forgiveness aired immediately after the pilot.

The second episode had a better pace and a better balance of witty and funny. I'm starting to care more for the supporting characters, (More so the adults then the smart-ass children.) and the "what happened to the money" storyline. The episode had a stand-alone story where Daniel gives premarital counseling to a couple. These stand-alone stories could be a great way to cover the problems facing the church in the 21st century (They can have a lot fun of with the topic of morality on Television). The bisexual sister in-law reveal should have been a surprise but again the show's promo gave it away. Perhaps this reveal should have been saved till a later time allowing Daniel's gay son Peter's (Christian Campbell) story line time to develop. This show is really a nighttime soap opera and should be promoted as such with out giving too much away. Also since this is a nighttime soap opera, it can't take itself too seriously and should be more of a comedy with some serious moments instead of the other way around. Finally a note to the Christian critics (Not to be confused with critical Christians). I understand that you would want to see a positive portrayal of Christians and Christianity and I don't see that The Book of Daniel demeans the Christian faith, nor does it mock Christianity. I think showing Christians as superior to their fellow man is a mockery. The show should be evaluated on the acting, writing and directing. Staging a boycott will only give the show millions of dollars of free publicity. Besides the Nielsens don't need your help killing a show. Nothing is stopping you from airing something on one of the Christian cable channels to draw from The Book of Daniel audience. Let the free will of the TV viewing public decide the fate of the show. Since the shows airing I have had a few water cooler conversations about it. Something you don't get that from reality TV. The most memorable comment I heard was, "Jesus is cool". Isn't that your message?

To quote The Book of Matthew Chapter 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged”.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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