Thursday, January 05, 2006

"The Book of Daniel" Debuts on Friday

A member of my congregation stepped into my office this week to ask if I had heard about the new show that makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church. She could not recall the name of the show, but I must assume that she was referring to The Book of Daniel, whose first episode will be aired Friday at 9:00 on NBC.

I must also assume that the notion that the show "makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church" comes from the American Family Association's campaign to get this show off the air. Most likely my member got an email from the AFA asking her to help "save Christianity" (and send in a donation, of course).

So why is the AFA so upset? Here is how the January edition of Episcopal Life describes this new series:

An Episcopal priest played by Aidan Quinn is the focus of a new TV drama series starting Jan. 1 on NBC.

The Book of Daniel focuses on the Rev. Daniel Webster’s struggles with family, painkillers, church politics and Jesus, who he converses with as mentor and friend. Garrett Delahunt plays a “hip and modern” Jesus, according to NBC...
David DiCerto offers a review for Catholic Online. He is not exactly thrilled by the show, but does not respond with the knee-jerk reaction of the AFA, most likely because he has actually viewed an episode. DiCerto expresses his concerns regarding how a couple of issues are addressed, but also offers a few more details about the characters and some positive comments:

Rev. Webster himself is wrestling with addiction to prescription painkillers while dealing with wife Judith's (Susanna Thompson) drinking problem (stemming from the loss of a son to cancer). He is also desperately striving to earn the approval of his own stodgy father, Bishop Bertrum Webster (James Rebhorn), a conservative churchman whose wife has Alzheimer's disease.

More sounding board than savior, the show's down-to-earth Jesus, though portrayed with reasonable reverence, is tolerant to the point of being blase: He has a problem with Rev. Webster's pill-popping but dismissively shrugs off Rev. Webster's kids having casual sex in the back seats of cars. On a more commendable note, the writers avoid making Jesus give pat answers to life's often complex problems.

Show creator Jack Kenny, self-described as "in Catholic recovery," deserves credit for presenting a positive and love-affirming view of religion while exploring themes of faith, family, forgiveness and flawed humanity.
From what I have read, the series will introduce a number of issues; addiction, the grieving process, human sexuality, gender roles and religion's place in contemporary culture. No doubt some of these issues will be portrayed in extreme situations, as that is the nature of writing a TV series that people will watch, and most likely not everyone will agree with some of the content. But I think debating if the show portrays "true Christianity" or not misses the point. Such a show's target audience is not necessarily the choir. It honestly reveals that Christians struggle with some of the same problems that everyone else has to deal with. The AFA may object to it's honesty. But personally, I think it is past time to offer an alternative to the stereotypes of Christian elitism portrayed for decades by the televangelists.

As Susan Russell of All Saints, Pasadena said in the Episcopal Life article:

“How cool is it that a progressive Episcopal priest has a shot at being a prime-time drama protagonist,” says the Rev. Susan Russell, associate rector. “How surprising might it be to many who tune in to find out there actually is a church where women can be bishops – clergy can be human – and there’s enough good news around to extend to everybody?”
This show deals with real issues in many people's lives, without giving pat answers. It is a discussion starter, not a problem solver.

To facilitate possible discussions that might arise regarding this show, The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is offering The Blog of Daniel. Jack Kenny, the creator of this show, recently left a comment on this blog that I want to offer in its entirety, as I think it describes much better than the critics the real motivation behind the development of this series:

Hi. I'm the creator of "The Book of Daniel." I just wanted to say thank you for your input and support. I hope we will continue to do you all proud. Our goal has always been to tell a specific story about a man and his family... a man and his flaws... a man and his own personal, private relationship with his faith - in the embodiment of Jesus... how anyone can be offended by this, and deny the opportunity of others to watch it and make up their own minds is a continual source of confusion for me... It was written with nothing but respect and love for the Episcopal church and it's members - a church that my life partner of 23 years belongs to, and a church that I am strongly considering joining. It was always our marching orders, as writers and producers, to never mock or satirize religion, Jesus, or the church in any way, but to treat them with the utmost respect. Yes, we look for humor wherever we can - that's the job of a TV show... Please give us a few chances, and I'm sure you'll be unable NOT to watch these loving, supportive family struggle with all their own flaws and foibles in life... and ultimately overcome them - only to find new ones... because that is, indeed, life! Thanks for your interest, and please stay tuned!
Tomorrow night, 9:00.


No comments:

Post a Comment