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''The Book of Daniel''

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 2, 2006

The other day, another Beacon Journalist forwarded me a cranky e-mail about ''Book of Daniel,'' the NBC drama premiering Friday. It came from one of those groups that apparently stopped liking TV around the time it stopped being in black-and-white (which, after all, is the way such groups view all issues, including appropriateness of content). Whoever wrote the letter -- and I'm not giving the group the benefit of extra publicity by naming it -- had not obviously not seen the show, since there was a big error in its description. But this group is claiming that ''NBC demeans Christian faith'' because the show involves a clergyman with some human flaws, family and friends who were also flawed, a gay regular character and another character who is at the very least bisexual.


I know. You're all aflutter.


Well, I have seen two episodes of ''Book of Daniel,'' and part of a third. I finally stopped watching the third one because it jumped several episodes ahead in the serialized story, and I want to watch the series in sequence. That's how much I like the show, and you may like it as well.


At the center of the show is an Episcopal priest, Daniel Webster (played with charm and befuddlement by Aidan Quinn). Daniel's a godly man, and he talks regularly to Jesus, who -- with beard and white robe -- talks back. Jesus is deliberately enigmatic with Daniel at times, since Daniel has to figure out situations for himself. But He does provide guidance, and a comforting presence when all else is crazy around Daniel.


And all else is crazy. By the end of the show's second hour, it feels as if we are barely into all the complexities in Daniel's world, which includes his pot-selling daughter, his gay son, his adopted horndog of a son, his bishop boss, his father (who is also a bishop), his Alzheimer's-battling mother, his boss, his semi-bored wife, his wife's skittish sister and an all-too-knowing and powerful church member whose agenda is not Daniel's.


I was hooked early on, not only by the plot (which begins with a mystery involving missing church funds) but because I was fascinated by the characters and all the ways they intersect. Some of those intersections overreach (including in one hidden romance), but I kept watching just to see how people were going to handle situations. I also very much liked Jesus, played nicely by Garret Dillahunt (''Deadwood'').


At times, it felt like a gentler, more amusing ''Six Feet Under.'' That was a show weighed down by its moroseness, especially in the later seasons, but it was also about a lot of people seeking solace wherever they might find it. Same thing applies to ''Book of Daniel.'' Painkillers, martinis, manga and money are all meant to provide happiness. Love is a better answer for some of them, and faith is a constant even when other things don't pan out so well. And that's where ''Book of Daniel'' distinguishes itself. While it does not pretend that faith will wipe out all the problems in the world, especially one as crazy as ''Book of Daniel,'' it is also certain that Daniel would be much worse off if he didn't have Jesus to talk to.

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