Evolution may favor religious diversity, but the tail does not wag the fish.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Xmas Over It's War on the Book of Daniel Now

Two NBC affiliates throw book at 'Daniel' : [Reuters]
The network stands by the series, according to Vivi Zigler, executive vp current programming at NBC Entertainment, who cautioned not to judge the series on the basis of promotions for the show.
"People are reacting based on not having seen it," she said. "They're seeing the advertising, not seeing what the core of the show is."
Jack Kenny, executive producer of "Daniel," dismissed claims that the series is anti-Christian. "We are not in any way satirizing Christianity or Jesus," he said. "It's done with love, honoring those things."
But Lammers isn't taking exception with "Daniel." Rather, he is using the pre-emption to air multiple grievances with industry practice -- especially network-affiliate relations.
The Book of Daniel, a new series, which began January 6 stirred up some protest prior to its release, prompted in part by Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA). I’m not an avid broadcast TV watcher, having seen some of my favorite shows of the past either get cancelled or succumb to imaginative fatigue. I get most of my media exposure via NPR radio and the internet. And it was actually through a bit of “spam” sent to me from a relative on the AFA email list that I head about this show.

Much of the upset centers around the characters of the show: Fr. Daniel Webster, an Episcopalian priest with a vicodin addiction, his alcoholic wife, a homosexual son, and a drug selling daughter. If you want to dig deeper, there’s more: an adopted son who is “getting it on” with the bishop’s wife, a grieving lesbian sister-in-law, a Catholic priest friend with mob ties, and lets not forget that Fr. Webster has regular conversations with a Jesus he can see…and it’s the easy on the eyes fair-skinned Jesus.

I didn’t buy into the alarmist positions of the AFA and wasn’t personally offended by the characterizations as being anti-Christian, (I’m Christian, but Roman Catholic, so what do I know about Episcopalian priests?) However, as a lay minister, and former media critic, I was interested in how Fr. Webster (played by Aidan Quinn) could actually pull this off.

I think the show is able to suceed because its overall point isn’t to ridicule Christian beliefs and practices, but rather to show the small-town zaniness of a Waspy neighborhood through one of its prominent members. While it has been written elsewhere that this is NBC’s attempt to compete with the likes of ABC’s Desperate Housewives, I tend to see this show in the racy tradition of HBO’s Sex and the City, or the quirky tradition of its Six Feet Under, CBS’s eclectic Northern Exposure, or the family-values antics of Picket Fences. All are shows that may not be for all viewers and may or may not have passed their peak of imagination and influence.

I am critical of The Book of Daniel too. I found the weakest parts in the first episode to be Fr. Webster’s sermon (an ode to “O Happy Fault”), which though theologically defensible, was ill worded (his bishop thought so too). I also felt the set-up to pulling the plug on a parishioner to be neither dramatically understated nor well executed as well. (I’ve seen NBC's Scrubs handle these moments way better. They even won an award for an episode dealing with death).

But, in much the same way that clips and sound bites for NBC’s “Must See TV” tend to hyper-exaggerate and even misrepresent what a show or episode is really about, I believe the hype thus far for The Book of Daniel is off base.

Again, as a minister, I don’t know how close to the bone or offensive the Webster family, their town, or the adventures of Fr. Webster are. (I was more taken aback that they had a black housekeeper.) But I do know that I found Fr. Webster’s predicaments compelling. I thought his talks with Jesus are moments of levity for Aidan Quinn’s straight man routine of trying to juggle all these events without losing it. And while I do believe the sheer number of intersecting problems he has to deal with may push the envelope on believability—I simply wager that endurance against the possibilities of encroaching imaginative fatigue.

I know that requires a bit of faith in things not seen and not the simpler calculus of viewer simplicities.

We shall see.

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Blogger J.D. said...

Nice blog.

As a Christian, I'm outraged not by the fact that such a show is airing, but that so many of my peers are trying to railroad everybody and force their opinions on everyone. Censorship is wrong, no matter what way you put it, since taking someone else's rights away leaves your own rights wide open for the taking. I blogged about it here http://jdmatthews.blogspot.com/2006/01/controversy-over-book-of-daniel-i.html
I invite all your comments and criticisms.

I'll check back soon!

January 10, 2006 4:42 AM


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