NBC pulled the plug on The Book of Daniel after just four episodes. That explains why this 2006 mid-season replacement show came and went so fast I never even knew it existed. Now that I’ve watched all eight episodes, I’m disappointed that there won’t be more.
Apparently, the show was canceled for being too controversial. Christian organizations like Focus on the Family protested the series’ portrayal of Jesus, the church and homosexuality, and yet more groups were offended by such things as perceivednegative Catholic and Italian stereotypes (one of the supporting characters is a Catholic priest with ties to the mob). NBC had trouble selling advertising spots for the series, even after offering significant discounts, and network affiliates were bowing to pressure from special interest groups.
All I can say is it’s a damn shame more people weren’t open-minded about The Book of Daniel, because not only is it a highly entertaining series, it also provides a unique, accessible perspective on the clergy and it presents insight into the struggle of being religious in the 21st Century.
The series centres around Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn), a vicodin-addicted Episcopalian reverend, and his family: housewife Judith (Susanna Thompson), gay eldest son Peter (Christian Campbell), adopted Chinese son Adam (Ivan Shaw), and pot-selling daughter Grace (Alison Pill), a budding manga artist. They’re quite the motley unit, and the show’s other characters continue the laundry list of stereotypes defied and embraced.
Thing is, this show really isn’t that offensive. Daniel often talks to Jesus, who he can see and hear. This bugged religious critics, who railed against what they called a wise-cracking, frat-boy portrayal of Christ, and argued that he laughs away behaviour that’s widely accepted as detrimental to society. I say this is a refreshing perspective on Jesus, who I always imagined would have a great sense of humour. And he’s not giggling over sinful behaviour, he’s loving the sinners and being the Good Shepherd.
Instead of letting this review delve further into religious debate, I’ll focus on why I liked this show so much. On the surface, it shares some similarities with Six Feet Under, particularly in with its main characters. However, unlike the dysfunctional family in that HBO series, the Websters actually share a deep, positive bond, and The Book of Daniel has a quirky, lighthearted sense of humour that’s very different from Six Feet Under. The characters – especially Daniel – are very likeable, and I found myself caring about them after just one episode.
The storylines range from great to just ok, but it’s tough to judge based on just eight episodes, because this was obviously going to be a show that relied on an ongoing story arc. What’s clear is the overall plot would have been fairly complex, interwoven through the family members’ relationships. That said, it is fair to judge the writing, and it’s strong. The characters speak believably, and some of the strongest moments are the Websters’ Sunday dinners, during which they bicker, banter, bluff and practice various other ‘b’ words. Very enjoyable stuff.
The Book of Daniel could have been a great series, but thanks to some overreactions to perceived offensive content, it never had a chance. The eight episodes that did get produced are very entertaining, and they’re sure to get you attached to the characters. We can only hope that a large DVD following will prompt a Firefly-like revival in feature film form. Ah, who am I kidding? There’s probably not much hope of seeing the Websters again.
So, how’s the DVD set?
The Book of Daniel – The Complete Series is presented on two discs in 1.78:1 widescreen format. The transfer looks pretty good, with only minor issues of grain in a few scenes. Otherwise, the picture is fairly sharp, colours are natural, and contrast levels are fine.
The menus include a bit of animation, and they’re accompanied by the series’ theme.
We only get Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but it does the job. Like a lot of TV, audio for this series is mainly centre channel stuff, and dialogue is always clear. However, there are some issues with dialogue levels in some scenes, and while the voices are still audible, it’s an irritation that shouldn’t be there. The show’s score fills things out some on the right and left channels, and it sounds fine.
Audio is English-only, and just English subtitles are available.
This set doesn’t offer much for extras – just a few deleted scenes. There are five in total, from five episodes. They have poor audio and video quality, but two are actually fairly interesting, as they’re really more like alternate versions of existing scenes. One in particular shows that the producers were concerned about giving offense, as the scene shows a harsher version of some dinner-table banter between the brothers.
Without a doubt, I would have watched this show every week. That’s rare for me, as I usually have trouble making time for TV series and wind up catching them on DVD instead. The Book of Daniel would have been worth the effort, and this 2-disc DVD set is definitely worth buying for any fan of good TV.
Special Features List
- Deleted scenes
- Four unaired episodes