GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
The Book of Daniel
8 one hour eposides
The Book of Daniel was a very short lived television series that aired on NBC in 2006. It was canceled after only four episodes when the network caved in to complaints from religious and conservative groups who objected to the show. Several NBC affiliates, mostly in the Bible Belt, refused to broadcast the program. The show was eighty-sixed but NBC streamed the un-aired episodes on the web (a new practice in those days). All eight episodes are available on DVD.
|The quirky and comedic drama focused on Daniel Webster (An Early Frost's Aidan Quinn), an unconventional Episcopalian minister, and his family. If the Catholic priests from my youth in the 1960s had been anything like Daniel Webster, I might not be agnostic today. He is a man of the cloth with very human flaws; for starters he is addicted to pain killers. Daniel also holds conversations with Jesus (Garret Dillahunt) and they are good chums. Daniel is the only one who sees him. During their many discussions, Jesus often disagrees with modern church teachings and this, apparently, was enough to send the evangelicals into apoplexy.|
The show's detractors also objected to the Websters' oldest son, Peter (Trick's Christian Campbell). He is 23, gay, and out to his family. Heaven forbid that there would be a television show where a priest doesn't disown his gay son! We can't have that now, can we? How dare he be so accepting of such an abomination? It is a non-issue in the Webster household. Except that the paternal grandfather - who is also a high ranking bishop - has been kept in the dark because everyone thinks he will wig out. Bishop Bertram Webster (James Rebhorn) often clashes with his son Daniel's liberal views but he has a few skeletons in his closet, and crosses to bear, as well. His wife suffers from Alzheimer's and no longer knows who he is most of the time. In his grief, he enters into an affair with Bishop Beatrice Congreve (Ellen Burstyn).
Bishop Beatrice is
also Father Daniel's immediate supervisor or something (I am clueless
about Episcopal church hierarchy). She is always in attendance at his
services to offer scathing critiques of his sermons. My favorite was "I
would describe your service as flaccid." Daniel takes this as an affront
to his manhood. (The Book Of Daniel
is often very funny in an offbeat Six
Feet Under sort of way.)
For the purposes of this review, this is Cinemaqueer after all, I am gong to focus on Peter. But allow me first to briefly sketch the characters. Peter is nursing a broken heart from a relationship that didn't work out. He is also studying cancer research because his twin brother, Jimmy, died of Leukemia two years earlier. Daniel's wife, Judith (Susanna Thompson) has a tendency to drink martinis at dinner. And lunch. Sometimes at breakfast. They have a terrific marriage and, no matter what, they always make sure they have sex on Friday nights.
Adam (Ivan Shaw) is their adopted Chinese son. He is 16 and always on the make. He is dating the daughter of two stuffy parishioners who have made it clear that they "don't want Oriental grandchildren running around the Christmas tree." Grace (Alison Pill) is their daughter, also aged 16. The first episode opened with Grace getting arrested for selling pot. She wanted to raise money to buy animation programs for her laptop.
|The background plot revolves around the embezzlement of church funds. Three million dollars, earmarked for the construction of the new St. Barnabas school, is missing and so is Daniel's unreliable brother-in-law. In an effort to locate the missing in-law and the money, without involving the police, Daniel enlists the aid of a Catholic priest who "knows people." The thief is found dead in a hotel room. The money is also recovered and will be returned if Daniel agrees to let the Vaporelli brothers build the new school. Needless to say, this construction company is owned by the mob.|
|Religious and conservative elements had a cow over this program. But, as is their wont, they ignored what a faith affirming show The Book of Daniel actually was and focused on everything they found "shocking." Members of the clergy having affairs? We all know that never happens (cough cough). And how dare Daniel give last rites to a very sick old woman who is being taken off of life support? Why isn't he alerting the Supreme Court? The biggest bone of contention seemed to be Daniel's conversations with Jesus. There is nothing offensive about these scenes; they're actually quite charming and gently humorous. Whenever Daniel is about to pop a pain killer, Jesus is there like clockwork to hold out His hand and make him feel guilty. (At one point Jesus offers Daniel a lime Lifesaver instead.) If Christ actually talked to people, He probably would be this laid back. I was reminded of Kevin Smith's also controversial Dogma and how God took off now and then to play skee ball. And always let the children win.|
The way that Peter's character was integrated into the program, without making a political statement in every episode, was comparable to the treatment of David, the gay son, on HBO's Six Feet Under. Religion, for one thing, is very important to both. Peter attends church with his family, and sings in the choir. Peter is comfortable with himself but tells his Dad that he doesn't want to march in any parades, or be "defined as the Rev. Webster's openly gay son."
He has a terrific relationship with his father. Daniel once jestingly suggests a girlfriend and Peter says, "Dad, do I have to come out again every day at dinner?" The writers were able to mine much humor from a scenario in which the bishop tries to fix Peter up with Beatrice's niece, Adele. Daniel tells his son that he doesn't have to go along with the charade. "We have an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire," Daniel says, "It's about time my father entered the 21st century." When Peter says he's taking her to see La Cage Aux Folles, Daniel smiles and says "That is so gay."
His brother Adam teases him about being gay but it is brotherly banter and nothing malicious. Peter is visibly moved when he finds his sister Grace's graphic novel and discovers that a sympathetic treatment of his relationship with his ex boyfriend is a major part of it. The bishop's matchmaking takes a comical turn when Peter falls for her brother - and winds up sleeping with both of them. Adam is especially amused by this turn of events. When Adam asks about the girl (who threw herself at Peter, by the way), Peter says "Well, if you push the button it still plays." There is a nice scene where Peter and the brother are lying together in bed.
The writers brilliantly
mined humor from gay situations that was both quirky and inoffensive.
A comedic highlight featured one of the two Vaporelli brothers, Michael,
coming out to Daniel because he is unable to do so to his own pastor.
|Tragically, Peter is in the wrong place at the wrong time one night and gets beaten up so badly by three gay bashers that he lies comatose in the hospital. This episode is a small masterpiece and it is a pity that it never aired on network television. In this installment, we also learn more about Peter's twin brother, his illness, his hospitalization and death. Campbell does a nice job playing both brothers in the flashbacks. The Websters' faith is almost shattered as they find themselves facing the possible loss of a second child. Daniel asks Jesus if He can do anything and is told "You know it doesn't work that way." Thankfully, Peter does awaken from his coma.|
One of the series' best scenes occurs during this episode. Michael, the gay Vaporelli brother, asks Daniel if there is anything he can do to help. Daniel wishes that he could have five minutes with one of the attackers just to ask him "Why?" Michael arranges this, tricking one of the goons to Daniel's office. Daniel confronts the unrepentant jerk who shouts, "Your fag son got what he deserved." Daniel, unable to control his rage, punches him in the face. Michael intervenes and tells the gay basher, "You know who I am. You were never here. You fell. You got that?" When they leave, Daniel collapses in tears. Jesus, who is also there, and had shaken His finger "no" earlier, is now hugging him. Daniel, still crying, says "Please don't forgive me."
There are many other
satisfying story arcs and I will end by mentioning just one more. Daniel's
sister-in-law, Victoria (Cheryl Whte) has a brief fling with being a lesbian
when she has an affair with her late husband's secretary. This story arc
is played strictly for laughs (Victoria is a first class ditz) but not
offensively so. The secretary disappears without a word and Victoria rebounds
with the straight Vaporelli brother.
Yes, the Websters are a tad dysfunctional but do we want a return of Ozzie and Harriet? Yes, some of the situations are over the top and the writers had to know that they were pushing some buttons. But The Book Of Daniel was also an exceptionally well written and acted show (with a dream cast!) that actually celebrated faith and religion without turning into a schmaltz-fest like Touched By An Angel or an exercise in silliness like The Flying Nun. The Book Of Daniel was the brainchild of Jack Kenny. It did not go unnoticed by the conservative watchdogs of our morality (who probably never even watched it) that the show's creator was openly gay. It is unfortunate that a small but vocal minority, as always, got to decide what the rest of the country should be allowed to watch. At least all of the episodes are available on DVD. It's a pity that the show was canceled; it had the potential to be another Six Feet Under or The Sopranos.
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