The Book of Daniel's Garrett Dillahunt and Aidan Quinn
's Daniel Webster sees and talks to Jesus in NBC's new (and controversial
) The Book of Daniel
(premiering Jan. 6 at 9 pm/ET, before settling into its Fridays-at-10 time slot). Then again, maybe the good reverend is simply stoned on all the Vicodin he's taking on the sly. Or stressed out about having a gay son or a pot-dealing daughter. Yes, it's that
kind of "religious" series.
But as opposed to the most obvious comparison, CBS' God-seeing Joan of Arcadia, Daniel's sit-downs with J.C. (played by Deadwood's Garret Dillahunt) aren't presented as "the grand gimmick." "If someone wants to make it the hook, they could, but I think it's very much just a by-product," Quinn tells TVGuide.com. "The way it's conceived right now, it could go anywhere, and, god knows, if you have the character of Jesus, you could do anything with it. But this is more of a family drama dealing with these people's lives and more. I mean, talking to Jesus is really just Daniel's imagination about what a dialogue with Jesus would be like, fraught with all of Daniel's limitations."
Oh, yes — Daniel's limitations. Where to start? (We already mentioned that nasty pill-popping habit.) "What's delightful about my character is partly his struggles and his flaws," says Quinn. "He's not extremely spiritually evolved, and I think that is his journey. He lives in this whirlwind of craziness of having three kids and this 'disease of busy-ness' that the modern world seems to [suffer from]. Daniel is a decent man who has the desire to evolve spiritually, but he has miles to go before he sleeps."
Joining Quinn in Daniel's world are Once and Again's Susanna Thompson as his wife, Judith; Christian Campbell, Alison Pill and Ivan Shaw as their kids; and Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn as venerable church bishop Beatrice Congreve — each of whom apparently see The Book of Daniel as not just an acting challenge but as an opportunity to get people talking. "The context allows for the exploration of some moral issues and a look at our values in [present-day] America," says Burstyn, "and that seemed like a worthy playground to play in." Adds Thompson, "I was drawn to the idea of having an effect on people and encouraging a dialogue of opinions, challenging some areas where we need some healing in this country."
In fulfilling such a laudable goal, however, Daniel will have to walk a fine line between being an entertaining hour of television and doing right by the Websters' Episcopalian beliefs. Acknowledging that sticky wicket, Quinn says, "It's important that you honor the character that you're playing in the sense that mine has a very strong and abiding faith, and it's incumbent upon us to try to accurately portray the Episcopalians that we are. That being said, this is a fictional piece, and I don't think the creator" — with a little "C," mind you — "Jack Kenny, feels the need to have everything be documentary-like and perfectly accurate. It's a springboard. His being impressed with the Episcopalian church and their inclusiveness and the conflict that's going on within it as far as social issues is what attracted him, I think, to set this family in the midst of all that."
In other words (if you have not already gleaned), The Book of Daniel aspires to be a page-turner versus an overly heady tome. That's why you can probably spy "Jesus" being the practical joker on the set. "I always smile when I see Garrett Dillahunt's face," shares Quinn. "He has some very irreverent takes on this humorous situation of him portraying Jesus Christ. He's a delightful actor who brings a whimsical yet strong touch to the part. It's a delight playing scenes with him."
Perhaps even... a godsend?