Just as the twelve days of Christmas were ending, as millions of Christians celebrated the sacred mysteries of the virgin birth of a messiah, NBC was preparing for a birth of an opposite kind: a new TV series mocking Jesus as just another amusingly clueless televised sidekick.
The new show is called "The Book of Daniel," which is first and foremost a tired carbon of the outrageously dysfunctional suburban family shtick, but with the twist that this time, the Fool is played by Our Lord. Episcopal minister Daniel Webster is hooked on Vicodin and sees Jesus Christ regularly. His wife is an alcoholic. His son is gay. His daughter sells marijuana. His adopted Chinese son is a teenage sex machine. His female bishop, who asks him for one of his "Canadian headache pills" for the codeine, and later raids his office for more, is having an adulterous relationship with his father, who's also an Episcopal bishop, whose wife has Alzheimer's and keeps talking about penises.
Are there enough ridiculous, plastic characters in this spectacle yet? No, apparently not. Daniel's brother-in-law escapes town with the church treasury, but his wife and the church secretary have gone from a menage a trois to a saucy lesbian relationship. To find said brother-in-law, Daniel seeks out "Father Frank," an Italian Catholic priest who (no stereotypes here?) uses his Mafia contacts to hunt down the missing money, so the mob can compromise Daniel.
It's obvious that today's TV scribes have thoroughly rejected reality. Today's trend is to create plots that are utterly buffoonish, spinning so many dizzying plates of dysfunctionality that the viewer gets too tired to flip channels. Nearly every TV critic sees ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and HBO's "Six Feet Under" in the show's DNA. The Washington Post suggested it be titled "Desperate Holiness."
It's a sad descent for NBC on Fridays. They've cancelled "Three Wishes," the uplifting show NBC premiered on Fridays this fall, with gospel singer Amy Grant going to small towns and working little miracles, after weak promotion and critical sniffs at its goody-goody nature. That show was doing positive things in the real world, not tearing down religion in a desperate attempt to grab eyeballs, and who wants that.
The American Family Association is campaigning against "Daniel" as a mockery of Christianity, but series creator Jack Kenny blithely insists in every interview that there's no mockery intended. He told the TV critics last summer, "I recognize there are going to be people who have an issue with a gay man writing about Jesus. I'm not making fun of Jesus. I never want to poke fun at religion or at Jesus. These characters are very spiritual people. They believe in God, they believe in Christ as their savior, and I think that's wonderful." Perhaps we've got the show all wrong: it's Kenny who's the amusingly clueless sidekick.
Perhaps the most puzzling response to the series is the Episcopalian officials who are coming to the show's defense. The Episcopal Diocese of Washington put up a supportive weblog called the "Blog of Daniel" boosting the show. After Kenny wrote in to thank them for their support, they begged Kenny to join his "life partner" in signing up.
The AFA is right that this show is anti-Christian, in the most fundamental way. It mocks God, and the Word of God, period. Daniel's sermon before credits roll in the premiere begins, "Temptation. Is it really a bad thing? I don't think so." He concludes, "if temptation corners us, maybe we shouldn't beat ourselves up for giving into it. And maybe we shouldn't ask for forgiveness from a church, or God, or from Jesus, or from anyone, until we can first learn to forgive ourselves."
That's not Christianity. That's the gospel of Hollywood.
The most serious mockery in the show is the Jesus character. It's not that he's unlikable. It's just that he's clearly not God. He tells Daniel He doesn't know the future: "Hey, I'm not a fortune teller." He sees the lesbians through the window, chuckles and says "Boy, you never know, do ya?"
Some have tried to say this Jesus is just a ghost in Daniel's druggy dreams, but Kenny insists he's the real Jesus, having a personal relationship with the minister. This matches Kenny's comment that he believes in Jesus - not as God, but as a cool dude: "I think he was a great teacher and a wonderful philosopher." He says he's in "Catholic recovery" and is exploring Buddhism instead.
The difference here, as "entertainment" emanates from the dens of "spirituality" in hot-tub Hollywood, is that no one will be making that wacky dramedy about the Buddhists or the Muslims any time soon. Only that sickening apple-pie thing called Christianity gets singled out as a comedic PR stunt. But it's not bigotry.