NBC (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

Among the angels, Daniel won't be a big deal. They'll fly from one cloud to another, the way disturbed birds move between trees. For what matters a new series in eternity's span? Even if it does have a minister talking to Jesus while popping painkillers.

Among humans, Daniel will likely cause a stink. By network standards, it's audaciously eager to push buttons on the sensitive subject of religion. Ever sat in a wired pew? Daniel is about a suburban Episcopalian minister (Aidan Quinn), his family and a plague of soap-opera sins. You've got embezzlement, infidelity—even the mafia (which is connected to the local Catholic priest). Myself, I jumped when I saw Ellen Burstyn, as Quinn's bishop, in vestments. She looked like an angry Christmas ornament. Then there are Rev. Webster's visits from Jesus. This isn't a fresh idea—Denis Leary argued with the Son of God on FX's Rescue Me—but here Jesus is annoyingly glib and cute. He laughs into his beard and says things like, “I'm a one-line kind of guy.” One longs for the harsh patriarchal hand of Mel Gibson.

Yet somehow Daniel is much more entertaining than offensive, possibly because it's not remotely clear what any of this has to do with faith. The show's not satirical, mocking these people for their failings. (The minister's wife has an unpleasant way of gritting her teeth and demanding her martini.) It's not earnest, either, like Joan of Arcadia. No, it's a lively, unpredictable jumble of Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under and maybe the Ten Commandments. And Quinn is good as Rev. Webster, a handsome middle-aged man with rusting hair and a kind sincerity that sometimes comes close to glad-handing. Not so much ministerial as Clintonian.

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NBC (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Blame it on the distracting iridescence of the real estate bubble. The premise of this situation comedy is perfectly okay, if standard-issue slick: A guy named Ben (Josh Cooke) inherits a Manhattan apartment from his grandmother and invites three friends to move in, creating the equivalent of Friends with a frat-house ambiance. But you may very well sit there, barely minding the bland surface perfection of cast and writing—the show was created by the same duo who cooked up Will & Grace—and think about the apartment itself. What's the square footage? How many baths? What did the grandmother pay originally? Wouldn't now be the time to sell, before the market slows, stalls, sinks? Why sacrifice such a great investment opportunity for the sake of three roommates?

Oh right, the roomies—the show. Seth Green, so good in the Austin Powers films, is the standout. He looks a little like a less tidy version of the young Michael J. Fox, and he delivers his lines in sharp yaps of frustration.

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TBS (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

Despite the backing of a high-profile production team (Courteney Cox Arquette Arquette and husband David Arquette), this is an inconsequential blip. It's like Da Ali G Show recast with Emma Thompson. British comedian Daisy Donovan did, in fact, once team with Sacha Baron Cohen on a series over there, and her American debut uses a similar ploy of mock-disingenuous interaction. She trains to be a bounty hunter, she sings in a country-western contest. Donovan doesn't go in for Cohen's costumes, nor does she go for the jugular. She's just a slightly prim, slightly goofy tourist. She could use a sitcom.


Dancing with the Stars (ABC, Jan. 5, 8 p.m. ET)

This time the star students include Tia Carrere and George Hamilton, who's always looked born to tango anyway.

Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi, Jan. 6, 10 p.m. ET)

After a break, season 2 resumes for the grittiest of TV's sci-fi series.

Real Simple (PBS, Jan. 7, check local listings)

Based on the magazine (published by PEOPLE parent Time Inc.), a half-hour series devoted to the zen of a less stressful life.

World News Tonight (ABC, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET)

Official debut of Peter Jennings's replacement—replace ments: Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff.


ONE OF TV'S CREEPIEST BITS OF SUSPENSE finally has come to an end: On the Dec. 20 episode of FX's groundbreaking Nip/Tuck, viewers learned the identity of the disfiguring, knife-wielding monster known only as the Carver (right): It was cosmetic surgeon Quentin Costa, a trouble making seducer played by Bruno Campos with bedroom eyes and shifty manner. Campos knew from the get-go that he was playing the Carver, “but I certainly didn't know how big of a deal it was going to be. I've become sort of the Darth Vader of Nip/Tuck. It's pretty awesome. People would come up to me, ‘Who's the Carver? Are you the Carver? If you are, you're a twisted bastard.’” The Brazilian-born actor, 32, previously known as Christina Applegate's love interest on Jesse, is now presumably gone from the show, even though the Carver in the end faked his death and escaped to Europe after thoroughly torturing the show's main characters, Drs. Sean McNamara and Christian Troy (Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon). “The last thing I'm doing is cutting their fingers, their arms, they're bleeding all over.” He laughs. “It's been a great way to get to know your fellow actors. I think they're relieved I'm gone.” —TOM CUNNEFF