Picks and Pans Review: The Book of Daniel

updated 01/09/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

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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