TV's New Religious Saga

'The Book of Daniel' depicts an Episcopal priest hooked on Vicodin who talks to Jesus--with a gay son and pot-dealing daughter.

Back when Jack Kenny was a good Catholic boy, he wastaught to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So when hewrote a TV show about a troubled Episcopal priest, he made Jesus his maincharacter's best friend.

In Kenny's "The Book of Daniel," which NBC just picked up for midseason,Aidan Quinn plays Connecticut-bred Daniel Webster. Daniel is a good ministerand a good man, but that's not always enough to deal with his life. He'saddicted to Vicodin. His wife, Judith, has frozen inside since one of theirsons died of leukemia. His son, Peter, is gay. His daughter, Grace, isdealing marijuana to raise extra cash.

And in moments of great stress, Jesus (played by "Deadwood" alum GarretDillahunt) turns up--in the passenger seat of Daniel's station wagon, inthe bedroom hallway, outside the church--to offer his counsel.

So, yeah, "Book of Daniel" is going to be controversial, and that's evenbefore you consider that Kenny is gay, and that homosexuality and religionhave mixed lately like hair spray and a blow torch.

"I recognize there are going to be people who have an issue with a gayman writing about Jesus," Kenny says at the Television Critics Association'ssummer press tour. He adds, "I'm not making fun of Jesus. I never want topoke fun at religion or at Jesus. These characters are very spiritualpeople. They believe in God, they believe in Christ as their savior, and Ithink that's wonderful."


While his characters are devout, Kenny's own feelings toward Christ andorganized religion are more complicated. He is, as he puts it, "in Catholicrecovery," is interested in Buddhist teachings about reincarnation, and isn'tsure exactly how he defines God and/or Jesus.

"I'm a spiritual person," he says. "I don't know specifically what'sgoing on up there. I think there must be something going on, whether it's anenergy we're all connected to or an old white man with a beard and a robe.

"I do believe in Jesus. I don't necessarily know that all the mythsurrounding him is true, but I read his teachings, and I think he was agreat teacher and a wonderful philosopher. I think he had a great idea:`Love thy neighbor.' There's nothing wrong with that."

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