"I'm not a speechwriter," he says. "I'm a one-liner kind of guy."
He could use better lines in The Book of Daniel, which premieres tonight at 9 on NBC (WBAL, Channel 11). This quirky comedy-drama focuses on the Rev. Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn), a Vicodin-popping Episcopal priest who chats with a Jesus (Garret Dillahunt) only he can see.
Unfortunately, their talks lack the inspiration of the chats on Joan of Arcadia, in which a teenaged girl talked to different human embodiments of the Almighty. The Daniel dialogue is fun, but not divine.
By sending Daniel into the lions' den of prime time, ratings-challenged NBC heralds its willingness to take risks. There's no doubt the series benefits from a fine cast headed by Quinn and Ellen Burstyn as a bishop.
Yet these actors struggle to put across awkward material. Daniel packs more power in its dramatic moments, such as a husband's pain over his wife who's stricken with Alzheimer's. But because creator Jack Kenny doesn't understand his show's strengths, Daniel makes for maddening viewing.
Daniel is an adult look at a clan in turmoil.
Wife Judith (Susanna Thompson) drinks too much. Daughter Grace (Alison Pill) sells marijuana. Son Peter (Christian Campbell) draws his family's ribbing and prying because he's gay. Son Adam (Ivan Shaw) enjoys a busy and dangerous sex life. Another son's death hangs over the family.
The Book of Daniel treats many of these situations in a flippant manner that is off-putting. Particularly offensive is the series' zany portrayal of a Catholic priest connected to the mob.
Dillahunt's portrayal of Jesus is respectful; he looks as if he stepped from a 1950s biblical epic.
In fact, the entire cast is heavenly in The Book of Daniel; the writing isn't.
Hal Boedeker writes for the Orlando Sentinel.