I finally finished watching The Book of Daniel, the new NBC-TV program that has raised the ire of conservatives and religious folk. It was rather difficult to achieve—the watching, that is—because of the show's glaring weakness: it is terribly arch and tendentious, and its author's obvious (too-obvious) intentions contradict one another. That is to say, my objections to the show are aesthetic.
Unlike most of the program's detractors, I didn't find it to be antireligious or anti-Christian. It certainly painted an unflattering picture of organized religion, but I didn't see that as being the point of the show, nor did I see it as being what most viewers would take away from the program if viewing it fairly. What the show's creator was apparently trying to do was make a Desperate Housewives knockoff set in Westchester County, and actually to emphasize the moral content by including a religious setting.
The latter decision was a huge mistake, however, because the moral content of Desperate Housewives is perfectly obvious to anyone this side of a psychopath, and hence does not need enhancement; and, perhaps more importantly, because the creator also clearly had another thing in mind which conflicts with the moral analysis. He wishes to transform our notion of morality: to place tolerance, kindness, and other such yummy things atop the moral pyramid and make them dispositive in all cases.
That may in fact be a fair picture of the atmosphere within a liberal Episcopalian church in Westchester County, but it waters down the significance of the characters' choices into nothing. If tolerance is the most important thing, what exactly is the significance of what any of these characters do? When one person causes another to suffer, that's just the price we have to pay in order to have a world in which others won't judge our actions. We cannot judge, lest we be judged. Of course, that leads to a situation in which a sort of Gresham's Law of Morality applies: bad behavior pushes out the good.
The Book of Daniel reflects exactly that process: these characters, who have grown up in a world of tolerance and a nurturing of whatever appears to be genuine in a person, do what they bloody well please as long as they think they can get away with it. This, however, kills any possible drama. Given that nearly all of the people depicted in the program are hypocritical, snide, selfish, morally obtuse, and utterly charmless, there is nothing with which to contrast the bad behavior. After all, every Lovelace needs his Clarissa: moral perfidy committed against other morally corrupt individuals is not so very interesting, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of this fictional Westchester County, where the great majority of the suffering appears to be self-imposed. The characters are dull, flat, and lifeless because their choices do not matter.
And that, of course, makes for bad drama—really, no drama at all.
As a result, The Book of Daniel commits the cardinal sin of failed entertainment: it is a bore.