Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Look at the Netflix Queue

This week it features "The Book of Daniel," "Huff" and "Dead Like Me." All have the dubious distinction of having been cancelled before their time.

TBOD features the still-delicious Aidan Quinn as an Episcopal priest with a gay son, a drug-selling daughter, a sex-crazy son having relations with a parishioner's daughter, and a brother in law who may have made off with the parish's building fund. Through it all, he talks to an incarnation of Jesus who disapproves when he tries to pop some vicodin, among other things.

The upside of the show? The writing is excellent. The downside? There are only 4 episodes because the Catholic Church succeeded in having NBC cancel show right out of the gate. This is lamentable because the show seems to me to be pro-religion. Certainly, not all of God's creatures or men of the cloth are portrayed with a soft glow of adoration, if not in a completely irreverent and smutty manner. It's not a show for the easily offended. But the whole point of each episode is that Daniel finds his way through the slings and arrows of life by having a faith-filled relationship with God--and a chatty personal relationship with his imaginings of Jesus. He's a loving father and husband. He's trying to be a good priest. He's a little bit in the wilderness and he's trying to stay faithful to his God while managing some very human concerns. The only sour note for me was one scene where his sex-crazed son (who happens to be Asian and adopted) jokingly propositions his sister on the premise that they are not "really" brother and sister. She responds, "Ew! Gross!" Gross indeed. And obviously written by someone devoid of any knowledge of adoption and going for a cheap and icky laugh. But other than that, the show was excellent. So go ahead and rent it. But don't blink or you'll miss it.

Next up is Huff, a psychiatrist with a crazy life played by Hank Azaria. Entertaining, disturbing and interesting. I can't say too much about the plot or else I'll ruin it for you. But suffice to say that he's a man trying to help others while not doing a great job of helping himself. Azaria is good, his lawyer and friend played by Oliver Platt is fantastic, but Blythe Danner as his mother is absolutely amazing. Not once in my life have I thought twice about Blythe Danner, but I just can't get over how good she is as the insufferably bigoted, snobby, yet three-dimensional mother. Rent it just for her.

We're also watching the second season of Dead Like Me. This is about reapers; people who are dead and who must retrieve the souls of people in the seconds before they die. It sounds dark, but it's anything but. Led by Mandy Patinkin as Rube, these "undead" people have to hold down jobs and apartments and lives while fulfilling their duties as reapers. The primary character, Georgia, was killed at 18 when a piece of space junk (a shuttle toilet seat) landed on her. She now works at Happy Time temp agency and tries to make sense of her own death while leading others through theirs. It's twistedly funny in a good way--and I'm doing a terrible job of accurately describing how good it is. So here is a blurb from the website:

The members of Rube's team of reapers are all, like George, people who died with unresolved issues. They still have lessons to learn that - for one reason or another - they failed to learn in life. They move about the Pacific Northwest in the full light of day. They walk the city streets and eat at all-night diners, just like anyone else. They have to find somewhere to live, cook, eat and do their laundry. They look just like everyone else but as grim reapers they appear physically different to the living than they did when they were alive. What George experiences beyond death is the focus of this darkly comedic series. It takes a slightly twisted look at life and at one possible version of life in the after life. What if death is not the end? What if it is not even an escape from the issues that plagued us? What if it is not a way to avoid accountability, but an opportunity to accept responsibility? What if it is a wake-up call?

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