NEW YORK – "I think it's a pretty down-the-middle, wholesome show," says Aidan Quinn, referring to his new NBC series, "Book of Daniel."
"I honestly don't think it's going to be nearly as controversial as some people may now be afraid of," he declares. "It just has the courage to deal with some of the real issues that go in on people's lives."
Like, for instance? Quinn laughs as he recites a litany.
"Well, I'm an Episcopalian priest who struggles with a little self-medication problem, and I have a 23-year-old son who's gay, and a 16-year-old daughter who's caught dealing pot, and another son who's jumping on every high school girl he sees, and a wife who's very loving but also likes her martinis.
"I can't tell you how many people have said to me, `Hey, that sounds like my family.'"
Don't forget the Rev. Daniel Webster's recent cruel loss of another son to leukemia. Or the kookie extended family that, among other things, is about to put Daniel's priesthood (and parish) in jeopardy by forcing him into business with the Mob.
Or the fact that he has regular visions of, and frequent conversations with, a flesh-and-blood Jesus Christ.
Is this like your family? Viewers can soon find out. On Jan. 6, "Book of Daniel" premieres with back-to-back airings of two episodes from 9 to 11 p.m. EST, before claiming its regular 10 p.m. slot the following week.
Between now and then, TV congregants can eagerly await — or brace themselves for — a comedic drama that might be described as "7th Heaven" meets "Desperate Housewives." Its initial eight-episode run throws a host of curves at the Webster clan while Daniel munches Vicodin to ease his pressures and doubts.
Does this demean a man of God?
Not a bit, says the 46-year-old Quinn, who, Chicago-born and of Irish descent, has taken the vows for his first series after a diverse career in made-for TV movies, theater and feature films (including "Legends of the Fall" and "Michael Collins"). Diverse? He may be the only actor whose credits include Paul McCartney, Benedict Arnold AND Robinson Crusoe.
Now Quinn plays a priest who must be taken on his own human terms — a good man who wants to do right by his family and flock, keep up necessary appearances, and cleanse his soul.
"He is caught up in the modern malady of extreme busyness and stress," Quinn says. "But he can have moments of great lucidity and humor, and he cherishes his moments of quiet in the church, and in prayer."
Communing with his inner self takes the form of those tete-a-tetes with Jesus — a loving, good-humored comrade whose robes-and-beard style stands apart in the starchy, posh suburb just outside New York City where "Book of Daniel" is set.
Jesus is demonstrably there for Daniel — but delivers no easy answers even when, in a frequent state of befuddlement, he seeks them.
"You know it doesn't work that way," Jesus reminds him.
"Yeah," Daniel sighs. "I just don't know why."
A Savior-as-therapist, Jesus is played by Garret Dillahunt ("Deadwood"), while the series also stars Susanna Thompson ("Now and Again") as the reverend's wife, Judith, plus Christian Campbell ("Trick"), Alison Pill ("Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen") and Ivan Shaw ("All My Children") as the couple's three children.
You might say "Book of Daniel" is the gospel according to Jack Kenny, an unlikely auteur considering his resume: executive producer of the sketch-comedy series "Wanda at Large" and, before that, the creator of "Titus," producer of "Caroline in the City," and a staff writer on "Dave's World."
But looking to move into one-hour drama, he wrote a pilot script for "Book of Daniel" on spec as a writing sample, "in hopes I could get in some doors. Then it took on a life of its own."
A gay man raised in the Catholic Church, Kenny says he drew on the Wasp-y, emotionally guarded family of his life partner.
"Michael," he says of his mate with a dramatist's relish, "came from a world that is all about what is NOT said — the hidden meaning in the words and sentences."
Declaring he has never seen "7th Heaven" or "Joan of Arcadia" (a drama that had God revealing himself to a high school girl in a variety of human visions), Kenny insists his show isn't about religion.
"This is about a family," he says between bites during a hasty lunch break at the Queens studio where the series is shot. "The fact that Daniel is a priest is secondary. The church is the backdrop. This is no more about religion than `Six Feet Under" was about mortuaries."
But pray tell, doesn't saddling a priest with all those dicey tribulations (and a Vicodin habit!) risk putting off the audience in a way that a similarly plagued plumber or stockbroker wouldn't?
"Daniel faces the same relatable problems that every father has to deal with," says Kenny. "And if the problems seem heightened because of what he does for a living, then that just raises the stakes. And that makes better drama."