Joan of Arcadia: Season One
Distributed by: Paramount
Reviewed by: Justine Manzano
Things have changed in my life in the last year. I have shocked myself with the whole discovery of God, since I was the single most cynical person I knew on the subject of religion. This just happened this year. So, when Joan of Arcadia was released on CBS in 2003, I was totally without religion. One would think that would make a show co-starring God impossible to watch…but that isn’t the case.
Joan of Arcadia follows Joan Girardi (Amber Tamblyn, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Grudge 2) a teenager who just moved to the town of Arcadia (did you see that in the title? Did ya?) Her father Will (Joe Mantegna, The Godfather III, The Last Don 1 and 2) is the new police chief and has his fill of things to do with the corrupt system in place at his new job. Her mother Helen (Mary Steenburgen, Life as a House, Elf) has begun working in the Principal’s office at Joan’s school, and is distracted by the troubles of her oldest son Kevin (Jason Ritter, The Class) who has recently been paralyzed in a car accident. Joan’s younger brother Luke, (Michael Welch) is a scientific genius who thinks in formulas and deductive reasoning and who almost nobody can understand. Joan is starting at a new school, and the only friends she can seem to make is a rebellious, gender-bending tough chick named Grace (Becky Wahlstrom) and an artsy boy who constantly seems in a daze and always seems to call her Jane, Adam (Christopher Marquette, The Girl Next Door, Freddy vs. Jason). It is not exactly the set-up a teenage girl who wants to be popular looks for.
Amongst all of this, Joan, who is mostly normal, is confronted by a young teenage boy of approximately her age, who says he is God. He knows everything about her and tells her she won’t always see him this way. Then, he gives her a mission. Just when Joan begins to think she can not possibly be normal anymore, she begins see the ramifications of the actions she takes in God’s name—they stretch out in an ever increasing chain, helping the lives of many instead of just the few she had thought possible. Joan begins completing each of the missions God assigns her, although sometimes the immediate mission seems like a bad thing. But how can she explain what she is doing without getting burned in punishment—or at least without alienating everyone she loves??
The beauty of this show is that it isn’t all about God so those not searching for something like that won’t be driven running. The Girardi family plays just as important a role in this serious as Joan and her exploits do. Also, if you are looking for a serious religious analysis, this is not where to find it. Joan is often pretty sarcastic with God, and God never really gives definitive answers. He mostly waits for Joan to figure it out. And, being a 16 year old with substantial problems of her own, she almost never does.
Joan of Arcadia is brilliantly acted by every cast member (including the guest stars who play God, all of which somehow managing to channel the very same presence) and the scripts are skillfully written, so they truly sound like one of the less dysfunctional modern American families amidst all of the oddities. This show was not written to give the difficult answers—despite the fact that Joan works diligently for God, her brother Kevin never walks again—but that’s the way it should be, since we don’t actually know the answers. In the end, the show is a quirky family drama with the twist of a higher power added in. This is a good show for a non-believer, like I was upon first viewing, however, believing only makes it sweeter. Either way, it’s a must see.