If Friday night brought us the worst new sitcom of the season so far, it also brings us the best new drama. Joan of Arcadia spins the tale of a female high school student who finds that G-d is talking to her through strangers. This does not settle well on Joan, a fundamentally normal girl in all visible respects, but she also finds that it is not something that she can walk away from.
Joan’s conversations are set in a context where her father, the police chief, is faced with the hunt for a murderer of young ladies, and her mother is faced with a son who has lost the ability to walk and the will to do much else. Questions of faith and hope face the members of the family. Even Joan, who believes she is facing G-d, does not automatically follow all that he says.
This show does not seem evangelical. Rather, it does what much of the best drama does: display human nature by putting humans in interesting situations.
I’m very interested in seeing where it goes. There’s a risk that it could turn into an Early Edition, with G-d asking Joan to intervene to improve others lives each episode, but I think they’re aiming for something richer than that. (Which is not to denegrate Early Edition, which I felt was stylishly done at times.)
There are some folks who will find the whole subject matter uninteresting. I recommend that you see the show, see what it is actually doing, before you judge. You may be surprised.
(Joan’s parents are played by Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen, both well cast (a minor surprise for Mantegna, who is often miscast in rolls that call for someone more brutish.) Amber Tamblyn, who I’ve not seen before, plays Joan. Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter and former “San Pedro Beach Bums” actress Nancy Morgan and thus grandson of both Tex Ritter and Congressional Medal of Honor winner John “Red” Morgan, plays the brother in the wheelchair. But the lucky ducks are the folks who get to play G-d. They are purposely casting unknown actors in those roles. Talk about a nice thing to add to an empty list of credits!)