Another lonely day carrying a torch for a TV melodrama that was canceled five years ago after two seasons and that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten. Sorry, “Joan of Arcadia” remains one of the reasons YIM Catholic.
When we left Joan at the end of the pilot, she had heeded God’s voice and landed a job at a local bookstore, a move with consequences for her wheelchair-bound brother Kevin, who was inspired to shake off his self-pity and look for a job himself. Meanwhile, Dad (Police Chief Girardi) had broken an arson case by fingering Arcadia’s fire chief (only the beginning of Dad’s political problems in town); Mom continued wrestling with her grief over Kevin’s paralyzing accident (introducing herself to a young priest in a parking lot; he’ll be back); and younger brother Luke was little more than the cute geek in the corner, quoting Michael Faraday.
There is a disconnect between the pilot and the first two episodes of season 1: Joan is not (apparently) working at the bookstore (she’ll be back); and Kevin isn’t looking for a job (just yet). Instead, Joan’s older brother has just earned a driver’s license for the handicapped and may be in the market for a car. The script of episode 1 also causes a quick switch in Joan’s friends at Arcadia High. In the pilot, she was seen walking around with a couple of catty cheerleader types, whom Ammie would have characterized as B-dashes. In episode 1, God tells Joan to stretch herself academically, and to her principal’s astonishment she signs up for AP chemistry. (Another disconnect: We have a new principal; a white jerk has replaced a decent African American.) AP chem will horrify and alienate the catty cheerleaders, but it will introduce Joan to two secondary characters who are anything but cheerleader/athlete types: Adam Rove (Chris Marquette), who may be a pothead; and Grace Polk (Becky Wahlstrom), who sure looks like she must be a lesbian. Or as Joan’s Dad puts it, “These are Joan’s new friends? A person of mysterious gender and space boy?” Grace and Adam (nice names, hunh?) will become the core of Joan’s posse for the remainder of the series.
God takes many forms in the first episode: a newscaster rudely shut off by Dad, to Joan’s horror; a little girl in a playground; a streetsweeper; a repair man on a utility pole. Some of these God characters will return, but many are one-scene wonders. The message is clear: God speaks to us through our fellow man, woman, and child. And God doesn’t give orders; he/she gives suggestions. Human freedom is in place.
Says God, “Just because I speak doesn’t mean anyone has to listen. Free will is one of my great inventions.”
But God wants us to listen: “I put a lot of thought into the universe. It’s better when we all abide by the rules. Miracles happen within the rules.”
And so they do in these episodes. Joan gets new friends, and discoveries begin. (Adam does not take drugs, but is a highly talented artist. Grace’s secrets will come out in later episodes.) Kevin gets a car and a new attitude. (Though his suffering returns the moment a girl at the drive-through hits on him and he can’t respond.) And Mom begins a search for answers to the great question, Why do bad things happen to good people, in this case Kevin.
In episode 2, God tells Joan to take up chess, another intellectual stretch for this typical teen. It means going down into the basement with the chess club and hanging out with people geekier even than Luke. But as before, heeding God’s advice leads to good things, though not always directly for Joan.
Episode 2 provides an interesting subplot parallel to Joan’s own paranormal experiences.Chief Girardi is introduced to a psychic, who claims she can find a kidnapped child. She fails, and ordinary police methods finally succeed. (God may speak to us, but we have to play by the rules.) The psychic, meeting Kevin, leans over and whispers in his ear, “You’re going to dance at your wedding.” Of course, Kevin gets his hopes up, as does Mom. And I was left wondering if a third season would have shown Kevin walking again, miraculously.
But then I guess we’ll never know, will we?
Next week: Season 1, episodes 3 and 4.