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Friday, November 02, 2012

Joan of Arcadia

I don't usually do this for a Friday entry, but I would like to begin this particular blog entry with a song. Ladies and gentlemen, Joan Osborne.

ARTIST: Joan Osborne
SONG: One of Us
ALBUM: Relish
DATE RELEASED: February 21, 1995

Here's a little bit of background information about this song. It was written by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters in what he called the easiest song he had ever written. He admitted in an interview that he wrote the song in an effort to impress a woman (that woman would later become his wife). When he was brought onto the Joan Osborne album project as a songwriter, he played a demo of the song to Joan and record producer Rick Chertoff and Rick asked Joan if she could sing it. She replied that she could, the song appeared on Joan's “Relish” album, and by the end of 1995 was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Charts.

Mind you, it was Joan's ONLY hit to break the American charts, but what a song it was.

I was in eighth grade going into ninth grade when the song was released, and I remember the song getting some mild controversy over the lyrics of the chorus.

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home.

Apparently some overly religious people didn't take too kindly to hearing God being compared to a slob, but I didn't see it that way. It's an interesting song about how we would end up dealing with the idea of God being exactly like us. We've all seen the stereotypical version of God before. A man with a beard as long as Crystal Gayle's hair, usually stands about 100 feet tall, lives up in the clouds, and has a closet filled entirely with white clothes. But in the music video, God could be anyone in any size. God could be a little girl, an obese man, a man covered with tattoos, a woman with several pets, a person who resembles someone on the television show “Hoarders”.

In fact, today's television spotlight deals with this particular concept. What if we were walking down the street, we meet a stranger who looks like an average Joe or Jill, and they immediately tell us that they are “God”, and they have been sent to guide us in making decisions that will help other people, which in turn will help us understand ourselves better?

And as it so happens, Joan's song was the theme song for this particular television show.

The subject for today's blog is the short-lived television series “Joan of Arcadia”, which aired for two seasons between September 26, 2003 and April 22, 2005.

And, I will be the first to admit that I am still bitter over this show's cancellation.

First, let me explain something. I am not exactly what I would call a religious person. I don't believe in organized religion, and I choose not to go to church on Sundays (mainly because I work a job in which I have to work most Sundays). At the same time, I admit that I can't really call myself an atheist because I honestly am not sure if a God exists or not.

But I really like the plot of “Joan of Arcadia”, and I thought it was one of the best-written shows of the 2000s. It should have been given more of a chance, especially since reaction was so positive during its first season. It was even nominated for an Emmy Award during its very first year on the air. I still can't figure out why the show only lasted for two years. I mean, yes, the show did lose approximately two million viewers when season two began, but it still scored a respectable eight million viewers. Reportedly there was even a letter-writing campaign to bring the show back on the air after it was taken off the CBS schedule in May 2005, but it was to no avail. By that September, “Ghost Whisperer” had taken over “Joan of Arcadia's” old time slot.

And, so marked the end of a very good show.

Anyway, the show featured the acting talents of Amber Tamblyn, Joe Mantegna, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Ritter, and Michael Welch. In season two, Becky Wahlstrom and Christopher Marquette were bumped up to regular roles from recurring.

The show takes place in the fictional community of Arcadia, Maryland, and the main focus surrounds the Girardi family. Will Girardi (Mantegna) is the chief of Arcadia's police force, and works to try and end the internal corruption within the town of Arcadia. His wife, Helen (Steenburgen) works at Arcadia High School as the secretary (she becomes the art teacher in season two). Will and Helen have three children. The youngest is Luke (Welch), a computer and science geek who is a straight A student. The eldest, Kevin (Ritter), is confined to a wheelchair following a car accident who gets a job at a local newspaper.

And then there's the Girardi's middle child, Joan, played by Amber Tamblyn. The subject of our show.

In many ways, Joan is the typical 15-year-old girl. In the show's first episode, she happens to be on a bus when she spots a teenage boy staring at her. Joan seems to like the attention that the boy is giving her, thinking that he has a crush on her. As it turns out, the boy is definitely interested in Joan, and is wanting to talk to her. But the boy doesn't want to ask her for her phone number or to take her to the movies.

He's there because he is God. And God is there to accept the promise that Joan made him a couple of years ago. Joan seems to not take it seriously until he mentions Kevin's car accident. You see, the car accident that Kevin was involved in was a lot more serious. There was a possibility that he could have died from his injuries. But then Joan looked up towards the heavens, prayed to God to save his life, and told God that she would do whatever God desired in order to make sure that Kevin survived. And when God fills Joan in, she begins to believe that she really is talking to him.

So what exactly does God want Joan to do? Simple. He wants Joan to take on various tasks. And the best part is that they are just simple tasks. Adopting a stray cat. Starting up a community rock garden. Getting a job at a book store. Really simple stuff.

Joan does question some of the events though. To Joan, she isn't exactly sure how doing menial tasks like joining the school yearbook committee, becoming a cheerleader, or enrolling in advanced chemistry will help her make the world a better place. But what Joan doesn't realize is that these seemingly innocent tasks will help open up a larger picture, and expands Joan's perspective on life. By listening to God, she ends up finding her first love in Adam Rove (Marquette), bonds with the rebellious Grace Polk (Wahlstrom), and becomes a better person overall.

There are some instances in which Joan's tasks have helped prevent an even bigger tragedy. When God instructs Joan to take a school bully to a dance, she scoffs at the idea at first, reasoning that nobody at school likes him, and that she would just be wasting her time. To make matters worse, when word gets out that Joan has asked him to the dance, she is met with opposition from assistant principal Gavin Price (Patrick Fabian) and her mother. But Joan follows through with God's idea, and she and the bully initially have a good time. But Joan soon discovers that he is carrying alcohol on his person. She manages to convince him not to drink any of it, but assistant principal Price finds the bottle and expels the bully. The boy later threatens to shoot Joan's father with a handgun and is immediately taken to jail. Joan is unsure of what the point of it all was when the boy still ended up ruining his life, but God tells Joan that her presence helped prevent an even greater tragedy from unfolding. If Joan had not stepped in and taken him to the dance, there would have been a school shooting at Arcadia High in which twelve people would end up dead before he turned the gun on himself. It was a sobering reality for Joan to take, but she realized that his fate was the lesser of two evils.

Now, there were also a couple of instances in which Joan seems to lose faith in God and herself. The season one finale showed Joan having a nervous breakdown and hospital tests revealed that she was suffering from Lyme Disease, and Joan believed that was the reason why she could see God. By the time she returns back home after spending the summer at a psychiatric camp, she begins ignoring God for a bit, thinking that she is just hearing things. But by the second episode of the second season, she goes right back to following God's wishes, and doing what God asks of her.

In another instance, Joan's friend Judith (Sprague Grayden) ends up passing away, and Joan blames God for letting her friend die...and although she is very angry at what happened, she does come to terms with it, as you will see by clicking HERE.

Here's the beautiful part though. In “Joan of Arcadia”, God breaks the stereotype associated with his appearance. In this show, God appears to Joan in a variety of forms. In fact, here's a partial list of some of the actors who have played God in “Joan of Arcadia”.

Kathryn Joosten – Old Lady God
Juliette Goglia – Little Girl God
Russ Tamblyn – Dog-Walker God (the real-life father of Amber Tamblyn)
Kris Lemche – Cute Guy God
Jeffrey Licon – Goth Kid God
Adam Richman – Butcher God (host of Man v. Food)
Zachary Quinto – Video Assignment God
Fred Stoller – Pizza Delivery God
Curtis Armstrong – Security Guard God
Phill Lewis – Naval Officer God – Three Card Monte Guy God
Susan Sullivan – Rich Woman God
Allyce Beasley – Woman With Cats God
Christy Carlson Romano – Officious Hall Monitor God

Now here is where my frustration with the show takes place. The finale of the show's second season was one that was sort of a cliffhanger of sorts. In the episode, Joan is informed by God that the last two years were a test. It was to train her for an even larger battle with the devil himself (in this case, it is presumed that the devil was in the persona of a dot com millionaire played by Wentworth Miller). It was meant to lead into the third season storylines...


I HATE it when shows end on a cliffhanger with loose ends left untied. Why did CBS have to cancel a show without wrapping things up? They should have at least filmed a television movie to air on Saturday night to wrap things up.

I guess in some ways, even though it has been seven years since the show ended, I still get a little bit bitter over how the show ended. And, I think that I'm probably not the only one who is.

But the cast of the show has since moved on, and most have found new jobs. Joe Mantegna replaced Mandy Patinkin when he left the cast of “Criminal Minds”, and has played the role of David Rossi ever since. Mary Steenburgen has acted in several films including “Step Brothers”, “Four Christmases” and “The Proposal”. Amber Tamblyn starred in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and wrapped up a guest stint on “House M.D.” last year. Jason Ritter is currently in a recurring role on “Parenthood”, and Michael Welch has played the role of Mike Newton in every one of the Twilight films.

I guess maybe in some ways...God was watching over the cast...making sure they found work after cancellation. Or, so it'd be nice to think.  

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