CBS’s new pseudo-spiritual drama debuted tonight, “Joan of Arcadia.” In some ways it’s “Touched By An Angel” for a younger, hipper, and more spiritually tolerant audience. Of course they gave it the worst time slot possible, Friday at 8:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. CT. Who watches TV on Friday night? You know what used to be in that time slot? “Full House” with Bob Saget and the Olson Twins. I taped “Joan” tonight, and I’ll probably have to do that the rest of the season to actually watch it.
In case you completely ignore all forms of media, the show is a modern day retelling of Joan of Arc. God decides to talk to a present day teenager, Joan. The twist is that God appears as everyday people, ala Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” (which just so happens to be the show’s theme song). It’s a unique premise for network TV, but we shouldn’t be so surprised. Television is pathetically slow when it comes to reflecting the spiritual beliefs in its audience. Movies have been toying with these ideas for a long time.
Of course the show’s spirituality has to play to the broadest common denominator. When Joan asks the hot teen guy who claims to be God if he’s the pillar of fire, ten commandments God of the Old Testament, he answers yes, then says that he got a better rep in the New Testament and the Koran, but yes, the same God. I’ve read comments from the show’s creators talking about their attempts to make their God as broad as possible, so the show can appeal to as many religions as possible. Thus you get a bland one-size-fits-all God.
But if you can get around the politically correct spirituality, the show raises the awareness and thinking about a supreme deity. At the beginning Joan tells God to go away, thinking he’s some deranged stalker. How often does that scene play out in real life? It’s moments like these that make the show captivating. I’m eager to see what they do with it.
At the same time, the show is mired in a number of lame moments. The God-speak that Joan endures is offset by Joan’s father, the chief of police. So it’s an edgy “Touched By An Angel” meets every cop show on the air. As you’d expect, “Joan” doesn’t hold a candle to “Law & Order” when it comes to police drama. Hopefully that side of the show will make more sense or play a smaller role. The younger brother is also a trip. He’s supposed to be the nerd, but he’s college level nerd, not 15-year-old dork. I should know, I was a 15-year-old dork. And if I’m not dorky enough (trust me, I am), I hung out with dorkier people. He starts spouting off laws of physics to explain the possibility of God’s existence, and it’s laughable. He has a poster of Stephen Hawking and he quotes physicists. They went for the mother of all stereotypes, and they nailed it. Too bad it sucks.
But all of that smacks of series pilot miscues. I expect they’ll iron out the wrinkles as the show goes on. But the sadder lame moments are the clich