Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Jason Ritter, Mary Steenburgen, Joe Mantegna, Michael Welch, Chris Marquette, Becky Wahlstrom
Created By: Barbara Hall
Joan of Arcadia is a series I have been meaning to see for a long time. It’s incredible ensemble cast is really what brought my attention to it. Amber Tamblyn is one of the finest young actresses today. Her presence bursts through the screen and allows the audience to relate and feel through her character fully. Tamblyn alongside the equally talented, Jason Ritter and Mary Steenburgen, brings out the complex and engaging relationships of this family. The shows premise wonderfully questions ones belief and discovering the meaning in life.
Joan Girardi (Tamblyn) is a 16 year-old girl who is just trying to deal with her teenage years like anyone else. Unlike most girls though, she has interactions with God on a daily basis. God is always in a different form, in the body of someone else. He comes to her and makes a request, something for Joan to do. He continuously reminds her that she has her free will and doesn’t have to do anything. It takes Joan awhile to get past the fact that God is talking to her, constantly in different bodies. Before he appeared to her she wasn’t even sure that she believed in him. Joan is constantly doing things that make no sense to her and make others question her motives, thinking something is going on with her. If she told anyone though they would think she’s crazy and she can’t really offer any explanation for
The Girardi family has their share of problems. Joan’s older brother, Kevin (Ritter), was on the top of the world in high school. He was popular, had a great girlfriend, and had gotten a sports scholarship. All of that was ruined one night when he got in to a car accident, paralyzing him from the waist down. For over a year Kevin stayed in a very numbing mindset. He really stopped living. He didn’t have a job, wasn’t going to school, and was barely doing anything with himself at all. Kevin struggles with being handicapped, always worried that others only pity him. When his father, Will (Mantegna), Arcadia’s chief of police, is interviewed by a reporter at the local paper Kevin is offered a job as a fact checker. Through struggles he begins to live again, but only by acknowledging that he is not the same person he used to be, he never will be again. Kevin forms a somewhat complicated relationship with the writer who hired him in and soon gets the chance to write more creatively.
The relationship that forms between Joan and Adam (Marquette) is mesmerizing. It is clear Adam falls for her pretty quickly even though he continues to call her Jane. Joan insists she only sees him as a friend. Even through this time they have so many sensual and inspiring moments between them. The tension in wondering whether or not they will acknowledge their feelings for each other takes you in to the story that much more. They are both such likeable, genuine, and good hearted people. There are many ups and down in their relationship including when Adam seems to genuinely hate Joan. After going through the struggles with them, not just in their relationship, but everything that they are going through in their lives, we become so invested in their relationship.
Amber Tamblyn wonderfully brought Joan to life. There is nothing extraordinary about the character of Joan, but she definitely has her own sense of self and sticks up for what she believes in. She struggles with many things in life and can’t always see the bigger picture. Joan has a hard time finding her purpose while others seem to have found their calling. Still, all of this simply makes her more human. God talks to her every day and she still rarely has any answers. Tamblyn has incredible screen presence and always captures the comedy, cynicism, or emotion in every scene she is in.
Tamblyn and Marquette have incredible chemistry together. Even before there are any hints of their interest in the other, there is this very strong energy between the two of them. Chris Marquette impressed in his portrayal of Adam. He is very artistic, intelligent, and has an elusive way about him. Everything that Marquette does for this character is so subtle, but effective. He seems so fragile, but clearly there is a strong person inside that Joan brings out in time.
Jason Ritter really brings out the utter loss and desperation his character is struggling with. Kevin learns that in many ways he becomes a better person and has to face that he really was a nasty person before. He has some of the most dramatic scenes and is often used for comedic relief as well. Ritter captures all of the material wonderfully, bringing a lot of depth to this character. Every character involved in the show is multi-dimensional. Even Grace who seems to be your typical angry, misunderstood character that rebels against everything, is shown among moments of compassion. She is there for Joan throughout many of her problems, even those she doesn’t understand. Becky Wahlstrom really did well in making her a tough character, desperate to keep up an image, but one that can show those small moments of a softer character.
Mary Steenburgen gives a very righteous and elegant performance as Helen. She is always thinking about her family, desperate to keep it together even in some of the hardest moments to do this. Steenburgen has perfected the role of the mother. Joe Mantegna did pretty well, especially in some of his moments of crisis and breakdown.
One of the most interesting episodes was called, “Joan of Arc”. This goes in to the connection between Joan Girardi and Joan of Arc, who the show is clearly named after. Both talked to God, which suddenly sparks an interest in history for Joan. She feels connected to Joan of Arc and wants to clear her name on being labeled crazy since she fears others may think the same of her.
I am really glad this had another season; because I wouldn’t be satisfied at all if the series ended with the season finale in season one. It’s an unsettling ending. It is just so contradictory to everything we have seen before, risking the entire season for what seems might be a cop out. Luckily, right before it ends we are given assurance that everything is what it seemed to be in the bulk of the season. Still, our characters don’t know that and their worlds are being turned upside down. It should give plenty of problems for material in season 2. As frustrating as moments in this season were, I do see its’ significance especially in the questioning of faith.
Joan of Arcadia has a lot of interesting themes and examination. Do we have to see God to believe in him? Is he always in our presence? The strongest theme of the series is that everything happens for a reason. There is rarely any obvious logic in what Joan is asked to do. She fights these strange requests as they are often things that might drive those closest to her away. Still, she follows God’s requests and everything turns out for the best because of it. She often connects with people who are in pain, are lonely, or who simply need this one action that could very well change or save their lives. Every action causes another action that happens because of it. It isn’t always obvious, but these things have an impact on people who may be strangers to you. Another essential premise in the show is the complications of being human. It isn’t easy for anyone, but forming a connection and building meaningful relationships is where you find the support through the ups and downs of life. You can’t always see the bigger picture, but it’s there. Joan of Arcadia is an incredibly intelligent, emotionally honest, and very realistic show about the difficulties of being human, questioning of faith, and what the significance of everything in life is.