Saturday, October 02, 2004

I just love "Joan of Arcadia"!

(This is a rave review that's pretty late in coming, since the show's been on for a year or two, but last night's episode reminded me of everything I like about it.)

When I heard that there was a TV show about a high school girl that has encounters with God every week where He tells her something to do, I might have made a snorting noise out loud or I might have only thought it. After all, has television really helped the cause of religious people with shows like "Highway to Heaven" and "Touched by an Angel"? (Although I admit I was a fan of the latter until I realized that their message was never going to be any more than "Smile -- God loves you." Certainly a nice sentiment, but hardly enough to get us through the days of terrorist threats and genocide.)

But my reticence notwithstanding, we tuned in to "Joan" one Friday night. We've been hooked ever since. There are episodes so complex, painful and difficult that I puzzle over them all week. There are others that lighten my heart in a way that is completely unique to me in a lifetime of watching the boob tube (does anybody call it that anymore?). Most amazing of all is that it isn't easy to keep up with what they manage to say every week about what it means to live life with faith in a real and active God.

"Joan" definitely outguns the other shows that mention heaven and angels, both in its depth and its quality. Those shows get bogged down in the question of whether or not there is a God, and end up showing one moment of a person's life when they might meet one of God's messengers as if that moment were all that would happen in their lives. There is obviously much more power in the premise that the protagonist won't meet a messenger but God Himself. And she won't meet Him just once in her life (very Born Again mentality there, if you ask me), but often and regularly. She doesn't always know what shape He'll take -- God has been an old woman, a little girl, a street musician, a dog-walker. The things that God will say may not make sense at the time -- He may ask her to take an art class or give her abiguous exhortations like 'get involved' or 'keep your eyes open'. And, in the aspect that I find the most insightful by far, what He says might not make sense even by the end of the show. You may be left with questions, not of God's goodness or omnipotence, but of Joan's ability (and ours) to fathom His purpose.

Stylistically, the writing bears no resemblance to some of the greeting-card sappiness to be found on the PAX network perenniels. I can pay the show's writers the enormous compliment of saying that I've never found myself offended, irritated or skeptical about any of the things "God" has said on the program. It's all the more amazing, considering that they haven't pulled any punches as far as what Joan has come up against. She has tried desperately to get Him to be precise, berated Him for inconsistencies, cried to Him about children dying and yelled at Him when she was having a crisis of faith.

It's easy to conceive of a show about cute kids having a good time with a cool God. It's a lot harder to get anything nearer the truth. I give the show top marks for not taking the easy way.


Blogger Karl Thienes said...

Yeah, this is a great show.

My favorite drama of all time, though, is still "Party of Five"...but J of A is excellent and entertaining tv.

October 2, 2004 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

All right, I don't know anything about 'Party of Five'. Got a quick synopsis for me -- or if you want, just night, time and station.

Part of why I'm in such awe of a show like JofA is that I had gotten so much out of the network prime-time show habit that I can't believe I'm watching something. It would be great to find out there was anything else I could stand.

October 3, 2004 at 1:41 PM  
Blogger Karl Thienes said...

Party of Five was on the air 1994-2000.

See for more.

October 3, 2004 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Rats! Actually, the other show I thought was really great was "Freaks and Geeks", which lasted about two seasons or something. Boy, I sure know how to pick 'em. I better not let word get out that I like JofA or they'll cancel it for sure.

Well, maybe I can get DVD's of old episodes of Party of Five from Netflix.

October 3, 2004 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger Karl Thienes said...


They finally released Season 1 on DVD in May of this year. Seasons 2 + 3 were by far the best. They also sell a couple of random episodes. Look for "Intervention" if you can. One of the best of the series, IMO.

October 4, 2004 at 1:36 PM  

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