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Joan of Arcadia? More Like Jaye of Niagara! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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November 30th, 2008


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11:20 pm - Joan of Arcadia? More Like Jaye of Niagara!
As everyone knows, Joan of Arcadia was a CBS show about Joan Girardi, a teenage girl living the Maryland town of Arcadia who begins seeing God everywhere and receiving little "missions" from Him/Her. Although God is never revealed to be an alien from outer space, the show was inexplicably rerun on SciFi this summer, which let me finally give it a try after hearing so much about it. That was the end of July. Come fall, SciFi stopped the reruns, so I had to employ my usual methods. It's now over four months since I started watching, and I am finally done with both seasons of the show.

Since Wonderfalls premiered near the end of JoA's first season, the comparisons were inevitable. To my surprise, however, Joan was much more like Jaye than I expected. She's snarky and confrontational to God, and she constantly questions her "missions" and does them only begrudgingly. She's definitely not as deliberately abrasive and off-putting to humanity in general, though. It's just the Dude ordering her around she has issues with; otherwise, she's a regular girl. What I loved, though, was how God was constantly pushing Joan to learn more about who she was and challenge herself and her views of the world; it's really a show about growing up. The old coming-of-age story. Coming of age involves a lot of crying, apparently, and, thankfully, Amber Tamblyn is an excellent crier. Also excellent in general; like Caroline Dhavernas, she gives good facial expression.

Luke, Joan's younger brother, is a brainy nerdboy whose every line seems like it came from a physics textbook. Are there really incredibly intelligent people who talk like that on a regular basis? Who must discuss every little thing in terms of mathematical equations or scientific principles? Even if there aren't, Michael Welch sure made it sound natural. Luke is very socially awkward, as you might expect.

Kevin, Joan's older brother, was an athlete until he was crippled in a car accident. Now he's in a wheelchair. I couldn't help but think of Jason Street, even though Kevin pre-dates him; it's not a story you often see on television. Once Kevin gets past his "Because I'm crippled, and I want to listen to Nirvana!" phase, he's a pretty likable character, very amusing and caring. The show gets a lot of mileage out of him and his accident; both seasons delve into the trauma of that night and explore the family's grief. How do you adjust to something like that?

Will, Joan's father, is a cop. For some reason. I say this because try as it might, the show never really figures out what to do with Will-as-a-cop. His cop stories are rarely well integrated into the main story (if at all), and they're shot in a blue filter, which makes it seem all the more like you've stepped into a different show. And after coming off The Wire, I found JoA's attempts at doing stories about police corruption to be eye-rollingly simple. It's frequently useful that Will is a cop, sure, but I never really needed to pay attention to his cases. Will-the-cop as a father and husband, however, was a more interesting story and character, the way his job affected his family roles.

Helen, Joan's mother, works in the principal's office at Arcadia High. And she's my second-favorite character after Joan. I found her to be a really well rounded and complex character over the course of the series, and I loved the individual relationships she had with each member of her family, especially Joan. But also Will: I really appreciated that the show treated the parents as people and let us see their perspectives on raising their children and even their own marriage.

To me, Joan of Arcadia is a family show. Oh, Girardis! You're so...functional. But there are two important non-Girardis as well, of course. Adam Rove, Joan's love interest, is a sad little puppy dog of an artist. Do you want to know how adorable he is? He calls Joan "Jane." We're not sure why. Grace Polk, Joan's best friend, is a counterculture anarchist fuck-the-Man kind of girl, and, like Luke, her dialogue is often very one-note since she turns every little thing into some symbol of oppression. She's a little prickly, but she's a good friend.

And then there's God, who appears in many forms throughout the series, like Goth God, Little Girl God, Old Lady God, and the ever-popular Hot God (a guy; sadly, there is no recurring Hot Girl God, although we get Amelia DeLongpre God and Ren Stevens God as one-shots). God is all over the damn place (omnipresent!); I would guess a full five percent of Arcadia's inhabitants are actually GOD. It's a little ridiculous. But I always enjoyed Joan's conversations with God. The show is pretty good about being respectful of all religions and not falling into blasphemy, and I think God has some really good life lessons to impart. I liked that the show gave you credit for just being a decent human being, showing how even the smallest of kindnesses can have good ripples.

Like many shows these days, the first season was much loved and the second season was less loved. I didn't think the second season was that bad, although it seemed to be a little more depressing. What I loved about the first season was that it so often brought me close to tears of joy. Sometimes I was still sniffling afterward. I was a little less emotional and capslock-y about the second season. Except for the last two episodes, when the show introduced a new character that signaled a promising and interesting new direction right before it was canceled.

All in all, I really liked the show. I think it had a lot of interesting things to say about God, faith, religion, belief, art, grief, death, family, and other nouns. There's a certain pervasive CBSness about it that kept it from being a great show, but I was really impressed with how it managed not to be completely sappy and cliché when by all rights it really should have been.
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(25 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:squaringkarma
Date:December 1st, 2008 07:41 am (UTC)
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Wow, a show I discovered before you? I can't think of a time that this has happened in recent memory. I'm glad you enjoyed the show. I think this show is another reason why I'm ehh on Michael Scofield.

And I really adored the second season though yes, it was definitely more dark than the first. Sprague Grayden! (Whom you know as the cute schoolteacher from Jericho.) I once wrote a Joan/Judith with Joan/God undertones ficlet.

So my favourite characters: Helen Girardi, Judith Montegomery, Grace Polk, Joan Girardi, and Luke Girardi.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:19 am (UTC)
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Sprague Grayden! (Whom you know as the cute schoolteacher from Jericho.)
I know! First a teacher, then a student. Except she did it the other way around. I thought she was a little annoying at first, but she grew on me.
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From:holly96
Date:December 1st, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)
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Hey, I didn't know you were watching this! Joan of Arcadia is one of my all-time favorite shows. Before I started watching, I was a tad leery because of the God aspect. I wasn't sure how I would feel about how God was portrayed, but as you say they were very respectful and I don't recall ever having any issues in that respect. And I'm pretty sure I cried during nearly every S1 episode. So you are certainly not alone in feeling emotional.

Sigh. I'm still mad about where it ended, just when things were really getting interesting. But I still want to do a rewatch. Maybe I'll start that over the holidays.

Oh, one last thing. Did you notice all the fun random props carried in the background at the school? Seriously, it's hilarious.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:23 am (UTC)
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Hey, I didn't know you were watching this!
Surprise!

I wasn't sure how I would feel about how God was portrayed, but as you say they were very respectful and I don't recall ever having any issues in that respect.
I think it helped that they made God so down-to-earth and relatable.

And I'm pretty sure I cried during nearly every S1 episode. So you are certainly not alone in feeling emotional.
Yeah, I think I had a near-tears moment for almost every episode in S1 too. After the first few, after I really got into it.

I'm still mad about where it ended, just when things were really getting interesting.
I think it may have turned into a slightly different show with a different focus, but maybe they could have done that story while still remaining focused on the family and friends.

Did you notice all the fun random props carried in the background at the school? Seriously, it's hilarious.
Like what? I'm not sure.
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From:holly96
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:36 am (UTC)
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I think it may have turned into a slightly different show with a different focus, but maybe they could have done that story while still remaining focused on the family and friends.
I think they could have made it work. But we'll never know.

Like what? I'm not sure.
It's been awhile since I've watched any of it, so I can't give too many examples. But there will be someone carrying, like, a giant flower. Or an ear of corn. Totally off the wall, random things. Nearly any scene in the hallways at school, you can find something. I think it must have just been the prop department having fun.

And I forgot to say in my original comment that while I had my issues with S2, there were still some pretty great episodes. I LOVE the zombie musical episode, for example. And the episode where Judith dies is one of my favorites.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:41 am (UTC)

Spoiler warning!

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I LOVE the zombie musical episode
We can be together if I could only eat your braaaaaaain!

And the episode where Judith dies is one of my favorites.
Oh, juggling metaphors.

I think I did notice some random stuff in the hallways at times.
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From:toastandtea
Date:December 1st, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
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I only ever saw a handful of s1 episodes but i was always very pleasantly surprised by how un-sappily touching it was (like Friday Night Lights! HOW DO THEY GET AWAY WITH THAT?!?) I loved Adam/Joan, and i have no idea what happened in s2 but i know it wasn't good for them.

Except for the last two episodes, when the show introduced a new character that signaled a promising and interesting new direction right before it was canceled.

Who did it introduce? I wanna knooooow. I'm always fascinated by the direction shows would have gone in had they not been axed. I read descriptions of that stuff even for shows i've never watched or only watched a very little bit of. So many stories that never got to be told! But which are probably more interesting in overall concept than they would have been in execution!

There's a certain pervasive CBSness about it that kept it from being a great show

I totally get that. CBS has a very distinct quality of, uh, cheesy crappiness. (WHAT IS UP, GHOST WHISPERER.)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
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(like Friday Night Lights! HOW DO THEY GET AWAY WITH THAT?!?)
Right?!?!

Who did it introduce? I wanna knooooow. I'm always fascinated by the direction shows would have gone in had they not been axed.
Wentworth Miller shows up as this Lex Luthor-esque character who can also see/talk to God, except he thinks God sucks and takes on Joan as an adversary, wheedling his way into the lives of Will, Adam, and Helen. And wind blows melodramatically whenever he leaves! And God is all, "The last two years have only been preparation for your biggest challenge!"

CBS has a very distinct quality of, uh, cheesy crappiness.
It's weird!
From:wee_warrior
Date:December 1st, 2008 09:33 am (UTC)
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I almost feel mean for disliking this show. Except, not really, I found it a bit too sappy, but I liked the TWoP recaps a lot. And I loved Grace and the Mom.

You make me wonder, though - I never felt Jaye and Joan were much alike, but maybe Jaye was actually an incredibly emotional, slightly whiny teenager and just grew progressively snarky later on?

(And actually, I'm mostly answering to duel your icon.)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
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I never felt Jaye and Joan were much alike, but maybe Jaye was actually an incredibly emotional, slightly whiny teenager and just grew progressively snarky later on?
Heh. I think my expectations for Joan were very low in the snark department, so I was pleasantly surprised that she was just as annoyed as Jaye at being fate's bitch.
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From:dgriswold
Date:December 1st, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)
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Your timeliness is awesome - I've been re-watching this with my sister.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
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Enjoying it the second time around?
(Deleted comment)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
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I thought Hot God was pretty hot!

When Wonderfalls came out, there were all sorts of comparisons to Joan of Arcadia, but I hadn't seen it.

You should watch the rest of the episodes!
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From:cindywrites
Date:December 1st, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
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There's still a sore spot in my TV watching heart because of JoA. I love it so. For the longest time, on Friday nights after it was cancelled, I'd still expect to see it. I'd get that happy little feeling, and then remember it was gone.

If you ever want to understand my relationship with God -- it's nearly exactly like Joan's (which is a little pathetic, given my age).

Cute-Guy God was just in something I watched, but I can't remember what. Oh -- maybe the 24 movie that just aired a week or two ago. Yeah, that was it.

This was another one of those shows that got cancelled with ratings that were twice what proably would have saved Veronica Mars. I've often wondered if CBS had shunted shows like this and Jericho over to the CW (or in Joan's case -- that might have still been during UPN's day), if the network would be healthier.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
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If you ever want to understand my relationship with God -- it's nearly exactly like Joan's (which is a little pathetic, given my age).
Aw! Sometimes I envied her for knowing God was real. I mean, she had a very privileged relationship with the Dude. It came with consequences and responsibilities, but she had to take a lot less on faith than most people.
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From:imwalde
Date:December 1st, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
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I loved Adam Rove so much while watching it made my heart hurt. Jump has one of the most satisfying episode pay-offs I have ever seen.

(Also, it aired on Sci-Fi? Heeeeee.)
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From:sneaker328
Date:December 1st, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
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I loved the first season of this show to pieces. The second season...I never made it through. I just couldn't stand the characters (particularly Joan) acting so unreasonably stupid for the sake of the plot. And when I heard what happened with Adam in the second season, I was glad I never watched all that.

Luke was a highlight though, particularly in his relationship with Grace. He was a nerd, but he had a proud, self-possessed hotness to him. I liked how aggressive (in a good way) he was in pursuing Grace.
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From:anoel
Date:December 1st, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
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Awww Joan of Arcadia. I have a soft spot in my heart for that show. Besides the Will cop stuff and the marriage (which I hated-one of my least favorite relationship dynamics), it was all wonderful especially that first season. It's so good at making you cry and as you said, often they were tears of joy. Grace and Luke were my favorites though, I love them both SO MUCH. I could care less if it was a bit stereotypical, they're my favorite types of stereotypes and I adored their dynamic so it worked. Although S2 didn't make me care as much, the end was really intriguing and I wish they had gotten one more season (at least).
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
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the marriage (which I hated-one of my least favorite relationship dynamics)
Really? I liked it quite a bit. It had its problems, but there was a strong, underlying love/connection that always prevailed. Will wasn't really Husband of the Year or anything, but I liked that Will and Helen got to be their own, independent people in addition to depending on each other.

Although S2 didn't make me care as much, the end was really intriguing and I wish they had gotten one more season (at least).
I know! I wish I knew what they had in store. The same thing happened with Tru Calling, except that show wasn't as good as Joan before they gave the main character an adversary.
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From:anoel
Date:December 1st, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
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Well I haven't seen it awhile (well besides the Luke/Grace parts), from what I remembered, I thought Will was controlling and full of platitudes and boring and brought that upon Helen and it's just not the kind of relationship I like at all. I think it's great that the parents to be independent and everything but I didn't see the love besides what the writers wanted me to see.

It's the wasted potential that saddens me the most about cancelled shows *hugs poor Firefly and Pushing Daisies along with it*
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From:punzerel
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
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Heh. I never thought of any similarities between Joan and Jaye, but you're kind of right.

I always liked what I saw of Joan of Arcadia, but I think I only saw the early bits. Maybe the whole first season? I'm not sure. But yes, Helen was probably either my favourite or 2nd favourite character. And sorry, but Cute God was not cute. He also had a weird voice. They could have done better!

I also liked Luke Girardi, MAN OF SCIENCE. Hasn't he shown up in something else recently? I can't remember. The blonde girl who had a crush on him showed up as an awkward blonde girl with a crush on Peter Parker in one of the Spiderman movies.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 1st, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
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Heh. I never thought of any similarities between Joan and Jaye, but you're kind of right.
I think they would get along! I mean, if Joan can be best friends with Grace, she can handle Jaye.

But yes, Helen was probably either my favourite or 2nd favourite character.
Sometimes she was annoying, but that was true of pretty much every character.

And sorry, but Cute God was not cute. He also had a weird voice. They could have done better!
Hee. I suppose they could have. I could have been God! They didn't ask me, though.

Hasn't he shown up in something else recently? I can't remember.
HE WAS IN TWILIGHT. I hear.

The blonde girl who had a crush on him showed up as an awkward blonde girl with a crush on Peter Parker in one of the Spiderman movies.
Ooooh my God, you're right!! She was that neighbor girl in his apartment!
[User Picture]
From:punzerel
Date:December 2nd, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
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They didn't ask me, though.

Perhaps they should have!

What ringtones did you end up picking, p.s.?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:December 2nd, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
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You will find out the answer shortly!

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