Judge Joel Pearce thinks the network execs who cancelled this charming series mid-season should be burned at the stake.
Our review of Joan Of Arcadia: The First Season, published May 25th, 2005, is also available.
"Whatever it is that you're preparing me for, I'm not ready."
During its sophomore year, Joan of Arcadia really came of age. The awkward quirkiness of the first season developed into a deeply felt, moving family drama. Unfortunately, the series was cut off just as it reached its prime, making it a weaker recommendation for most.
Facts of the Case
The end of the first season of Joan of Arcadia left Joan (Amber Tamblyn, The Grudge 2) in a crisis of conscience. The beginning of Season Two finds her returning from a troubled youth camp, believing that her visits from God had been imagined and that she has now been cured of this insanity. When she starts to see him again, she fears that she is about to be tossed into the bizarre events that filled the last year of her life. It isn't long, though, before she dives back in. Her relationship with Adam (Chris Marquette, The Girl Next Door) also grows.
The rest of the Girardi family are also diving into something as well. Will (Joe Mantegna, Edmond) has a new boss and finds new reasons to dig into his work. Helen (Mary Steenburgen, Elf) decides to become reconfirmed in the Catholic church. Kevin (Jason Ritter, Placebo) tries to get back into the dating scene, and Luke (Michael Welch, The United States of Leland) finds himself in a romance with Grace (Becky Wahlstrom, Lucky 13)
In my review of Joan of Arcadia's first season, I said that it was poised to transcend the teen drama genre, becoming a truly incredible show. The first few episodes of the second season scared me, as characters and situations were awkwardly introduced. Somewhere along the way, though, Joan of Arcadia gets really, really good. By midway through, it has blossomed into a truly great show, comfortably juggling its numerous story lines and tones. It's still an overly ambitious show, trying to be three shows at the same time, but it all works better this time around.
None of this would be possible without the truly dedicated cast, a group of actors who bring an astonishing level of humanity to their roles. Each member of the Girardi family defies stereotypes, and surprises us on a regular basis. As a result, I found myself watching more to see how this family would interact, not to see what would happen next in the story. During the course of this season, we are taken in a number of unexpected directions, but never shifts that seem wrong or out of place. By the end of it, we are willing to follow almost anywhere.
Joan of Arcadia also skillfully juggles a desire to entertain with a strong moral backbone. Although many of the episodes are still quite heavy-handed in introducing the same theme and message to each of the story lines, it's only a few times that it starts to feel preachy. Considering the subject matter, that's not too bad. Once again, we care so much about the characters and their decisions, the moral messages in the show feel genuinely sincere, not forced. Considering it handles issues such as teen sex, suicide, God, forgiveness, rape, and infidelity, I'm genuinely surprised it wasn't preachy more often.
Alas, nothing lasts forever. Joan of Arcadia was canceled after its second season, at the most frustrating and inopportune moment possible. The first two series chronicle Joan's gradual acceptance and dependence on God's guidance, which bring about her own growth and development as a character. Towards the end of this season, it's clear that her purpose is about to be revealed, and she is about to be sent into battle. A new adversarial character is introduced, the battle lines are drawn, she is lined up to fulfill her purpose…and the series is over. There's no closure, no wild cliffhanger, no fitting last words. Just as Joan of Arcadia is about to reach a real climax, we are pulled out with the realization that we will never know why Joan has been called or what her true purpose is. Perhaps I shouldn't complain too much. After all, it isn't series creator Barbara Hall's fault that her show got canceled during the summer, and I'm sure she wanted to give us some closure for her vision. Ultimately, though, I have a hard time getting excited about a series that leaves us out in the cold.
Paramount has done a fine job with the second season release, especially considering how the show was abandoned. The technical transfer is solid, featuring a clear widescreen image with good colors, lots of detail and no visible flaws. The stereo sound transfer isn't quite as strong, as the voices occasionally get lost in the mix, but all other elements in the sound track are clear and well separated. There are even a few extras, including commentary tracks on several episodes and a production featurette. The overview of season two gives no indication that we have reached the end of the series, probably because the interviews were filmed before everyone knew it had been canceled. There is also a production featurette on the "Queen of the Zombies" episode, which was a pretty fun episode. There's also a quick tour of the high school set. We also get a table read of "Common Thread," intercut with the finished product. It's a fascinating look at the process, and by far the most valuable inclusion here. Like everything else, the commentary tracks make no mention of this as the end of the series, even in the last episode. It's quite disappointing.
I would love to tell you to rush out and grab the second season of Joan of Arcadia on DVD so that you can start watching Season Three on television. I'd love to excitedly tell you about this underdog show that turned into something it had no right to be, only to get even better as the show keeps growing. I can't though, which makes this one of the hardest recommendations I have ever had to make. When it comes to the quality of what's here, Joan of Arcadia is well worth watching and owning. It's part of a larger story, though, a story that will never be told. Because of that, I can't really recommend a purchase in good conscience. I suppose I will have to leave it up to you.
Paramount gets a stiff fine for burning this fine show at the stake.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
• Commentary Tracks
Review content copyright © 2006 Joel Pearce; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.