TELEVISION 'Joan of Arcadia' seeks divine intervention
The show has struggled with ratings, but its creator hopes CBS will pick it up for another season.
"I'm always cautiously optimistic," said Barbara Hall, creator of CBS' "Joan of Arcadia." "That's my permanent condition."
In the Friday-night sophomore drama, Amber Tamblyn plays the title role of small-town teen Joan Girardi, who talks to God (appearing in a variety of physical forms). After a critically lauded first season, the series has not evolved into a top ratings performer. Right now its future is uncertain, awaiting CBS' announcement of its fall season to advertisers in mid-May.
Tonight, "Joan" closes out its second season with "Something Wicked This Way Comes," in which Joan learns that her divine interaction so far has been a kind of spiritual boot camp. God has been preparing her for a showdown with wealthy and charming Ryan Hunter (Wentworth Miller), who also talks to God but has turned to the dark side.
"Joan will discover," Hall said, "that there are people who are actively working for whatever your concept of evil is. There have to be people who are actively counterbalancing that, and that's Joan's job.
"I wanted to do a show about a girl warrior. It's based on the life of the actual Joan of Arc. God didn't ask her to do anything simple. He asked her to get an army together and go to war. That's why she's my favorite saint, because that sounds so un-godlike. We all have a hard time dealing with that particular God. Even Joan of Arc had trouble dealing with it. It was a violent calling.
"One of the commandments of this show is that evil exists, and that's why we're not Buddhists. It isn't just in how you look at it, not in my world."
According to Hall, she's gotten mixed reaction to this season. In it, Joan dealt with the aftermath of Lyme disease -- revealed at the end of season one -- which had made her wonder whether God was actually a hallucination. She also suffered a wrenching breakup with artist boyfriend Adam (Christopher Marquette), when he was unfaithful to her.
Elsewhere in the Girardi family, mother Helen (Mary Steenburgen) has gone through a spiritual crisis on her way to returning to Catholicism, which caused tension with her police-officer husband, Will (Joe Mantegna), who rejects the idea of God. At the same time, a lawsuit involving paraplegic eldest son Kevin (Jason Ritter) rocked the whole family.
On the happier side, younger son Luke (Michael Welch) has managed to keep romance alive with politically active classmate Grace (Becky Wahlstrom), who has struggled with her own Jewish faith.
"I've heard everything from it's too dark to it's not dark enough," Hall said. "When you hear all the conflicting complaints, you tend not to take them too seriously."
While some shows dealing with God, such as "Highway to Heaven" or "Touched by an Angel," have had a softer view of deity, that's not what Hall, a Roman Catholic, is interested in doing.
"I felt I did exactly what I wanted to do," she said, "which is show that our relationship with God is very complicated. It goes in and out of focus. It's frustrating, and we start to doubt it. The reason I did that season finale last year was, this is a girl who's seen and talked to God on a daily basis, and she still has a crisis of faith.
"I wanted to deal with God the way we all deal with God, not like we wish God was. That's a different show. God as Santa Claus is a different show. If you do a show like that, it's a lie. In hindsight, maybe people wanted the lie. Maybe they wanted God as Santa Claus, but that's not how I experience Him.
"It was just the show I wanted to do, and I'm just as surprised by success as I am lack of success. I put it out there, and I can't really control people's response to it."
"I wanted to do a show about the value of being human and the importance of free will, the possibilities of God. I think people will be surprised how much they'll miss 'Joan' if it goes, regardless of how dissatisfied they were with it."