Joan of Arcadia: The First Season

When a teenager talking to God is the least of the family's worries, you know the show is going to be worth tuning in to watch every week. Joan of Arcadia is a cleverly titled show about a girl named Joan who lives in the American city of Arcadia and just so happens to talk to God (kind of like another Joan hundreds of years before her). While the plot may sound like a teenaged version of Touched By An Angel, it's not, exactly. Whether Joan is chosen to spread the mighty word is never 100-percent clear; though Joan has the gift of gabbing to God forced on her, the writers leave whatever religious undertones there may be up to the viewer to distinguish. God's plan for Joan (Amber Tamblyn) is to intervene and affect those around her for the better. She is an ordinary girl with mediocre grades and few friends struggling with self-discovery, which helps give the show some valuable integrity. Her family — fresh off a disaster where Joan's brother Kevin is paralysed — all have their own internal struggles. Will, the non-believing father (Joe Mantegna), is the chief of police and brings a second storyline into the show — often a crime he is trying to solve that occasionally involves Joan and her duties in some way. Mother Helen (Mary Steenburgen) fights to cope with Kevin's disability, as well as being the sole believer in the family. The writing is clever, consistently placing Joan in some very unusual social and academic situations, giving the lead character enough convincing depth and naiveté while maintaining God as an alluring character by constantly switching bodies. Though the cop drama portion of the show can sometimes rule the roost, wandering away from the central narrative, this is a well-written and highly enjoyable show that uses spirituality as its energy without requiring any commitment from the viewer. The DVD extras include featurettes on the creation of the show and how it came to be, and a look back on the first season and its themes. Most enjoyable though is the "God Gallery," which allows the viewer to click on a God of their choice (i.e., goth kid God) to hear why the producers chose that physical appearance. (Paramount)