Joan of Arcadia

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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God: Good is relative. Beauty's relative. Everything's relative. Except for me. I'm absolute.
Joan: I thought that was vodka.


Will Girardi has moved to Arcadia, Maryland to take over as chief of their disorganized police department. His son, Kevin, has been paralyzed from the waist down since a car accident half a year ago. His wife, Helen, is quietly trying to deal with the collapse of her faith and the near-collapse of her family. His other son, Luke, is brilliant but along for the ride. And his daughter, Joan, keeps having encounters... with God?

Lasting two seasons, this Magic Realism Dramedy tells the trials of Joan (Amber Tamblyn), who meets and talks to Capital-G God (in the form of various avatars, most of them enjoyable to watch) and receives tasks, which she carries out grudgingly, usually only discovering the point of the request at the end (if at all).

Although Joan's interactions with God were the center of each episode, the lives of her family and friends continued in the background, making for a mixed genre show; Will would bust criminals, the various students would deal with classes and romance, and Kevin would try to deal with his disability. Surprisingly well-balanced, nonetheless, mostly because the subplots did a good job relating to the main thematically. When you're God, you can do that.

The show's second season suffered from massive amounts of Executive Meddling to make it more marketable to teens. Among the bigger issues were that Joan's missions from God were no longer about making the world around her a better place, but simply to learn a lesson about herself (derided by fans as "God is Joan's life coach"), the casting of both Duff sisters (albeit in separate episodes), and Adam cheating on Joan shortly after they finally started dating to introduce cheap teen melodrama at the expense of one of the most popular characters. Unfortunately, all this did was anger the fans the show already had, and it didn't survive to a third season.

Tropes used in Joan of Arcadia include:
  • Aborted Arc: The subplot in season one of Luke helping Kevin in a slow but promising recovery in his legs was almost completely dropped in season two, save for a single episode which showed him doing a news story about the subject.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Joan seemed to have learned the lesson that blackmailing popular kids who are bullying you with personal secrets they have is bad twice. Along with two different episodes teaching her the lesson that death is sad.
  • All Powerful Bystander: God, of course.
  • Author On Board
  • Awesome but Impractical: The AP Chemistry teacher is fun and cool, but the way she teaches and discusses is more than a little too distracting to properly get anything fixed into the student's minds beyond "hey our teacher is cool!"
  • Axes At School: When it's revealed that a student had brought a gun to school, major changes in the school's security went up for the rest of the series.
  • Badass: Will.
  • Badass Longcoat: Will again.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Joan thinks this is the lesson she is supposed to preach in one episode. But it turns out it isn't. But it kind of is. Sort of. It was confusing.
  • The "B" Grade: Oddly enough in one episode, everyone but Joan was worried for her future because of her grades. She got all B's last semester and failed one test, and immediately she is told that any chances of getting into a four year college would be almost impossible.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Luke goes to a meeting of these types, looking for Grace. A Funny Moments ensues when he realizes that literally every girl there looks exactly like Grace. And then they burn his shoes (they were made by underage Central American sweatshop workers, after all).
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Even if the parents don't find out, God will:

Joan: Oh, the package is C.O.D.? Uh, I don't have any cash...
God: You have 12 dollars in your pocket which you were going to buy a muffin and a frappucino with while you ditched history class, which you really shouldn't do, by the way.

  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Kevin's boss that he romances throughout season one completely vanishes without any mention in season 2. In fact he acts like his girlfriend in the second season was the first he had since his accident.
  • Clueless Aesop: Some episodes didn't seem to have much of a clear reason why God had Joan do something. Like joining the cosmetology class. Sure, Glynis learns to be herself, and Joan's dad stops a criminal, but they both did that on their own, and Joan didn't have anything to do with them.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Grace, of the "government ID chips" variety.
  • Cosmic Plaything: When God randomly pops into Joan's life, gives her a mission that causes problems or at least inconveniences, then pops out again, it can seem like this. Especially when He has unexplained reasons or vague goals.
  • Cowboy Cop: Will very much was a by-the-books cop for the most part in the first season, but he became a Cowboy Cop briefly in Season 2 after Judith's murder, when he goes on the warpath to catch the perpetrator. In a subversion of Turn in Your Badge, his boss actually encourages him to act like he shouldn't. He gets called on it by Helen, and he eventually gets better.
  • Cuckoo Nest
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Joan and God.
  • Dead Person Conversation: With Judith. Also a few times with Rocky, after he dies.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Pointedly averted.
  • Divine Race Lift: Many of the representations of God.
  • Easily Forgiven: God convinces Joan to forgive Adam and stop being mad at him after he cheated on her, despite Adam giving no reason why she should forgive him.
  • Evil Counterpart: Ryan Hunter would have apparently filled this role had there been a third season.
  • Fake Guest Star: Becky Wahlstrom (Grace) and Christopher Marquette (Adam) have guest starring credit on every season one episode they appear in - which is every season one episode (except the pilot, the only episode of either season they don't appear in). Cue official promotion to regular in season two.
  • Figure It Out Yourself
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: It really doesn't take many of the characters that long to completely get over Judith's death. Friedman gets about one scene in an episode afterwards being sad for a moment, but besides that after about three episodes it just gets watered down into another generic subplot for the police to solve.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The Trope Namers. God tells Joan directly, "I look and sound like this because this is what you can understand."

Joan: "Are you — Are you being snippy with me? God is snippy?"
God: (exasperated) "Let me explain something to you, Joan. It goes like this: I don't look like this. I don't look like anything you'd recognize. You can't see me. I don't sound like this, I don't sound like anything you'd recognize. You see, I'm beyond your experience. I take this form because you're comfortable with it, it makes sense to you. And if I'm "snippy", it's because you understand snippy."

  • Frivolous Lawsuit: The Baker lawsuit arc.
  • Geeky Turn On
  • Genre Savvy: Subverted. Joan knew perfectly well that she was supposed to learn some kind of valuable lesson every week, but her attempts to predict what it was supposed to be, and so get out of the hassle of actually having to learn it, never turned out that well.
  • Girl of the Week: The girl that Adam randomly hooks up with for one episode in Season 2. Kevin's ex girlfriend in Season 2.
  • Godly Sidestep: The creators made this rule, actually listing things God couldn't say with regards to universal truths and religion.
  • God Test: Joan asks the teenage boy claiming to be God to prove his divinity. He gestures behind himself to show... a tree.

Joan: "...that's a tree."
God: "I'd like to see you make one."

  • Happily Married: Will and Helen.
  • High School
  • Hippie Teacher: It turns out that a secretary who's highest education was being an art school dropout is qualified to teach high school students.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Luke,
  • Informed Judaism: Grace, Season 1 at least (Season 2 she has her Bat Mitzvah, then promptly goes back to never mentioning her Judaism).
  • Jerkass: Mr. Price.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: God can sometimes shift into this, mostly because she always refuses to explain why (s)he wants Joan to do what (s)he wants her to do, and often the task results in someone getting hurt.
  • Large Ham: Ms. Lischak, the AP Chemistry/AP Physics teacher, is very... enthusiastic about her subject matter.
  • Little Miss Almighty: God took the shape of an elementary-school girl a couple of times.
  • Mission from God: A new one every episode.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The Rock Paper Scissors match between Joan and Luke.
  • N-Word Privileges: Averted, Helen asks Kevin not to make jokes about his disability because "if anyone else made those jokes about you, I would scratch their eyes out."
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Joan would frequently suddenly become talented in whatever activity she was to take part in for that episode, much to everyone's surprise, including her. Usually it goes away by the end of the episode. Justified Trope, in that, well, it is God working behind the scenes.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: It seems virtually everyone who works in a job with authority in this town besides Joan's dad is a conniving Jerkass.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Well, it is God giving the orders.
    • One episode that stands out in particular would be where God is the school's musical director. He has a girl who had the lead singing role whose family was coming in from across the country to watch her perform get Demoted to Extra in the play, and shoving Joan into the lead for no explainable reason besides showing her that she is good at singing. The girl and her family isn't touched on at all.
  • Opposites Attract: Luke and Grace.
  • Oracular Urchin: "Little Girl God" is reminiscent of one.
  • Ordinary High School Student: Joan.
  • Part-Time Hero: Joan again. One of her frequent complaints to God is "I'm allowed to have a life, right?"
  • Producer Avatar: Helen.
  • Real Song Theme Tune
  • Refusal of the Call: About every other episode.
  • Romantic False Lead: Iris. Glynis.
  • Second Season Downfall
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The Season Two episode "The Rise & fall of Joan Girardi". By the end of the episode, nothing really was accomplished or changed at all. Which they then point out.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Glynis briefly gets a make over to look more feminine and pretty, after getting tired of her boyfriend treating her more like a lab partner than a girl who wants to get a compliment on her appearance now and then rather than her brain.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Joan, regarding boyfriend prospect Adam, for the first half of Season 1.
  • Spirit Advisor: Others could see God; (s)he just rarely addressed them.
  • Spock Speak: Luke and Glynis often talked this way.
  • Status Quo Is God: Glynis and Luke break up after she gets a makeover and wants to enjoy people who acknowledge her appearance. By the next episode she's back to her same old image, friends, and mannerisms.
  • Strawman Political: Grace is a Conspiracy Theorist who very frequently mouths off about how things were "fascist".
  • Straw Vulcan: In one episode, Joan defeated the best Chess player in the school, despite not knowing how to play Chess well. The reason given was that you can't use order to defeat chaos. In reality, using chaos against a computer chess player is always a losing proposition, and practically all chess players beyond the novice level would recognize a threatened mate in one move.
  • The Television Talks Back: One of the ways God communicates with Joan.
  • Totally Radical: The science teacher. Who tries way too hard to look cool.
    • A better example might be the guidance counselor, who basically acts like a teenager despite being in his thirties
  • Turn in Your Badge
  • TV Genius: Luke is only believable if you've never met anyone with an IQ above 110.
  • Two-Teacher School: If there's any teacher shown besides the science teacher or Helen, it's safe to assume they're either God in disguise, or only here for just that week.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Universe Bible: No, not the literal Bible.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Every scene in the police station. Not just the police station. Every time Will is shown doing anything on the job whatsoever, it turns gritty and blue. Considering how bright and yellow every other scene is, it's always very noticeable.
  • Very Special Episode: Several, including character death, sexual assault, school shootings... plus Kevin's disabled state. Very few "right" answers were ever given, however.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Both Joan/Adam and Luke/Grace.
  • Woobie of the Week: Joan helps out someone new every week, whether she wants to or not. For the first season, at least.
  • Xanatos Roulette: Hey, when you're omniscient...
  • X Called. They Want Their Y Back.
  • You Called Me "X" - It Must Be Serious: Adam didn't tend to call Joan by her name much.
    • He does it once they've broken up, and when he starts calling her "Jane" again, it means they've reconciled.