Joan of Arcadia - The First Season Studio: Paramount Year: 2003 - 2004 Rated: NR Length: 17 Hours, 8 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, Anamorphically enhanced Audio: Dolby Digital English 2.0 Subtitles: None Closed Captioned Special Features:Featurettes, Commentaries Street Price, around $45 USD Release Date: May 10, 2005 I had never seen Joan of Arcadia prior to receiving this first season DVD set for review. I had heard of it, in vague terms, as a show where the main character talks to God on a regular basis. That’s all I knew. I assumed, based upon the limited description I had heard, that the show would be similar to Touched by an Angel, Highway to Heaven or 7th Heaven. Those programs were all fairly well received and have a definite audience. For me, though, they were all either too preachy or saccharine. That’s a personal opinion, and I respect the opinions of those who disagree. What’s nice about Joan of Arcadia is that the approach is accessible across a wide spectrum of belief systems. It doesn’t pigeonhole a single faith - although it is definitely angled toward Judeo-Christian beliefs. It has a smattering of references to other belief systems, as well. It is also accessible to those with agnostic views, as that appears to be the viewpoint of the main characters - the members of the Girardi family. Even the titular character, Joan, who is the one who speaks with God every day, has doubts. Executive Producer Barbara Hall (Judging Amy) got the idea for Joan of Arcadia years before it hit the small screen. She wanted to pattern a character after Joan of Arc. She delayed pitching the show on the advice of her agent. Hall claims that 9/11 changed people’s attitudes toward spirituality, and that it was a good time to pitch the show. Before the program was even discussed with CBS, Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen were already signed on. With recognizable star power on board, CBS gave the green light. Joan Girardi is played by Amber Tamblyn. She’s a 16 year old high school student - average in almost every way. Until the day that God appears to her in the form of a teenaged boy and asks her to do something. This is the running circumstance of the show. In each episode, God (appearing in many different guises) asks Joan to do something - take piano lessons, build a boat, join the band, join the debate team, volunteer to work with children, take a job in a bookstore... The requests always seem benign and Joan can never figure out what good complying with the request will do. This makes it more difficult when the requests lower her status among her friends at school. Join the debate team?!? The program proves again and again, in its own way, that God works in mysterious ways. Joan’s acts, however benign, set in motion a series of events that will help others in some way. It’s like a Rube Goldberg collection of connections that lead to something good in ways that can’t be predicted. Of course, Joan can’t tell anyone about her talks with God. Not only does He not want her to, but nobody would believe her, anyway. Will Girardi (Mantegna) is Joan’s father. He’s a cop. He has a good sense of morality - he knows what’s right and wrong - but he is not a religious man. Helen Girardi (Steenburgen), Joan’s mother, is a teacher at Joan’s school. She is constantly trying to find herself, spiritually and artistically. Kevin (Jason Ritter) is Joan’s older brother. He’s confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, and he’s still adjusting to his disability. Luke (Michael Welch) is the younger brother - a serious science geek. The show is consistently well-written, with interesting connections and unanticipated results. Performances are strong all around. Joan and her friends at school all exhibit the angst that you expect from kids that age... they seem realistically drawn. Mantegna and Steenburgen are solid anchors as the adult figures in the show. They don’t come across as clueless as parents so often do on television. I didn’t expect to enjoy this show, but I found it very easy to watch three or four episodes in a sitting. It’s a well-crafted and compelling show. The Transfers Anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1, this show looks quite good for a television show. There is adequate detail, nicely saturated color, good contrast, strong black levels... there is really nothing to complain about. For many, the DVD set will be, I imagine, the first time they can enjoy the show in a widescreen format. The sound is a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. It sounds pretty good, with good frequency response and clear dialog. Channel separation is good, and the soundtrack works well in Pro-Logic mode, offering up some added ambience. I heard a rare instance of distortion on some dialog - but overall it is clean. Music sounds good. Speaking of music... It is noted on the outer package that some music was replaced for this home video release. Not being overly familiar with the show, I certainly can’t confirm any deletions. I will say that there is a fair amount of “high profile” music still present in the episodes. One thing that is missing is the theme music (Joan Osborne’s One of Us) - on all but the first episode on each disc. I can only imagine this partial elimination was an effort to cut costs and keep the retail price of these sets at a point where they are a viable item in the marketplace. Purists will be upset about this, but at least the song is present on each disc. While I can’t verify, it seems likely that most, if not all of the rest of the music is still intact. Special Features The Creation of Joan of Arcadia (9:00) Barbara Hall relates how she came up with the idea for the show, and how it came into being. It took quite a while from concept to air. Joan of Arcadia - A Look at Season One (18:10) We hear from the entire main cast (the Girardi family) as well as the executive producers of the series, and hear their impressions of the show and the characters. The cast seems very honest in their expressions of love for the concept of this series. God Gallery A video gallery is available of six of the “Gods” from season one. Commentaries There are commentaries on the following episodes: “Pilot” commentary by Barbara Hall and James Hayman “Jump” commentary by Barbara Hall, James Hayman and Hart Hanson “Recreation” commentary by Amber Tamblyn, Mary Steenburgen, Michael Welch, Jason Ritter and Joe Mantegna “The Gift” commentary by Tom Garrigus, David Grae, Joy Gregory and Stephen Nathan “Silence” commentary by Barbara Hall and James Hayman I only had the time to listen to one commentary for this review. I think I picked the wrong one. I chose “Recreation,” with the cast commentary. The cast spent the whole time commenting on who was having a bad hair day and giggling about what they looked like, etc. It was humorous for a few minutes, but worthless as a commentary. I can only assume that the producer commentaries are more insightful. Deleted Scenes There are deleted scenes available for several episodes. Final Thoughts This is a show that I didn’t expect to like, but I was hooked rather quickly. With a couple of featurettes, deleted scenes on several episodes, and five commentaries, the viewer is presented with a decent stock of extras. Video is very good, and audio is an acceptable two channel mix. The elimination of three quarters of the theme music is the one blemish on an otherwise outstanding set.