Joan of Arcadia

Joan of Arcadia
Genre Family drama
Created by Barbara Hall
Starring Amber Tamblyn
Joe Mantegna
Mary Steenburgen
Jason Ritter
Michael Welch
Chris Marquette
Becky Wahlstrom
Opening theme "One of Us" by Joan Osborne
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 45 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Barbara Hall
Running time 45 minutes
Production company(s) Barbara Hall Productions
CBS Productions
Sony Pictures Television
Distributor CBS Television Distribution (USA)
Sony Pictures Television (non-USA)
Original network CBS
Original release September 26, 2003 (2003-09-26) – April 22, 2005 (2005-04-22)

Joan of Arcadia is an American television fantasy/family drama telling the story of teenager Joan Girardi (played by Amber Tamblyn), who sees and speaks with God and performs tasks she is given. The series originally aired on Fridays, 8–9 p.m. on CBS and CTV for two seasons, from September 26, 2003 to April 22, 2005.

On initial release, the show was praised by critics and won the Humanitas Prize and the People's Choice Award. It was also nominated for an Emmy Award in its first season for Outstanding Drama Series. The title alludes to Joan of Arc and the show takes place in the city of Arcadia, Maryland.


In the pilot episode, God appears to Joan and reminds her that she promised to do anything he wanted if he would let her brother survive a car crash that left him a paraplegic. God appears in the form of various people including small children, teenage boys, elderly ladies, transients, or passersby. Joan is asked by God to perform tasks that often appear to be trivial or contrary, but always end up positively improving a larger situation.

One of the more obvious effects of Joan's actions occurs when she is asked to take a reclusive bully to the school dance. While both her mother and the assistant principal object, Joan follows through with God's task. At the dance, it is revealed that the bully has a bottle of alcohol with him, but Joan convinces him not to open it. Despite this, the assistant principal later reaches into his jacket, finds the alcohol and expels him. In his anger, the boy threatens the chief of police (Joan's father) with a handgun, and he is then arrested. Joan later finds out from God that, while this turn of events seems rather bleak, it was the lesser of two evils—without Joan's actions, he would have shot over a dozen students and teachers with a handgun, before turning the gun on himself. This ending is noticeably more direct than most episodes, since it is the only time God comments so clearly on "what would have happened" rather than primarily allowing events to speak for themselves.

The series starred actors Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen as Joan's parents Will and Helen, Jason Ritter as her paraplegic older brother Kevin, and Michael Welch as her younger brother Luke. The family relationships and plot situations were written more realistically than other shows with spiritual themes.[1] Various storylines that spanned multiple episodes dealt with the consequences of Kevin's accident, Will's job as a police officer, Helen's career as an art teacher, and Luke's aspirations to be a scientist. God quotes Bob Dylan, Emily Dickinson and the Beatles rather than any scripture or verses. Furthermore, God is portrayed with a very human personality. In "Touch Move", he tells Joan that he has to send her "down there", and laughs when she becomes worried he means Hell, when he meant the school basement. Also, in one episode, he hands Joan a book from a store they have just left. When Joan accuses him of stealing, he remarks "Well, technically everything's mine".

Christopher Marquette also stars as Adam Rove, a close friend of Joan's who has an on-and-off romantic relationship with her. Another of Joan's best friends is Grace Polk, played by Becky Wahlstrom.

Cast and characters

Main cast

Note: Although Chris Marquette and Becky Wahlstrom are credited as guest stars throughout season 1, the only episode of either season which they do not appear in is the pilot.

Recurring cast

Guest cast

Incarnations of God

The many incarnations included:

  1. A reference to the actress' role as Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing. She also frequently visits the book store where Joan works and is a candy striper at the hospital.


Theme song

The opening credits roll with the song "One of Us" written by Eric Bazilian and performed by Joan Osborne. It was a hit single for Osborne in the United States from her 1995 album Relish:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home (repeated)

Osborne re-recorded the song (with a noticeably less rough quality) specifically for the show. To fit the lyrics of the song, Joan first meets God as a teenage boy riding to school on the bus with her (although they don't actually speak to each other at the time).


Scenes of Arcadia's skyline and other outdoor scenes were actually the city of Wilmington, Delaware. Arcadia itself is set in Maryland. Joan's high school is El Segundo High School, California.[4]

Reception and cancellation

Joan of Arcadia debuted on the heels of Touched by an Angel, which had ended its nine-year run in April 2003.

While Joan of Arcadia was one of the highest rated new shows of the 2003–2004 television season, its ratings declined in the second season, in spite of continued critical acclaim. The show was cancelled by CBS on May 18, 2005.[5] Fan campaigns were created in response, in an effort to have the show reinstated.[6] Only two episodes "No Future" and "The Rise and Fall of Joan Girardi" from the second season were repeated by CBS, and remaining reruns were pulled from the schedule. Near the end of the second season, a menacing character was introduced to the series, an amoral "tempter" (aka "The Adversary" with Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" as his musical motif), seemingly destined to cause a significant amount of conflict in the show's characters. The show's cancellation left that premise unexplored. Ghost Whisperer took over the show's Friday time slot in September 2005.[5][6]

After the show's cancellation, props such as pieces of Adam's artwork and Joan's signature messenger bag and costume pieces belonging to cast members were sold on eBay. Grace's trademark leather jacket was not included as the jacket was brought in by actress Becky Wahlstrom from her own teenage years.[7]

Viewers by season

USA Today summarized Joan of Arcadia's ratings as follows: "During its first season, Joan of Arcadia averaged 10.1 million viewers, respectable numbers for Friday, a quiet night for television. [The following] year, viewership sank to 8 million, according to Nielsen Media Research."[6]

Nielsen ratings

Season Episodes Premiere Season finale Viewers
(in millions)
1 2003–2004 23 September 26, 2003 May 21, 2004 9.9[8] #54[8]
2 2004–2005 22 September 24, 2004 April 22, 2005 8.0[9] #70[9]


Awards and nominations

Awards and nominations for Joan of Arcadia
Year Association Category Result
2004 Saturn Award Saturn Award for Best Actress on Television - Amber Tamblyn Won
Golden Globe Award Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama - Amber Tamblyn Nominated
People's Choice Award People's Choice Award for Favorite New Drama Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series - Amber Tamblyn Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - Louise Fletcher Nominated
Satellite Award Satellite Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama - Amber Tamblyn Nominated
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film - Mary Steenburgen Won
Teen Choice Awards Teen Choice Award for Choice Breakout TV Show Nominated
Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Show - Drama/Action Adventure Nominated
Teen Choice Award for Choice Breakout TV Star - Female - Amber Tamblyn Nominated
Teen Choice Award for Choice Breakout TV Star - Male - Jason Ritter Nominated
Television Critics Association Awards TCA Award for Outstanding New Program Nominated
2005 Saturn Award Saturn Award for Best Actress on Television - Amber Tamblyn Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - Cloris Leachman Nominated
Satellite Award Satellite Award for Best Actress - Television Series Drama - Amber Tamblyn Nominated

DVD releases

Season DVD CoverDiscsRelease DateEpisode #Additional Information
16May 10, 200523Deleted Scenes, Audio commentaries by the Filmmakers and Cast
Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes: The Creation of Joan of Arcadia and Joan of Arcadia – A Look at Season One
God Gallery
26November 28, 200622Audio Commentaries on selected episodes
A Look at Season 2 featurette
The Making of Queen of the Zombies
A Tour of Joan's High School
Common Thread Table Read

Note: each disc in the season, except the last, contains 4 episodes.

See also


  1. John Binns (September 2004). "For God's Sake". TV Zone (180): 42–45. Like Joan of Arcadia and unlike Touched by an Angel, Quantum Leap feels more like a drama in which God plays a role, rather than a piece of religious instruction in dramatic form.
  2. Nathan Rabin (April 21, 2009). "Joe Mantegna". Retrieved November 28, 2009. Ultimately, we ran two seasons, and it’s one of the proudest things I’ve done.
  3. 1 2 Season 2 Episode 14 "The Rise & Fall of Joan Girardi"
  4. Mullinax, Gary (October 31, 2003). "TV version of God hanging out in Wilmington". The News Journal. Wilmington, DE: Gannett Corporation. pp. A1. Retrieved July 8, 2010.
  5. 1 2 "Fans make last try to save 'Joan of Arcadia'. Older audience demographic, low ratings led to cancellation". May 29, 2005.
  6. 1 2 3 "Fans demand 'Joan', fight CBS over cancellation". USA Today. May 30, 2005. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
  7. Buying TV Show Clothing Props
  8. 1 2 "I. T. R. S. Ranking Report: 01 Thru 210". ABC Medianet. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 25, 2007.
  9. 1 2 "Primetime series". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Business Media. May 27, 2005. Archived from the original on August 21, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
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