I gave Joan of Arcadia a rough time when it premiered last fall (too much God talk, too little humility). But lots of people, including my wife, liked the show – a sure sign I missed something – which compelled me to stick with it. Now I get what creator Barbara Hall is doing: deploying good TV as a form of divine intervention, telling stories that urge people to look around at the troubles and joys of others.
In recent weeks, ”Joan” has featured nuanced subplots about the difficult time her mom (Mary Steenburgen) has had as the high school art teacher. (I loved the snitty reason her predecessor gave when quitting: ”I have a degree from Parsons; I studied with Judy Chicago!”) Joan’s wheelchair-wielding reporter brother (the adorable Jason Ritter) found hot love with his editor (Sydney Tamiia Poitier). But it’s Amber Tamblyn’s Joan, with her weight-of-the-world slumping shoulders and Job-like acceptance of her fate as a chosen one, who makes the show’s gimmick work, even when the God sidling up to her in human form is a meat-cleaver-holding butcher. And the thought occurs: Tamblyn, daughter of actor Russ (”West Side Story,” ”Twin Peaks”), Ritter, and Poitier are all celebrity progeny; they must have interesting conversations.