Joans of Arc and Arcadia

I noticed on the almanac on January 6 that it was the birthday of Joan of Arc. It so happened that I had just watched an old episode of the TV series Joan of Arcadia. These synchronicities happen sometimes. They are not coincidences.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) was born in 1412 to peasant parents in Domrémy, France. Nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” she is considered a heroine of France for her role in the Hundred Years’ War.

She began seeing visions when she was 13 and believed that Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret were urging her to defend France against the English.

Joan cut off her hair to pose as a boy and joined the troops of Prince Charles, eventually leading the troops to victory. She was at the prince’s side when he was crowned King.

Amber as Joan
Amber Tamblyn as Joan of Arcadia

The television Joan is an American teenager, played by Amber Tamblyn, who sees and speaks with God and performs tasks she is given by God. It ran for two seasons from 2003-2005. Joan Girardi and her family lives in the fictional city of Arcadia, Maryland.

Joan’s visions are quite real and God appears to her as people recurring in her world – a child, a student at her school, a guidance counselor, an old woman at the park, etc. God gives her assignments or tasks that initially seem silly or useless but ultimately have positive outcomes for her or other people. Each episode has a lesson.

The show had critical praise and won several awards including a nomination for an Emmy Award in its first season for Outstanding Drama Series.

At 18, Joan of Arc went into battle again but was captured by allies to the English. They put on trial for heresy. Her visions were at the core of their prosecution, though it was obvious that she was being tried for opposing the English in battle.

The prosecutors tried to trick her by asking her if she knew she was in God’s grace. Church doctrine said that no one could know that for certain, If she answered yes, she was guilty of heresy. If she answered no it would be taken as an admission of guilt. Her answer was a clever avoidance: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”

Joan was found guilty. She had no legal counsel. There were forged court documents. Joan, who was illiterate, signed a confession that was presented to her as being something else.  She was burned at the stake in the market square in Rouen in 1431. She was 19.

Joan of Arc was declared a saint in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV, who called her a “most brilliantly shining light of God.” Her story affects people in different ways – as a religious figure, feminist, a symbol of courage and faith and a victim of political powers.

Joan TV series

My wife and I watched Joan of Arcadia during its original run. Both of us used an episode in our classrooms (mine, an English class, hers, a French class). It is available on DVD but on this second viewing, we recorded the series on the DVR as it ran (in order) on the startTV channel. It is still on as I write this.

I  really loved the show during its original run and I dug into both Joans a bit deeper. For example, I discover that Joan Girardi’s middle name is Agnes. That made me check into St. Agnes, a virgin martyr. She is the patron saint of girls and chastity. A good choice for 21st century Joan a girl whose virginity was an issue in the series.

Joan of Arcadia was canceled after its second season. Despite great reviews, it lost a portion of its first-year viewing audience. I think it is partially because the show (and audience) was split between Joan’s stories and those of her family, especially her father.  I also felt that the second season got much darker in its themes.

The final episode (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”) had God telling Joan that her last two years were just practice. It set up for the intended third season when Joan would face off against a man who also talks to God, but seems to have an evil agenda. This perhaps-Devil is charming, wealthy and influential. He saves Joan’s boyfriend Adam and he works his way into her family who doesn’t see anything sinister about him.

I have read a half dozen books about Joan of Arc including one that I read as a teenager written by Mark Twain that probably inspired my interest in her life. Both Joans have things to teach us and I recommend reading and viewing them.

Religion has a tough time on TV.  “That’s what religions are: different ways to share the same truth,” God tells Joan in one episode.

Other people have written that the series (and ones like it) have a place on the air.

Jason Ritter, who played one of Joan’s brothers on the show, later did a similar series called Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. (which had formerly been known as The Gospel of Kevin). I watched that series too and enjoyed the big themes it took on.  Ritter played Kevin Finn, a man who survived a suicide attempt but loses his way in life, who ends up moving in with his twin sister Amy and her teenage daughter. He encounters an “angel” named Yvette who claims that God has tasked Kevin with saving the world. Yvette clearly has some otherworldly powers and does not appear to others and is there to guide and protect him. Kevin is an unlikely candidate for this task.

Kevin is told that in every generation, there are 36 righteous souls on Earth whose existence protects the word. Kevin, she tells him, is the last of them. This idea of 36 righteous people comes from an idea in the more mystical dimensions of Judaism that says that at all times there are 36 special people in the world and that if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end.

That series came to an end after only one season for probably the same reasons as Joan of Arcadia. I think the big themes and any hint of religion scares TV networks – and maybe viewers.

The latest series to take on similar themes certainly owes something to Joan of Arcadia. That is God Friended Me, now in its second season on CBS.  In this series,  Miles Finer is an atheist and podcaster, who gets a friend request on Facebook from an account named “God.” Skeptic that he is, when the account sends him other friend suggestions (so far people living near him in New York City) of people he discovers need assistance he follows up and investigates.  As with Joan, though initially, the friend suggestions don’t make sense, he does end up helping them.

Like Joan of Arcadia, the show also deals with Miles’ family (his father is a pastor of an Episcopal church) and his girlfriend which are subplots that often weave into the friend suggestions. Another plotline that runs throughout the series is attempts by Miles, his girlfriend Cara and his hacker friend Rakesh to find out who is behind the “God” account. All of them believe it is a person, not God.

Now that I have gotten into the series, I hope the jinx of Joan and Kevin doesn’t strike Miles.

 

Published by

Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

Add to the conversation about this article

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.