Joan of Arcadia was a series on CBS for two seasons a few year back which I absolutely loved, and Sci-Fi has recently started showing reruns. It centers on a teenage girl named Joan Girardi who’s recently begun receiving visits and instructions from God. They’re not orders (this version of God is very big on free will) more like slightly pushy suggestions. Build a boat, get your brother a present, or in the case of the most recent episode, try out for the cheerleading squad. Each episode also usually includes a story of the case that Joan’s father Will (a detective) is working on; in this one it’s a newborn baby abandoned. The cops received an anonymous call, circumstances lead them to Arcadia High where Joan and her younger brother go and their mother Helen works in the principal’s office.
“Bringeth It On” has more good things in one episode than a lot of shows manage in a whole season. I hardly know where to start: the complete lack of surprise the Girardi family shows for Will making breakfast while Helen sleeps in on the weekend? Joan’s friend Grace’s verbal smackdown of a popular girl who tried to insult her by calling her a lesbian? Helen doing everything she can to watch out for the female students while the D.A. is pushing the police on a witchhunt to make an example of the teenage mother? Adam’s complete acceptance of Joan’s sudden interest in cheering in contrast with Grace’s disgust at something so perky and mainstream?
The police started by going to the school and asking to interview students who could be the girl they’re looking for, and Vice Principal Price had helpfully compiled a list of girls he thought were most likely. Helen quite rightly refused to make any copies for the investigation or give it back– Price claims he’s qualified to identify “at risk” students, but Helen says they just don’t fit his ideal of the perfect young lady and that the only reason her own daughter isn’t on the list is because Will’s the chief of police. And why aren’t they talking to any boys? They eventually decide to have a small group of people listen to the 911 tape to see if anyone recognizes the voice. Showing some shocking naivety Will says later in private that the list would never have been made public, but as Helen points out “The CIA couldn’t keep that list from getting out in a high school”.
Meanwhile Joan kind of misses the point about cheerleading, like she usually does at first. She’s becoming friends with the cheerleaders and letting it tear apart her new friendship with Grace. Even tacitly condoning the list some of the girls are drawing up of the likely candidates and barely speaking up when someone suggests Grace. Joan is confusing popularity with friendship, as God tells her.
Eventually things work out in the usual indirect manner: Helen happens to answer Joan’s cell phone and recognizes cheerleader Brianne’s voice from the tape. Once word gets out, Brianne transfers out of the school and Joan stops to talk to her while she’s waiting for her dad to get the paperwork, and Brianne says that Joan’s the only person who’s asked how she is. The only one who’s even talked to her: all her so-called friends had seen her and purposely ignored her. It’s easy to see it as the catty cheerleader stereotype but everyone in school is talking about what happened, the only extra criticism for them is that they were the people closest to her and didn’t have a clue.
The point is that Brianne would NEVER have made it onto Price’s “at risk” list. She’s a nice girl from a nice family and was outwardly happy and social. The point is things like this don’t just happen to the “bad” girls, and being there for someone when they need friends the most should be more important than your reputation. And Joan takes the opportunity to point that out in a public forum at her final tryout. In cheer form!
Go, Eagles, Go, Eagles, Go, go, go Eagles!
We live to cheer
We’re so sincere
Unless you get in trouble — then we’re outta here
‘Cause it’s such a royal pain when a friend gets arrested
How could I have known? How could I have guessed it?
It’s not like she’s my sister — whoops, is that my beeper?
And even if she was, am I my sister’s keeper?
Sorry, gotta go, tryouts are today.
Tell her we’ll think of her every time we say
Go, Eagles, Go, Eagles, Go, go, go Eagles!
My name is Joan
This cheer is my own
So kiss my feathers, ’cause this bird has flown.
The episode takes time to make an excellent point about how much criticism and shame is heaped on a girl in this situation while also making the point that none hits the boy who’s also responsible. After Helen’s first question about why they aren’t talking to any boys, he’s not mentioned at all until the very end. That D.A. who was so eager to prosecute a teenage girl for attempted murder? Declines to press any charges at all, even endangerment. When Will’s telling Helen about it at the end, she drops the info that Brianne’s boyfriend is the son of a Councilman, but nobody ever asked about him. We never even saw him, and only learned his name in the last 30 seconds of the show. Yes, she was hiding the pregnancy but no one else showed any interest in even finding out who the father was.
The boyfriend’s absence is used to contrast the reduced expectations he’s held to while highlighting the many ways Brianne is being punished– does anyone for a minute believe that he’ll be shunned the way Brianne was? Does he have to transfer schools? The only reason he comes into it at all is when they decide to bend rules to make his and his father’s lives easier. Seems to me that Brianne would be the better subject of such concern. But no, it was entirely her responsibility. Can’t think why she panicked. And I can’t think why we so rarely see the intrinsic unfairness shown like this.