Monday, September 20, 2021

REVIEW: 'Ordinary Joe' - Joe's Indecisiveness Creates Three Distinct Paths For Him in Life in 'Way Leads on to Way'

NBC's Ordinary Joe - Episode 1.01 "Way Leads on to Way"

After his college graduation, Joe Kimbreau is faced with a pivotal decision that steers his life down three drastically different paths.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of NBC's Ordinary Joe.

"Way Leads on to Way" was written by Matt Reeves, Russel Friend & Garrett Lerner and directed by Adam Davidson

This show requires both the creative team and the audience to be extremely diligent in keeping track of its own internal logic. It depicts three different realities for the same four set of characters. It all runs the risk of being confusing. Some pairings are more crucial than others in one reality. Then, their dynamics are completely flipped in another. It's a lot of information for the audience to grasp. That makes this an overwhelming premiere. It's a high concept meant to detail how one life isn't necessarily better because of one choice made. They are different. And yet, they all have the same shades to them. Some choices and details are constant no matter what. That means the show has to prioritize physical differences in order to tell the three separate stories apart. That is articulated most artificially in Joe's various careers. He is a cop, a nurse and a rock star. Those careers give clarity and purpose to his life. However, they aren't the sum total of who he is. Some things remain constant for him. He is eager to be a father. Nurse Joe is married to Jenny and they have been parents to Chris his entire life. Music Joe just learns that Jenny was pregnant and gave their son up for adoption. And finally, Cop Joe learns that Jenny had a son but doesn't know that he is the father. These various paths follow different trajectories. Commonalities certainly exist. It appears that Jenny and Amy are the only people who can possibly be positioned as love interests for Joe and Eric. The reverse is true as well. That may ultimately limit the scope of the series' ambition. It could also just be a scheme that the show had to follow in this premiere. It needed to incorporate all four into each reality. Only in the future will things start to flow differently without all that inherent tension to them. But again, that depends entirely on the audience feeling a connection to these characters. That may be difficult because the show is non-committal to any particular choice. The success may only come from the casting. In fact, all of this may only work to the point where the audience is curious about how it will develop moving forward because of the actors in the roles. James Wolk, Natalie Martinez, Charlie Barnett and Elizabeth Lail have all had breakout performances in this medium over the past few years. Throwing them all into a show together is a solid idea. But again, their dynamics have to be informed by the overall story. That's what ultimately has to be engaging. Right now, it appears as just a grand idea and not a meaningful narrative. The show offers that wink and nudging to the audience by depicting similar situations that vary depending on which reality they are set in. Both Cop and Nurse Joe can save Congressman Bobby Diaz's life. They simply do so at different times. Of course, the third reality shares more of his health concerns that inspires action elsewhere. All the stories feel compelled to pivot around that one outside concern. They aren't really allowed to be distinct in their individual realities. A lot can change in ten years. That's how long these paths have diverged. And yet, the show wants to line them up significantly just to spotlight the differences. That actually grows annoying quickly. Yes, James Wolk is charming as Joe. The entire cast is solid. They simply don't have the freedom to stand out in a particular way that can be noticed. The premise is the star of this show. It's not any of the individual stories or characters. That's potentially a fatal flaw. Again, all of this is dependent on how the series opts to tell its stories moving forward. Balancing three stories is incredibly difficult. This premiere awkwardly handles it all. It's a daunting juggle that may be necessary to find a bright spot in the future. At the moment though, it's hard to see the story as being worthy of future investment. That clarity is freeing in a certain way too. It solidifies some things for the audience. It's still earnestly trying to tell human stories. And yes, the various paths do offer moments of connection that should be touching. The high concept just gets in the way of allowing everyone to fully grasp that power. That may be too insurmountable in the long run given how likely the show will want to keep the comparison amongst itself alive for as long as possible. It can't be indecisive in any of this. That's how Joe acts in every regard. The show can't afford that same luxury. That may ultimately be the case though. Plus, Joe having the ability and opportunity to make all of these choices highlights his own privilege that the audience has to accept right away with no real questioning whatsoever. That too makes the show feel more bland despite its attempts to tell stories in a different way than the other emotional family dramas out there looking to manipulate their audiences.