Clearly, NBC is banking on it’s new high-concept drama, Ordinary Joe, to be the network’s next This is Us success story. Like This is Us, Joe has a unique storytelling device but I’m not sure that it is on par with the former show.
The pilot episode opens with narration by Joe Kimbreau (James Wolk) who is late for his college graduation and decides to stand back rather than try to slip in unnoticed. He meets Amy Kindelan (Natalie Martinez) as she is also late for the event. Up front giving the speech is Joe’s best friend and sometimes girlfriend, Jenny Banks (Elizabeth Lail). After the ceremony he has been invited to celebrate with his family, but Jenny says that she would like spend some time with him and then there is this Amy. I think most people would have found a way to do all three, but Joe seems to think he can only do one. Joe talks to his friend, Eric Payne (Charlie Barnett) who he’s known since kindergarten and explains his delimna. Eric just laughs and laments how Joe has never been able to make a decision in his life.
So Joe imagines what his life will be like 10 years down the road and comes up with three different scenarios:
- Joe is a policeman
Joe’s father was a cop. His uncle is a cop. It only makes sense that Joe becomes one as well. He is married to Amy who a political campaign manager.
- Joe is a nurse
Joe took up nursing to help pay for the many expenses of caring for the medical needs of his son Christopher (John Gluck). He doesn’t like that his job takes him away from his family and it has contributed to the tearing down of his marriage to Jenny.
- Joe is a rock star
Joe is single here and appears to be living life at his happiest. He runs into both Amy and Jenny and thinks about rekindling those relationships.
So, in each scenario, the same actors play different versions of the same character as the stories go back and forth at a frequent pace. It’s clever, but confusing. The rock star is definitely the coolest of the three while the nurse appears to be somewhat of a nerd. But in all three cases, they are the same Joe who by and large is a pretty nice guy.
The stories also overlap in some ways. During a polical rally, a man is shot and Joe the policeman helps get the man to the local hospital to be cared for by Joe the nurse. The characters don’t actually run into each other as each storyline is bascially a hypothetical situation. There’s no magic or spell that is putting all three versions of Joe’s life to collide at once.
NBC says of the show, “Life is all about the choices you make – and sometimes what you do in a single moment can change everything … But when it comes down to it, there is no ‘right’ choice; no matter what happens, Joe’s life is always messy, exciting, tough, unpredictable … and beautiful.” It’s a bold statement. They are basically saying that all three storylines are equally uplifting. But the pilot episode left me shrugging my shoulders. There wasn’t any compelling reason for me to really care about Joe and his friends. No compelling reason to go back next week to see what happens. Any one of the three scenarios might have made for a good solid TV series, but three hypothetical ones makes all three of them feel fake. To top it off, come of the lines are pretty clunky. When Joe and his wife look in on their son sleeping he says, “Can you believe we made him?” and she responds, “At least we did something right.” That’s the best they could come up with?
So, Average Joe, as it is, is a nice show, nothing more, nothing less. Since I have free-will, I just might choose to skip the rest of the episodes.
Ordinary Joe airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.