Tuesday, September 21, 2021

TV: You're where you're supposed to be? NBC hopes so

When James Wolk spoke with Jimmy Fallon last night on THE TONIGHT SHOW and stated that his neighbors had confused him with John Krasinski, our first thought was that he had to be wearing a shirt. Shirtless, John is a furry bear while James is a wolf. There are other differences. For example, John has had hits with THE OFFICE and JACK RYAN. John's hits? Not really any to list.

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That's not his fault. He's done some amazing work. We praised him for LONE STAR, we praised him for POLITICAL ANIMALS.  He was great on HAPPY ENDINGS as Max's boyfriend Grant, great on THE CRAZY ONES. We even watched that hideous ZOO to see if he could deliver -- and he did but the series didn't.

Now he's starring in ORDINARY JOE -- a 'high concept' show for NBC in that it's not set in Chicago, to be sure. But it's also a concept with some comparing it to DISNEY+'s WHAT IF? -- which isn't really an apt comparison. WHAT IF? takes an established event and changes it to see how it could alter what we know about the characters. We don't know Jame's Joe Kimbreau before this series. So it's not really WHAT IF? It's more of a thought exercise on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." We meet Joe as he's finishing college. What does the future hold? A flash forward ten years later shows us three possibilities: a nurse married to paralegal Lisa (Elizabeth Lail) with their child Lucas, a (they insist) rock star married to political strategist Amy (Natalie Martinez) and a police officer who's unmarried. These are the three paths he could have taken.

There may be a fourth. We may find out that he's in a coma or, as in the critically under-appreciated PASSION OF THE MIND, dreaming one life. We don't know. And that's a bit of a problem because we're supposed to invest Joe -- but which is the real Joe, the authentic Joe?

Possibly, NBC should treat the series like a wheel -- the way that, in the 70s, the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE would vary so that you might get COLUMBO one week, MACMILLAN AND WIFE, the next, then MCCLOUD, etc. Instead, they're jamming all three Joes into each episode.

The Joe we'd ditch is Rock Star. He doesn't sing like a rock star. His hair and scruff do not come off rock nor does his wardrobe. He looks a lot like Bryan Adams when he killed his career in 1987 with INTO THE FIRE. Bryan wanted to be Bruce Springsteen. But he couldn't pull it off. By trying to be what he wasn't, he lost out on what he did have [and "Cuts Like A Knife," "It's Only Love" (with Tina Turner), "Heaven," and "Run To You" were radio staples that proved he did have something to offer]. We never believe the concert footage. This has nothing to do with James' singing, he can sing. And if they were going for a pop star or a country star, he could pass for one. But a rock star is something different.

Again, this has nothing to do with talent. Cher's a talented singer with a long list of hits. But when she tried to be Patti Smith back in 1980 with the Patti wig and a wardrobe that, minus the hoop ear rings, could pass for punk rock? It just didn't pan out. Some times thing just don't and every time they have James dressed up in someone's idea of rock, we cringe. We cringe at the idea that a political strategist would marry a rock star as well. They're two different roads -- did no one grasp that? Mary Matalin didn't marry Billy Idol, she married James Carville. And, as a general rule, the all over the world stories never work for TV -- ask Shirley MacLaine about her 70s sitcom SHIRLEY'S WORLD.

Which leaves two believable characters -- the police officer and the nurse. We like both. We like the nurse better -- in part because of the interaction with the child. But we're already choosing favorites -- what about most viewers? And what about with all the information they'll have to keep track of to follow three different storylines? When press articles pop up with titles like "Ordinary Joe Bosses Explain How to Keep Each of Those Storylines Straight" (TV GUIDE), we don't see that as reassuring or inviting. In fact, we think one normal reaction to pushes like that will be, "I thought it was complicated! Let's watch something else."

We hope we're wrong and we hope that it's a hit series. James Wolk deserves to have one but we question the premise and wonder why this wasn't tweeked and fine tuned? It's airing on NBC which pretended to like 'quirky' with ZOE'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST but turned around and canceled it. Last night, ORDINARY JOE got 3.8 million viewers which is more than any episode of ZEP ever got from broadcast (one episode did get more when you combine broadcast and streaming).

James continues to do great work and maybe he can hold on to that reality regardless of the outcome for his new show. After all, isn't the whole point of ORDINARY JOE that wherever you are is actually where you are supposed to be -- even if you aren't as well known yet as John Krasinski?


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