To build mass appeal, imagine these shows as books: Few people buy theological tracts, but millions buy spiritually themed self-help books. As Time critic James Poniewozik noted, "reducing God to principles we can all agree on also means taking away much of what makes faith difficult. With this God, everything is a win-win, and all Joan's chain reactions are for the better."
Religious people watching the show might roll their eyes as Joan meets God in the first episode and asks, "Old Testament, Tower of Babel, the Burning Bush, Ten Commandments God?" God responds: "Well, I come off a little friendlier in the New Testament and the Koran, but yeah, same God."
Even as they popularize God, TV shows can seem to go a little far in demystifying and downsizing Him into just another wisecracking TV character who seems concerned with his public image. Joan's God doesn't do awesome things like split the Red Sea. He just tells Joan to join the chess club or try out for cheerleading, where she'll learn and grow. There is no "fear of the Lord" in this show. That presumes God passes judgment on man, and that's a concept that will never fly in Tinseltown.
For all the fussing over the fine points, "Joan of Arcadia" still deserves applause. It represents a weekly chance for families to sit together around the set, and seek together to wonder about how God makes his presence known in the world. It seriously beats the usual glut of tasteless sexual jokes or even TV "news" shows that mock the Scriptural accounts of the life of Jesus. For this thought-provoking, family-friendly show, CBS ought to get some letters of gratitude.