NBC has been hyping the heck out of their new show…it’s new! it’s different! it’s a rip-off of the movie Sliding Doors! Oh, wait, they didn’t say that last part.
When I read the description and saw the ads, I wrote this in my prediction:
Ordinary Joe on NBC has a This Is Us feel to it, crossed with the movie Sliding Doors. The basic premise is a guy named Joe who has to make a choice the night of his graduation as to what he’s going to do next and he has three choices in front of him…ask out a pretty girl he just met, go with his best gal pal to the beach as she has something important to tell him, or go for dinner with his parents and family. The story then branches and shows what would happen if he picks each of the three choices, with some of the characters and events crossing back and forth between the storylines. The story lives and dies by the main character, played by James Wolk, and he has an awesome presence. I’ll give it a go and I predict renewal.
Now that I’ve seen the pilot, I’m going to change both of those predictions. First of all, I have to say it is very different from what I was expecting in the storytelling. Whereas Sliding Doors was more nuanced and soft about the choices, in Ordinary Joe, you actually see the big “moment” AND it clearly shows you in the show “these are my choices” in case you were too stupid to get it. Sure, the narration has more of a strong A Million Little Things feel to it than This Is Us, but the biggest element that was different for me was that I thought the story would start right after that big moment.
Just to be clear, he has the three choices I mentioned above. But then, the story jumps forward ten years and shows his current life, depending on which of those three choices he made. Most of the same characters show up in all three storylines — the new girl, the best gal pal, the best friend, and his extended family.
I don’t want to spoil things, but in one of the storylines he’s single, in the second he is married and stressed trying to have kids, and in the third, he’s married with kids but his marriage is imploding. One storyline has him working as a cop, another as a rock star, and finally one as a nurse. The hook for EP1 is it is his 10-year reunion from graduation and he’s unsure about his life at the moment.
I was surprised that they jumped forward 10 years instead of showing his changes as he went, but the bigger surprise for me was the editing. After a really ham-fisted approach to his choices — they literally show all three in side-by-side screens — the editing for the rest of the episode is likely award-winning. If anyone is looking for next year’s editing Emmy, I’d sign this show up.
Instead of pausing as you go from story to story, all three are intermeshed softly, and it is amazing editing, but also likely too confusing for most viewers. I like confusing, I like stories like this that are almost time-travel parallels, and I couldn’t follow all of it. The producers and directors did a great job of helping viewers follow the storyline by making him look like a cute boy scout in one (the cop), the scruffy heart throb in another (the rock star), and the nerd in the third (nurse).
And I confess, I love the main star, James Wolk. He’s had some success in previous shows, including Mad Men, but it wasn’t something that ever interested me so I don’t think I’ve really seen him in anything before. He is awesome in all three versions, and each one has a slightly different tone to it. He’s not Tatiana Maslany or anything, but he has definite presence.
The “new girl” choice is played by Natalie Martinez, and I confess that for most of EP1, you don’t really get much of a feeling for her in each of the three timelines. She has more presence in one than the other two, but it is the editing with her scenes that are the most confusing to me in places. Her role is not as varied in two of the timelines, and it is hard to follow in a couple of places when the jump shows her in relatively similar roles. I saw her for one EP in the Island, but didn’t stick around, and I don’t know her from her other roles.
Elizabeth Lail plays the gal pal from college, and she is a decent bright spot. I liked her in You, but I don’t really remember her from a season of Once Upon A Time or her one EP arc on The Blacklist. Still, she’s pretty solid here, and each role is quite different — one quite strong and controlled, one more desperate, etc.
With two of the main leads as solid, why am I not sticking around? Because the jump cuts and premise to the show isn’t holding me. I thought I would see him become this 10y-later version. Without it, I feel like, “Hey, what’s happened?”. I also think with the editing, the show is NOT going to make it to renewal. Maybe if it does, I’ll pick it up for binging sometime.
In the meantime, I’m out.