I wanted to like Ordinary Joe, I really did. The concept was right up my alley – as a person in a perpetual state of buyer’s remorse it’s fascinating to wonder “what if…?” Unfortunately, unlike the limited run Disney+ series of the same name, this “what if…?” adventure is much less satisfying.
Joe Kimbreau (played by Watchmen alum James Wolk) is just your average American straight white male. On the day of his college graduation his life has the opportunity to split into three separate paths:
- He goes to the shore with his best friend/college sweetheart Jenny Banks (Elizabeth Lail) discovers she’s pregnant, winds up in a shotgun wedding which leads to a barely surviving marriage ten years down the line.
- He ghosts Jenny and hooks up with the girl he just met (while running late for his own graduation), Amy Kindelán (Natalie Martinez) resulting in what most would call the best timeline. Joe is a famous rock star with a hot wife, but sadly no kids.
- He ghosts Jenny, and the new girl, and goes to dinner with his Uncle Frank (David Warshofsky) who convinces him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a cop. Cop Joe is the middle ground life – friends and family, no wife, no kids, but still plenty of options.
Joe’s three alternate lives are separated using a color scheme – green for Nurse Joe (this is the Joe that married Jenny), red for Rock star Joe, and blue for Cop Joe. It’s a decent try, but the color schemes can be hard to differentiate sometimes leading to inevitable confusion. Most of the time you can tell which Joe it is by the people around him.
Cop Joe’s Jenny is married, hiding the truth of her son Christopher (John Gluck) from his biological father, while her statistician hubby Ray (Joe Carroll) worries he’ll eventually find out and ruin their happy family. Although, it is fun to note that this Joe isn’t interested in having kids because he wouldn’t want them to have to suffer if he’s killed on the job. Joe’s best friend Eric Payne (Charlie Barnett) is married with a child on the way, his mother Gwen (Anne Ramsay) is constantly bothering him about dating, and he meets Amy because he winds up saving her boss, congressman running for reelection Bobby Diaz (Adam Rodriguez). Turns out Amy is having an affair with the married congressman, but has a thing for Joe. Best part of this timeline? Stat-daddy Ray! Seriously, the guy is barely there but when he is…
Nurse Joe’s Jenny is one foot out the door on their marriage. Unfortunately, their son has disabilities and they weigh heavily on both his parents (worth noting that in all timelines his and Jenny’s kid is disabled). It seems to have forced their relationship onto the back burner, which is a little weird given that this Joe is a nurse. A nurse. If any version of Joe should be capable of handling a disabled child shouldn’t it be nurse Joe? Why does he seem to be oblivious about how important it would be to invest extra time into your marriage when you have a child that sucks up so much of your energy? Sadly, Jenny is made out to be the villain in this timeline (well, let’s face it, all timelines have Jenny as the villain). Why can’t she see how wonderful her husband is!? Why can’t she put aside her dream job and dedicate herself more to her family!? Oh right…because she already did that. Twice – if you consider the third episode. Nurse Joe’s mother has somehow never helped him out with Christopher, which I find impossible to believe. Given how much this woman wants her son to have a kid in the cop reality, there’s no doubt in my mind that she would have pitched in, learned everything there is about how to deal with a disabled child, and let these two crazy kids have some fucking date nights. Which again, leads to Jenny being the bad guy – because it’s Jenny who can’t trust Joe’s mom to watch their kid for two days so they can finally have some alone time. By the way, in this timeline Joe’s best friend Eric is married to Amy after he asked her out when Joe didn’t. And, lastly, adding another notch in the Jenny the villain column, Joe is a nurse under Jenny’s father – Dr. Douglas Banks (Jack Coleman) – who is a controlling asshole.
Rock star Joe’s Jenny isn’t really in his life. In fact, she only re-enters his life because he goes to their 10 year anniversary. She works up the courage to reveal that she was pregnant with his child but chose to give it up for adoption. Famous Joe isn’t a fan, but Jenny is determined to screw him out of a chance to be a father to his estranged son (whaaaat??? Jenny is the villain again!? No way! In case you’re tone deaf, I’m being heavy on the sarcasm here). Her husband in this timeline is hapless Darren (Jason Burkey) who only sees Joe as a celebrity and gushes every time they interact. He has no idea Jenny gave a child up for adoption and why would it matter? This Jenny has two daughters with him, who are not disabled (as Stat-daddy Ray explained it was a recessive gene so the odds of her having another were slim). Famous Joe is married to Amy but their perfect life is marred by the lack of children – which is another plot point I can’t get behind. Look, I know miscarriage is a real thing, and it’s a struggle a lot of women go through, but why do people never consider adoption??? Seriously. If you can’t have a child of your own why put yourself through expensive rounds of IVF just so you can have a genetic legacy if all you really wanted was a child. Because then you don’t really want a child, you want a genetic legacy. I mean, Joe is fucking rich. He’s a celebrity. Hell, celebrities who can have children naturally go out and adopt, it’s pretty much like skiing or polo i.e. a rich person hobby. You’re telling me that in the entire ten years these two have been married they never once considered adoption??? That’s fucked up. And frankly, I’m tired of this storyline in every fucking media representation of infertility. Oh, I can’t have a baby…but I’m also not going to adopt one. Instead, if I can’t have a baby, I’ll just have to settle for no baby at all! Now, the argument could be made that perhaps Amy’s not bringing up adoption is evidence that she doesn’t actually want kids at all – she’s perfectly happy living together with Joe without them. Still, given how often this storyline comes up, that’s rarely shown to be the case.
Famous Joe is also probably the worst of the Joes. He’s hell bent on finding his son regardless of what consequences that might bring. He’s willing to blackmail Jenny! I guess this isn’t too surprising though, I mean, this is the Joe that’s gotten everything he’s ever dreamed of. He wouldn’t exactly have perspective, eh?
All in all, Ordinary Joe isn’t great to me. The two main women of the show seem to be cast in the same negative light, timeline notwithstanding. Amy is either a selfish wife who doesn’t want to give her famous husband the family he so desperately craves and would rather pursue a political career, or a two-timing harlot sleeping with a married man while dating the heroic Cop Joe. I guess on the bright side, Amy is portrayed as a loving wife to Eric. And Jenny…poor Jenny. She’s either the wife who tried to do right while sacrificing her marriage and her own personal dreams, the wife who lied to her husband about a child she had waaaaaay before they ever got married and is keeping that kid away from his biological father, or, the wife who is lying to her son’s biological father because her husband is afraid their family will be at risk.
Joe himself becomes hard to know. Famous Joe and Nurse Joe are big on the kid thing, while Cop Joe doesn’t seem too jazzed about the idea – granted he has understandable baggage about it but they all have the same baggage! Forcing the main character to exist as three versions of himself robs the audience of an in depth character study. Who is the real Joe? I mean, Famous Joe completely forgets about Jenny, while Cop Joe seems to have kept somewhat polite contact with her, and Nurse Joe clearly still loves her. Famous Joe loves Amy but not as much as he would love a wife who could give him a child, Cop Joe likes Amy – which might work out since infertility would save him from having a kid, and Nurse Joe only knows her as his best friend’s wife. Not to mention the other side characters like Congressman Diaz – who has early onset Parkinson’s in all three timelines but only knows about it in one.
It was a nice idea, but as Sliding Doors has shown, it is a better concept for a movie. I might give this show a few more episodes, might even finish out the season, but I wouldn’t give it another unless it manages to turn things around drastically.