Jessica Mesman has written a thoughtful postmortem of the recently-canceled TV drama Joan of Arcadia over at Godspy. She paints an interesting and not uncritical picture of the rise and fall of primetime TV's most blatantly God-focused show.
Among the many factors cited as contributing to the show's ultimate cancellation, Mesman wonders if evangelical (and other religious) viewers grew bored with the show's "vague ecumenical monotheism" and hesitance to allow the protagonist's faith to mature:
The best-selling books in Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series and the phenomenon of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ demonstrated that overtly Christian material can be wildly successful. And with NBC firing off the apocalyptic miniseries Revelations this past April and a new dramatic series Book of Daniel, about an Episcopal priest, in September, the ante is being upped on prime-time television. When Joan debuted in 2003, the mere sight of this Cute-Boy God on prime time seemed racy. By ducking divisive issues of faith, the show appealed to seekers. But in the post-Passion world, Joan couldn't afford to be so coy.
It may be that Joan played it too safe and lost in the end because of it. But I think Barbara Hall, the show's producer, deserves a salute for tackling the question of God without getting either too preachy or too cynical.
And reading the above quote, I'm struck by a thought: five years ago, many evangelicals were lamenting what seemed to be a complete absence of God in the world of pop culture and entertainment. Now it seems that God is showing up in everything, from horror movies to blockbuster epics to teen television dramas. (Or maybe it's always been there, but we're just noticing it?) But now that God is a hot topic in movies and books, the challenge of communicating Christ to our world seems more complicated, not less.