Picks and Pans Review: What About Joan
As she has proved in movies like Working Girl and In & Out (both brought her Oscar nominations), Joan Cusack is an enormously gifted comic actress. And this new series is nothing if not a showcase for the star's talents. Yet there were times during the first two episodes (March 27 and April 3) when I wanted to tell her, "Relax—you passed the audition already."
In the pilot, Chicago high school teacher Joan Gallagher (Cusack) reacts with manic incredulity when boyfriend Jake (Kyle Chandler, late of Early Edition) pops the question in a restaurant. But the real tour de force comes when she visits his apartment to reopen the dialogue. Joan goes from inquisitorial to apologetic to bitter—briefly pausing to suggest sex between points B and C. Cu-sack's quicksilver changes left me breathless, but there's a little something missing: characterization. "You are the sweetest, kindest, funniest, most warmhearted, gentle person that I know," Jake assures Joan in episode 2. Though she's funny in a frantic way, none of the other qualities are in evidence. We might understand Joan better if she sat down for a long, calm talk with her psychiatrist friend Ruby (Donna Murphy). On the other hand there's not much more to be learned about the sexual relationship between faculty members Betsy (Jessica Hecht) and Mark (Wallace Langham). He's a creep; give him the boot.
Bottom Line: Star vehicle not yet in gear