Ordinary Joe, a drama that sees a guy live out the three paths his life could’ve followed as he was finishing college, starts on NBC September 20. James Wolk plays Joe Kimbreau. Moments after his college graduation, Joe is faced with three options as to what to do, and who to do it with. One option will eventually lead him to being a cop, one to being a nurse, and one to being a rock star.
“It plays with the idea of, what is success? What is happiness?” said Wolk in a TCA session. “There is no right choice and we make the best of what we have.”
Natalie Martinez, Elizabeth Lail and Charlie Barnett are also in the cast.
The show represents Wolk’s first time singing as a professional performer. “I have always loved singing, whether it’s in the shower or for my kids or my wife,” he said, adding that “it’s been a great joy” to do it on the show.
Executive producer Russel Friend said Wolk took right to it. Stepping onstage as the musician (the producers and cast refer to the three characters as Rock Star Joe, Nurse Joe and Cop Joe), he “completely transformed into this rock star,” said Friend. “He was singing the song like a rock star.”
Added Lail, “It breaks my heart every time he sings.”
Wolk said Martinez, Lail and Barnett can all sing as well. “These guys are amazing and they’ll get their time to shine,” he said.
Billy Joel is an influence for multiple Joe characters. Wolk said he was exposed to Joel as a kid, when a friend’s mother would drive him in a carpool, and play Joel’s music. “I respect Billy Joel as a musician and think he’s amazing, but not at the level Joe Kimbreau does,” he said.
Friend played a part in Joel songs popping up in Ordinary Joe. He grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where “you’re pretty much forced” to be a massive Billy Joel fan. (Joel’s “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” mentions Oyster Bay.)
The Ordinary Joe project was kicked around way back in 2008, then “put into a drawer,” said exec producer Garrett Lerner. The Matt Reeves script came out of the drawer and the producers connected with it. They crafted a new pilot script. “We poured a lot of our own lives into it,” said Lerner. “We’ve asked this wonderful cast to pour a lot of themselves into it.”
Friend and Lerner executive produce along with Reeves, Adam Kassan, Rafi Crohn and Howard Klein. 20th Television produces the show.
Wolk said all three paths that presented themselves to Joe just after college lead to a fully developed character down the road. He digs shooting chicken ziti dinners at Cop Joe’s house, loves that Nurse Joe has a son, and enjoys the A-list attributes of Rock Star Joe’s life.
“I don’t think there is a right way that Joe should’ve gone,” he said. “None of those lives are better than the other. They’re just how life played out for him.”
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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