Review: ‘Ordinary Joe’

Ordinary Joe on NBC
(Image credit: NBC)

Ordinary Joe looks at a young man, moments after his college graduation. Joe is on the campus quad with three concrete paths leading away from the spot in which he stands. At the end of one is his family. At the end of a second one is his not-quite girlfriend. At the end of a third path is a woman he just met at his graduation ceremony. 

Each one waves at Joe to head their way. Whichever path he chooses will dictate a different life for Joe--a different job, a different partner. 

“You ever get that feeling that that one choice could change your whole life?” asks the narrator. 

The show picks up 10 years later, and catches up with the three Joes who took the three separate paths back at the Syracuse graduation. The one who walked toward his family is a police officer in New York. The one who followed his friend-with-benefits is a nurse and father. The one who followed the woman he just met is a rock star. 

Though the three Joes have led distinct lives, there is some common ground between them. Each Joe loves Billy Joel, and the NYPD badge that belonged to Joe’s father, before his untimely death, is always within arm’s reach. 

Rock Star Joe is consumed with having a baby with wife Amy, the woman he met during graduation. He runs into his college not-quite girlfriend, Jenny, at a reunion, and she drops a serious bomb on him dating back to their time in college. 

Ordinary Joe can be compared to the 1998 film Sliding Doors, which shows Gwyneth Paltrow’s character catching a London train, and what happens after, and missing that same train, and what happens after. 

It’s a fun idea and, more important, one that stands out at a time when the broadcast networks are desperate to have a show pop in the million-series universe. James Wolk handles the three Joes with confidence and style, and even portrays a convincing rock star, singing his parts with verve. Elizabeth Lail plays Jenny and Natalie Martinez plays Amy. 

The pilot deftly shifts between the three Joes, each one getting equal story time, and equally compelling storylines to boot. It’s a tricky concept, and the producers and cast seem to pull it off with style. 

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.