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Series / Ordinary Joe

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Ordinary Joe is a NBC drama series starring James Wolk.

The show follows Joe Kimbreau across three parallel timelines that examine what changes and what remains the same ten years after he makes a fateful choice at his college graduation.

  • Nurse Joe — Joe decides to spend the night with Jenny, his on-off girlfriend. In this timeline, they marry and become parents to Christopher, who has muscular dystrophy. He is a nurse and she is a paralegal, but the strain of their careers and raising a disabled child has brought them to the brink of divorce.
  • Music Joe — Joe decides to ask Amy, whom he bumps into at graduation, out on a date. In this timeline, Joe has become a rock star and is happily married to Amy. Although he seemingly has everything, Joe and Amy are struggling to conceive and he's floored when Jenny comes back into his life and confesses that she'd been pregnant with his child but that she gave the baby up for adoption.
  • Cop Joe — Joe decides to go dinner with his family. In this timeline, he's a cop who saves the life of Congressman Bobby Diaz. The follow-up investigation brings him back in contact with Amy, who is the congressman's trusted aide, and Jenny, who is a prosecutor and raising Joe's biological son, named Lucas in this timeline.

On March 4th, 2022, it was announced that the show had been cancelled after just one season.

This series provides examples of:

  • Alternate Timeline: The entire point of the show is that it follows the same central characters across three different universes, diverged from each other by what Joe chose to do to celebrate his college graduation.
  • Assassination Attempt: In the pilot, a gunman tries to shoot Congressman Bobby Diaz at a campaign rally. In Cop Joe's timeline, he's on duty at the rally and stops the shooter; in Nurse Joe's timeline, Diaz gets shot and Joe tends to him as he recovers in the hospital; and in Music Joe's timeline, Joe has a concert in the same venue, causing Diaz to reschedule the rally and thus avoid being shot until the next rally when the assassin kills Diaz and wounds Amy.
  • Break the Haughty: Diaz is a smug, arrogant politician with many skeletons in his closet. In the Nurse Joe timeline he is shot at a rally and left disabled. This forces him to change his approach to life and he tries to be a better person in the future. In the Cop Joe timeline he survives the shooting intact and it makes him more arrogant resulting in Amy turning against him and him being arrested for corruption. In the Musician Joe timeline the rally is postponed and Diaz avoids having a life-changing event until he is killed during the rescheduled rally.
  • Color Wash: Each timeline has distinct shading as a differentiator, with the musician timeline being red, the nurse timeline being green and the cop timeline being blue.
  • Dramatic Irony: Happens a lot with each timeline unknowingly showing a different outcome as in another.
    • Cop Joe presses for his Uncle Frank to get help for his drinking with Frank reluctant but helping. Meanwhile, Musician Joe is pushed by a sober Frank to seek help for the drinking problem he refuses to believe he has.
  • Family Versus Career:
    • Nurse Joe gave up thoughts of becoming a professional musician or a police officer because he needed to find a steady job which would allow him to support Jenny and their child. Jenny gave up on law school for the same reason. In that timeline Amy and Eric concentrated on their careers and are now trying to adopt a child.
    • Musician Joe and Amy postponed having a family in order to support Joe's career. Joe now wants children but Amy had multiple miscarriages and is now trying to jumpstart her own political career instead.
    • Cop Joe and Amy stayed single and focused on their careers. Jenny was a single mother but her family helped her financially so she went to law school and became a prosecutor.
  • Foreshadowing: In Episode 6, Cop Joe's Uncle Frank says that years ago, he got in trouble and Diaz helped hush it up or otherwise "I might not be a cop anymore." At the end of the episode, Nurse Joe is met by his Frank, a drunken homeless bum, indicating in this world, he didn't get that help.
  • For Want Of A Nail:
    • All the changes to the timelines are because of one guy's choice of where to spend an evening nearly a decade ago. This affected the choices of the people around him and ten years later many of them live very different lives.
    • In the timelines where Joe does not follow up on his Meet Cute with Amy, Eric asks her out instead and she agrees to meet him in a restaurant. In the Cop Joe timeline, Eric rushes to the restaurant still wearing his graduation gown and is flustered when he realizes that the restaurant is a tad more upscale then what he expected. He fails to answer Amy's question about his dreams for the future. When Amy gets bad news, Eric tries to comfort her but it is a clumsy attempt that almost knocks over a bottle. Amy leaves the restaurant and ten years later does not even remember the aborted date. In the Nurse Joe timeline, Eric drops Joe at a party and Joe advises him to change clothes. Eric wears a more serious looking shirt and feels more confidant about himself. He easily answers Amy's questions and they quickly bond. When Amy gets the bad news, Eric holds her hand and makes her feel better. They spend the night talking. Ten years later they are married. Their lives completely changed because Eric wore a slightly different shirt in each timeline.
  • Hypocrite: Amy can come off this way in Rocker Joe's timeline as she's upset with Joe keeping quiet for so long about having a son...yet waits a good while to tell him she once slept with Bobby Diaz.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Although the three timelines are very different from one another, there are a few constants.
    • Joe and Jenny have a son with muscular dystrophy, who was conceived before graduation. Although he's the same child played by the same actor in each timeline, his given name differs (Christopher, Zeke or Lucas).
    • Joe will somehow cross paths with Bobby Diaz — as a musician who's married to Diaz's campaign manager, as a cop who saves him from an Assassination Attempt, or as a nurse who cares for him after being wounded in the attack.
    • Joe maintains his love of music no matter his career path.
    • In all three timelines, Joe's sister, Celeste, lives as a style influencer in California, although it's indicated she's closer to Musician Joe than the other two versions.
    • Diaz had an affair with an intern who subsequently killed herself. Her vengeful brother comes gunning for him.
    • Episode 10 shows the same concert honoring Joe's mother in each timeline and in each one, she ends up reconnecting with an old flame.
  • Insult Backfire: When her teacher puts her down for caring about her son rather than studies, Jenny quotes Madeleine Albright's famous line of "there's a special place in Hell for women who won't help other women." Smirking, the teacher replies she and Albright were at Columbia together "and one of us finished first in our class."
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: In-Universe. When Music Joe gets into a car accident, he hallucinates Cop Joe responding to the scene and Nurse Joe treating him in the hospital.
  • Internal Reveal:
    • Episode 10 has Cop Joe finally discovering Jenny had his son.
  • It's All My Fault: Joe blames himself for his father's death on 9/11, because he decided to stay in New York City to practice with his school band instead of going to a football game in Denver like his father wanted, meaning his father was in the city and died with other first responders when the towers collapsed.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: In the pop star timeline, Joe and Amy desperately want a baby but seem unable to get past the first trimester. Then Amy gets pregnant after a one night stand with Bobby that she deeply regrets.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Music Joe brings their son's yearbook to Jen, he mentions that since being told he was a father, he feels like he's "outside his body watching from somewhere else."
  • Meet Cute: Joe and Amy bump into each other and strike up a conversation while trying to sort through their belongings. In the musician timeline, this blossoms into romance and marriage. In the cop timeline, they meet again ten years later and decide to revisit the feelings they brushed aside when they first met.
  • Nostalgia Filter: In Cop Joe's world, Celeste erupts at Thanksgiving on how everyone "deifies" their late father, ignoring his angry outbursts (including throwing a Thanksgiving dish at her) and never talk about his darker side. While not brought up, it's possible this is the same in the other two timelines.
  • Once an Episode: Each episode ends with a split-screen of the three Joes having slightly different experiences in each timeline.
    • Episode 6 breaks with it to show Diaz who in Cop Joe's world, is being arrested for using campaign funds to cover up his affair; in Nurse Joe's world, happy with his family despite in a wheelchair; and in Rock Star Joe's world, shot dead.
    • Episode 8 does it for Amy who in Nurse Joe's world is with her husband, in bed with Cop Joe and alone after confessing to Musician Joe she cheated on him with Diaz.
  • The One That Got Away: Played with. Cop Joe clearly regrets not asking Amy out and they both jump at the chance to get together when they paths cross again. Musician Joe and Amy got married and seemed very happy but it quickly becomes apparent that the marriage has issues and they are no longer communicating well. Nurse Joe is happily married to Jenny while that timeline's Amy is happily married to Eric. Are Joe and Amy meant to be together or are they happier with other people?
  • Origins Episode: A variation in Episode 7 which shows the aftermath of Joe's graduation and how the three timelines diverged.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Invoked when Rock Star Joe wants to go to his son's Halloween party, claiming he's fine in his cowboy "disguise." Jenny fires back he's a world-famous rock star wearing a cowboy hat.
  • Playing with a Trope: The format will often allow us to see a trope played out differently across the timelines. Often one timeline will play a trope straight, another will subvert it and the third one will double subvert it or avert it altogether.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Musician Joe refuses to tell his wife that he just found out that he has a son and is trying to locate him. He thinks he has good reasons for this but it creates stress and suspicion in his marriage to Amy causing her to make poor decisions since she thinks that her marriage is imploding. Thankfully, he finally comes clean to her about it in Episode 6.
    • The Nurse Joe version of Eric is able to have a great conversation with Amy on their date and they start dating and then get married. The Cop Joe version of Eric gets frustrated on the date and cannot answer a basic question about his plans for the future. His inability to communicate with his Amy kills their potential relationship on the first date.
  • Rank Up: Cop Joe is promoted to detective after he saves a congressman's life from an assassin. He later accepts a downgrade back to patrolman, thinking he's better off as a street cop.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Episode 9, set in Thanksgiving, has all three timelines visited by Joe's never-before mentioned sister Celeste.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The three plotlines seem to be an invocation of this trope
    • Nurse Joe is heavily on the idealism side with Joe being an almost overwhelmingly Nice Guy. The divorce plotline is dropped quickly in favor of Jenny going after her dream job and him being a single dad. Christopher lives a very happy life despite being in a wheelchair and his personality borders on Flawless Token. Bobby Diaz is not shown to be the unfaithful husband and corrupt politician he is.
    • Cop Joe is an intermediate. It deals with conspiracy, political scandal, and attempted assassination. However this Joe seems to live a happy life in which he's devoted to his job and is well-respected among his peers and while much more serious, he's still a Nice Guy who goes out of his way to help those who need it. Lucas and Jenny seem to be fairly happy if not as ideal as Nurse Joe.
    • Singer Joe is the bleakest of the three. This Joe is much more of a Jerkass and deals with infertility, infidelity, and the conflict of his son having been adopted by other people. The problem is he's making too strong an effort to be in his life despite just learning of him weeks ago. It's flat out mentioned by Jenny his approach could ruin all three families involved. Additionally in this timeline, both his wife Amy and Congressman Diaz are shot.
    • Diaz himself counts. In Cop Joe's world, he and Amy are having an affair and Diaz used campaign funds to cover it up and is clearly out for himself. In Nurse Joe's world, being shot seems to have affected Diaz as, after a bout of self-pity, he adjusts to being in a wheelchair and happy with his family; and in Rock Star Joe's world, Diaz makes a pass at Amy only to end up shot dead.
  • Something Only They Would Say: In Cop Joe's timeline, Amy is having an affair with Diaz. She meets with Jenny on how Diaz may have paid off an intern he had an affair with before. Amy is unsure until she sees a card Diaz gave the woman... with a note on the back that has exactly the same cheesy "you're the only one" line Diaz gave to Amy.
  • Tragic Keepsake: In all timelines, Joe holds his father's badge — damaged in the 9/11 attacks — close to him. In the cop timeline, Frank and Amy cut through red tape to have Joe issued his father's retired detective number.
  • Wham Shot:
    • After being absent in the scenes involving Nurse Joe, his Uncle Frank finally shows up in Episode a drunken, clearly homeless bum.
    • The episode ends with Amy and Diaz shot at a rally.
  • What If?: Each timeline is kicked off by Joe making a different choice at his college graduation.
  • Woman Scorned: Downplayed but Joe's treatment of Jenny affects how she handles her pregnancy with his child. Nurse Joe chooses to go with Jenny so she tells him about the pregnancy and they get married. Cop Joe does not try to reconcile with Jenny so she does not tell him about his son and raises the child on her own. Musician Joe chooses Amy over Jenny so Jenny not only does not tell him about the child but also gives it up for adoption.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: In the pilot, Cop Joe stops a shooting of Diaz at a rally, while Nurse Joe tends to Diaz after he's shot in that timeline. In each case, the shooter is the brother of a woman Diaz had an affair with who later killed herself. At the end of Episode 6, in Music Joe's timeline, that man shoots Diaz (and Amy) at a rally.