Mr. Corman

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mr. Corman.
Photo: AppleTV+


Mr Corman


AppleTV+ (New episodes very Friday)


3/5 Stars 


The story of fifth-grade teacher Josh Corman as he navigates through his life and relationships while still feeling lost and lonely. 


Luck is an important theme in Mr. Corman. The first episode opens up with Josh Corman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) speaking to his class of fifth-graders, asking them if they feel as if they are lucky or unlucky. And after one of his students asks him the same question, he seems to think about it a second before responding that he feels lucky. But this question still reverberates throughout all ten episodes of the series. Does he feel like life handed him lemons, or does he acknowledge his privilege as he claims he does?

Mr. Corman tells the story of Josh but more than that takes us on a journey with the character; it gives us introspection into his current situation. He is a fifth-grade teacher and while he seems to love his job, he still does not feel fulfilled. He once had dreams of becoming a rockstar, but he gave that up for a job with more stability. His ex-bandmate and ex-fiance Megan (Juno Temple) has gone on to pursue a career in music, and it is obvious that he resents and judges her for it. He lives with his high school friend, Victor (Arturo Castro), a divorced father of a teenage daughter who seems content with his life, and Josh seems to judge him for that too. And then there's his estranged father (Hugo Weaving) and his codependent relationship with his mother (Debra Winger), who he blames for the way she handled their father and judges her choice in men. In the same way, he judges his sister (Shannon Woodard) and her husband for being too religious. It's a wild circle, but it's evident through the episodes that Josh is consistently looking for something or someone to judge or put the blame on to understand his own discontent and frustration.

Perhaps he is unlucky. Maybe if he had a better father, had a big break in his music career, and did more to improve his relationship with Megan, he would have had a better future. But it is also glaringly obvious that he is a financially-able, white, straight, good looking man living in the United States, which he seems to resent as well, that he doesn't feel as if he complains because he doesn't have things as bad as others. The second episode deals with Josh going through his first anxiety attack, and the constant pang of anxiety (used musically with the sound of a gong) factors into how he deals with his job, his relationships and his attempt to make it through his life while feeling unhappy and dissatisfied.

It's very difficult to aptly explain Mr. Corman because it exists more as a case study about one man as he meanders through his own boredom, frustration and anxiety. There is a lot you can interpret about it, but there is also a lot that does not seem to translate well through the medium. Gordon-Levitt uses many devices to depict the way Josh is feeling, perhaps it's a symbolism of his creativity that he is keeping pent up, but there is a musical number between Josh and his mother, Ruth; a fight scene similar to something you'd see in Scott Pilgrim and an episode showing 'what if' situations that his life might have taken. These scenes are jarring and take you out of the narrative journey of the show, but it also helps to understand the complex nature of Josh's mind.

One of the more successful devices used in the show is in episode four, entitled Mr. Morales. This episode takes a break from Josh and tells the story of Victor, Josh's roommate, as he navigates his job as a UPS driver and his relationship with his teenage daughter. This episode is so refreshing and compelling that I almost didn't want to go back to the story of Josh; I wanted to keep on seeing the story of Victor as he navigates through the world. Arturo Castro is so excellent in the role of Victor. He steals every scene that he is in, and his self-assured and confident demeanour is so refreshing compared to Josh, who is always second-guessing himself and others.

The first two episodes of the series are quite slow, but it does pick up with some excellent two-hander episodes between Josh and Ruth, Josh and his father, and Josh and Megan, which depict Gordon-Levitt's talent and helps us to understand the character a little better. By the last few episodes of the season, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic is depicted with Josh's anxiety translating into hyper-awareness about Covid-19 protocols, and we get to experience him holding Zoom classes and going on a Zoom date.

Mr. Corman is an interesting study in how frustration and lack of accountability rear themselves in even those who society deems 'nice guys', but it is also a story we've seen told before. If the Mr. Morales episode was a window into what is possible, and the series does get picked up for another season, I would love to see them exploring the story from the perspective of the other characters.


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