I got sucked into watching Mr. Corman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new show streaming on AppleTV. I think it’s one of the best swings and misses I’ve ever seen. The pilot is great, and it’s easy to see why AppleTV wanted to turn it into a series. The problem is the vision of what the show was going to be somehow got lost somewhere between the first few scripts, the pandemic shutting everything down, and then starting back by barreling toward a season-ending episode that tries to make sense of this whiny, quirky, independent movie character in a TV show.
Josh Corman is a sad-sack, “poor me” kinda guy, especially in the first episodes. He is filled with anxiety at every turn. Early on, he decides to make a change and then proceeds to do very little to affect that change.
The whole show is the brainchild of Gordon-Levitt, who stars, writes, directs, and produces, and I think he might have taken on more than he could conceivably do well. The creativity is there, but it is so inconsistent and jarring at times that none of it really comes together satisfyingly. After interactions with his students, their parents, the girl he picks up at a bar, his sister, his niece, his roommate, his mom, his ex-girlfriend, his friend who died, and his father… it takes a zoom date for him to realize that his anxiety is pretty standard. It’s simply been an excuse for him not to pursue his dream. I have to admit, the whole thing coalesces into something competent, but lacking.
There’s so much going on; it feels like Gordon-Levitt wanted to do it all. We get a musical number ripped straight out of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. We get lots of off-beat animation, subplots about every member of his family, a subplot about his failed dream of making it as a musician, and two episodes inexplicably about the COVID-19 pandemic. We get a whole what-if episode and one focused entirely on his roommate. It doesn’t lean into the weirdness like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and it doesn’t play too dark and depressing with Josh’s anxiety. It rambles and meanders and only kind of sort of gets to the point at the very end.
The central problem is Gordon-Levitt, not centering Josh Corman. He’s wildly inconsistent and hard to sympathize with or understand. He’s a bright and warm elementary school teacher and then a sullen asshole with his put-upon mother played by Debra Winger and an unrecognizable Hugo Weaving as his father. I like all the supporting actors and, again, there’s chemistry and likable characters playing off of Josh, but there’s not quite enough or maybe too much in places?
Maybe Gordon-Levitt is trying to say that people should not be trapped into a singular character mode (the sad sack, the warm teacher, the anxiety-ridden roommate), but it always feels a touch unrealistic. Only at the end did I ever care strongly about Josh and his quirks.
The whole show has an indie movie vibe to it, and I wonder if I’m too old to appreciate what Gordon-Levitt is going for here. He’s 40, but I don’t think he’s supposed to be playing that old. Is he a millennial seeing the world through perpetually cynical eyes? Is this what it’s like?
It was just announced the show would not be picked up for a second season. To me, that development is entirely unsurprising. I wish Apple and Gordon-Levitt would have turned this concept into an original movie. The need to define the lead for a two-hour film better would have helped the overall direction and probably solidify what Gordon-Levitt wanted to say.
Mr. Corman never really gets there.