Mr. Corman

Mr. Corman Is a Slow Burn That Rewards Patience

Dept. of Millennial Drifters


Created, written, directed and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mr. Corman on Apple TV+ tells the story of an anxious schoolteacher who seems to be experiencing a deep-rooted sense of distress at the hand he’s been dealt. He’s been single for over a year and is living with a friend from high school. He worries about his lack of a love life. He struggles with his relationship with his mother. He is unable to find joy in anything that he does. He is the very definition of unfulfilled.

Over the course of 10 episodes, this is a series that seeks to examine how family, friends, work, and the state of the world impact our psyche and psychological well-being. It tackles an issue that those of us with privilege often face. In that even though we know we have it really good, sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: If I had to sum up Mr. Corman in a sentence, it would be that this is a show about a guy who is going through some shit. Small, nagging, niggling concerns that slowly multiply, eating away at his mental health, until he can no longer tell whether or not he has any control over his own happiness and well-being. (God knows we’ve all been there!)

This series is the epitome of what people mean when they describe something as being a “slow burn.”

I was intrigued by the first episode. I had no idea where it was going, or what it was actually about, but it had me sufficiently hooked to keep on watching. The second episode built on that fascination. And then the third, and the fourth, and the more I watched, the more I became immersed in Josh Corman’s life. 

I’m five episodes in and while I can’t tell you if this is a series that I like, I can tell you that it is wonderfully made, and might very well be something important. 

Bahir Yeusuff: Like you, I too was very intrigued by this show. I am a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I think he has an understated charm and affable nature that makes him hard to not like. Mr. Corman leans into that a little bit, especially in the first two episodes. Josh is not an unlikeable character, but, and I think you hit the nail on the head earlier, he is unhappy but unsure as to why. It isn’t something overt.

I too can’t tell if this is a show that I like. But at a brisk 30 minutes each, these episodes are very easy to digest.

A Series for the Here and Now

Mr. Corman

BY: Mr. Corman is definitely a show for the 21st century. With all the options that are available, a lot of us just get overwhelmed by everything that the world is. There’s a recognizable fickle nature to Josh. Like in the first episode, when he whines about wanting to go out to a bar, but then rails against his roommate’s suggestion that he go there to pick up a date. This isn’t a comedy. It feels more like an anti-comedy.

To make a lazy comparison, Mr. Corman feels like a comedy the way 500 Days of Summer feels like a rom-com. It’s all there, but it never really turns out the way you expect. 

UA: I’ll go one step further and say that it’s definitely the show for right now. For precisely this moment. With the pandemic and lockdowns, with uncertainty being the prevailing sentiment in every aspect of our lives, Mr. Corman speaks to what a lot of people might be feeling.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does something different here in his depiction of anxiety and depression. A lot of the time we only ever see the dramatic consequences of mental health issues. The reality of which is a lot more nuanced. Ennui, boredom, and restlessness is something incredibly hard to put across on screen, more so when it is evidence of a much deeper problem like anxiety.

Mr. Corman manages to pull this off remarkably well.

JGL has created a character who is smart and charming, who is likeable, but is nevertheless completely without a clue. He has no idea what’s wrong with him, let alone how to fix it, but he still remains sympathetic. 

Which is why I said that this was an “important” show. Oftentimes, when we see mental health issues play out on screen, they can feel quite removed from our own reality. Here, Josh Corman is someone who is immediately relatable. His first world problems may be his own, but seeing how they impact his mind is something we can all recognize. And therein lies the genius of what this series is.

BY: As it stands, as a piece of fiction, as “entertainment,” I’m still unsure if this is the show for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still finish it, especially seeing as how I’m already halfway through its 10 episode run. But, unlike say, Ted Lasso, this isn’t something I’ll be rushing towards every week. Mr. Corman is a good show, it just doesn’t excite me in the same way.

As with all the Apple TV+ stuff, it is well made, well intentioned, and very well put together (keep an eye out for episode five), but I just wasn’t reacting to it. Mr. Corman feels like that new breed of anti-comedy, much in the vein of Donald Glover’s Atlanta or Hulu’s Ramy. One of which I love, whereas the other never really appealed.

Mr. Corman’s Magical Mystery Tour

Mr. Corman

UA: I feel that Mr. Corman is a real testament to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s skills as a creator, writer, director, and actor. There is a confidence to the way he tells this story, in his willingness to embrace that slow burn, in those occasional trips into the surreal, that feels incredibly accomplished. 

There is this moment in the third episode that really stands out on this front. Towards the end of the episode, there is a spontaneous musical number between Josh and his mother that was just so clever. It was something that threw me for a loop. When it began, I wasn’t sure what was going on. But as it played out, I found myself getting more and more invested in both the song and their relationship. By the end of it, when the fantasy sequence abruptly comes to an end, I was so involved that I felt myself choking up and just shouting at the screen. It was a two minute emotional rollercoaster. It was brilliant. 

BY: To call those moments “flights of fancy” seems to be both apt and to do it a disservice. When it first happens, it really comes out of the blue, but as the show goes on, these little asides somehow feel appropriate to Josh’s character. He isn’t just daydreaming about something because he’s bored. Quite the contrary. It’s just his way of dealing.

I think you would need to be a very cynical person to hate this show. And I think the decision to release the first two episodes in the first week was a smart one by Apple TV+. It really begs the viewer to give the show a chance and to get curious and invested in Josh Corman.

That said, there was something that happened in the first episode that I wish they had developed further. Possibly even making it into the crux and the theme of the show.

Josh Corman is in his classroom addressing his fifth grade classroom when he is, possibly somewhat deservedly, called out for referring to Sacagewa as Lewis and Clark’s “female” guide. That felt like it could have been an interesting thread to pull on, this idea that we as a society have been so conditioned to point out the female gender that it has become natural. Later in the episode, Josh is told off by his mother for being concerned about that faux pas, and how, in her eyes, he is a good man.

In those two scenes at either ends of the episode, Mr. Corman had a wealth of story to pull on. But it instead drops it for the most part and doesn’t go back there in the next 4 episodes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt feels like the exact right person to dive into the gender politics of today and making it approachable for the viewer. 

It’s a minor nitpick. And I can see why as the show creator you don’t want to get into that debate, and I respect that, but it just feels like there was something interesting there.

UA: Shows that meander like this one are often a hard sell. But Mr. Corman is one of those rare examples that really rewards patience. It isn’t easy translating existential angst into gripping drama, but Mr. Corman manages to pull it off with great success. In no small part due to the watchability of Joseph Gordon-Levitt himself.

For me, this is a series in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think Mr. Corman speaks to the plight of an entire generation, but does it in a way that is nuanced enough to make it feel real. I don’t know if I’d want someone like Josh Corman as a friend, but I’m more than happy to spend some quality time with him every week.

BY: Mr. Corman is great TV. But it isn’t as readily accessible as a show created, written, directed, and lead by such a universally accessible personality like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I don’t love Mr. Corman, but I love that it exists.

Mr. Corman is now streaming on Apple TV+.