For a show that actively tackles the notion of privilege, Mr Corman wouldn't have existed had it not been for the goodwill that writer, director, creator and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt has earned for himself in Hollywood, through a career that is now on the verge of entering its fourth decade.
Featuring an astonishingly uninhibited performance by JGL, the new Apple TV+ series is just as rough-around-the-edges as its titular protagonist, a fifth-grade teacher named Josh Corman, whose dreams of becoming a successful musician were waylaid by a difficult childhood and undiagnosed mental health issues.
Watch the trailer of Mr Corman here
Gordon-Levitt has described the show as a 'what if' scenario; an alternate reality where someone like him, born and bred in Los Angeles, didn't find success despite his best efforts. His good fortune — JGL has worked with everyone from Spike Lee and Christopher Nolan to Aaron Sorkin and Steven Spielberg — isn't lost on him. In fact, he appears to be wracked by guilt because of it, to the point that he devotes an entire episode to Arturo Castro's character, a Hispanic UPS delivery guy who lives with Josh. The show is not only Gordon-Levitt's attempt to address his success, but also, in a way, express his gratitude for it.
Although just how many people would be willing to sit through a 10-episode exercise in self-indulgence that has been inaccurately billed as a 'comedy' is beyond me. Very little about Mr Corman, the show, is funny. It's misrepresentation as a chuckle-fest is reflected in the character himself — Josh Corman is supposed to be a teacher, but we hardly ever see him teach. He does learn a thing or two about himself, though.
Every episode begins with him piecing together some music in his apartment, all by himself — the direct result of an emasculating encounter with a woman in episode one. Through the course of the season, several characters remind him that he tends to give up on things, presumably out of self-doubt, but most likely because he never expects anything to work out in his favour.
It is only towards the end of the season that he admits he has a negative outlook towards life. He's largely un-empathetic towards his roommate Victor's difficulties as an immigrant with a daughter to take care of; he has a complicated relationship with his mother and sister; and he detests his dad, whom he hasn't met in three years until their messy reunion in episode nine.
The show unravels as it goes along, much like Josh himself. The final third, surprisingly, suddenly involves the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes me wonder if Gordon-Levitt rewrote the thing after the fact. If that's indeed true, then it's a creative decision that's emblematic of the courageous approach that he takes with the rest of the material, which is challenging not just narratively, but also visually.
For instance, it is unclear if the Michel Gondry-inspired flights of fancy that Mr Corman regularly flirts with are a result of post-pandemic problem-solving, or if they were always baked into the script.
For a show that really seemed to lean into Josh's roots as an Angelino, it spends most of its time indoors in later episodes, capturing the emotional and physical isolation that he experiences during the pandemic. But perhaps this was motivated by production constraints?
Despite a tone that is often difficult to pin down, Mr Corman is always real and relatable, assuming of course that you're the sort of person who can relate to someone like Josh. His flaws aren't felonies; he isn't a molester or anything. But he isn't an easy guy to be around. For instance, he's concerned more about the scale of his anxiety than the actual anxiety itself. And having lived in a bubble for so long, he isn't able to appreciate the suffering of others. When he proposes moving out of his apartment and back into his mother's house during the pandemic, she asks him directly if it's because he's concerned about Victor's safety as a UPS guy forced to work during the lockdown, or himself.
Gordon-Levitt doesn't hesitate before confronting Josh, and by extension himself, with questions like this. Often, the show resembles an unrestricted peek inside his mind, which is not only rare in this age of committee-driven filmmaking, but also rather brave. Mr Corman might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's authentic, artistic, and if you are able to stick with it till the end, also deeply cathartic.