‘Mr. Corman,’ streaming, Apple TV+

By Chris Byrd | Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — At 15, Joseph Gordon-Levitt gained fame as a principal cast member on NBC’s popular 1990s sitcom “3rd Rock From the Sun.”

Thereafter, independent films such as 2009’s “500 Days of Summer” helped the actor successfully navigate the frequently awkward and chancy transition from juvenile to adult roles.

Gordon-Levitt’s latest project, “Mr. Corman,” is one in which he not only stars, but serves as writer, director and executive producer. His clear intent in creating the series was to strive for originality by crossing genre boundaries. But the resulting mix of dark comedy, drama, musical and fantasy feels more like a mishmash than a smooth blend.

The first three of the show’s 10 half-hour episodes are available now on Apple TV+. The remaining installments will be released consecutive Fridays through Oct. 1.

Aptly rated TV-MA — mature audiences only — the program is freewheeling both in its treatment of sexuality and its vocabulary. It also depicts illicit drug use and finds Gordon-Levitt’s character, Josh Corman, avowing his atheism. As a result, even grown TV fans may not find it much to their liking.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in a scene from the TV show “Mr. Corman,” streaming on Apple TV+. (CNS photo/Apple TV )

Josh is a fifth-grade social studies teacher in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Initially secure about his choice of profession, he says to his ex-girlfriend, Megan (Juno Temple), “I wake up every day and know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”

Yet not long after he meets Lindsey (Emily Tremaine), a potential romantic partner, Josh finds his confidence shaken when she observes: “The only people who become teachers wanted to do something else and gave up.” This cutting remark compels Josh to confront a reality he’d rather not face.

Josh, in fact, only turned to education after his career as a musician stalled. At the same time, he broke off his six-year relationship with Megan, who also had been his musical collaborator.

Megan continues to resent Josh for abandoning her and their shared dream. “The person who you love is supposed to believe in you,” she says.

Josh, moreover, is plagued by melancholy and anxiety and prone to panic attacks. Easily distracted, he’s subject to hearing and seeing things and sometimes escapes into flights of fancy.

These tendencies are connected to Josh’s tangled relationships with his mom, Ruth (Debra Winger), and sister, Beth (Shannon Woodward), and rooted in his nuclear family’s disintegration during his childhood. The resulting tensions surface at a birthday party for Beth’s 5-year-old daughter, Sara (Vivien Lyra Blair).

Influenced by husband Aaron’s (Jonathan Runyon) religious beliefs, Beth is distressed when Josh tells his impressionable niece, “God isn’t real.” Her brother’s nihilistic attitude, Beth believes, is rooted in their upbringing. “You think the entire world is chaos,” she says, “because our lives were chaos.”

Gordon-Levitt’s desire to craft a show that seems truly fresh is laudable. But novelty need not slide into chaos as “Mr. Corman” seems to do when Gordon-Levitt and Winger suddenly break into a song-and-dance routine or when other actors metamorphize into superheroes in a dreamlike fight sequence.

These interludes make it difficult to accept the subsequent shift back to a realistic tone.

Aesthetically, at least, Gordon-Levitt has aimed high. But the zigzagging trajectory he’s chosen ultimately becomes dizzying.

Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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