Whilst talking with a friend recently about various television shows that we were watching, I brought up ‘Mr Corman’. My friend, who hadn’t heard of the show, asked what it was about. I replied that it was the new show on Apple TV+ with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but then struggled to actually put into words what exactly the show was about. After watching all ten episodes, spending time reflecting on each one and even as I write this, I’m still not sure how to accurately describe the show or how I’d recommend it to someone unfamiliar with it. That being said, ‘Mr Corman’ is one of the most creative and ambitious shows that I’ve watched in some time and one that took me on an unexpected journey of discovery and self-reflection during its ten episode run.
Written, directed by and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his long-awaited return to television, ‘Mr Corman’, broadly-speaking, follows the everyday life and struggles of a thirty-something year old school teacher. To sum the show up like that; however, would be doing it a huge disservice. The title character, Josh Corman, is prone to anxiety and struggling with several aspects of his life. He feels lost after separating from his fiancé, has strained relationships with his parents and given up on his aspirations of a career in music to become a teacher. He is often consumed by thoughts of what could have been and where it all went wrong. Josh means well but often comes across as overly opinionated and usually ends up saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in any given situation.
Mr Corman, at its core, is a show about mental health and while it contains a few moments of levity, the laughter you’ll let out whilst watching is more often than not a result of how uncomfortable the show can make you feel. ‘Mr Corman’ is marketed as a comedy and while I wouldn’t entirely agree, it’s definitely a show that’s worth your time. Despite the very broad story present throughout the season, each episode also feels fairly self-contained and works much better when watched over the course of a few days rather than once per week, which is why we’re publishing this review now as the full season becomes available to viewers.
What is most striking about the show is the ways in which any given episode can feel like it’s holding a mirror up to the viewer and forcing them to confront things that may be going on in their own lives. It deals with some very heavy themes including anxiety, depression, loneliness, regret and the struggles of trying to find your place in the world. On several occasions, I almost felt like I was seeing myself on-screen, for better or worse. This was most evident during episode 2, which depicts Josh experiencing a severe bout of anxiety. As the episode progressed, I started to realise that every symptom and feeling that Josh was experiencing during his panic attack was one that I had also experienced. When the credits rolled, I realised that I hadn’t spoken a word to my wife, who was sitting next to me, the entire time. I felt like I couldn’t move from the sofa as I processed what I’d just watched. I’ve dealt with bouts of feeling anxious in the past like many others, but it wasn’t until watching this episode that I realised that I’ve also experienced a severe panic attack in the past without realising it. On reflection, of course, it all makes sense but at the time, I would always chalk it up to other things and it didn’t even cross my mind that it’s what I was going though. I simply didn’t think I had any reason to feel anxious, but watching this episode left no doubt in my mind that it’s exactly what I had experienced in the past. It was like someone was reaching out of my television, shaking me and talking to me directly. For that, I am grateful for how realistically and viscerally the show portrayed Josh’s anxiety attack, even if it was uncomfortable to watch at the time.
In later episodes, it tackles the pandemic and does so in such a realistic way that it took me back to the early days of COVID, when everything was uncertain and nobody really understood what was going on. Seeing Josh frantically wash his hands after touching anything at all and becoming paranoid about coming into contact with just about anyone is a feeling that is still quite raw and something that any viewer of the show will relate to.
Another notable thing about ‘Mr Corman’ is how creatively it portrays certain aspects of Josh’s anxiety or inner thoughts. In the aforementioned episode two, a jarring soundtrack consisting of a single loud chime plays constantly throughout the entire episode which really brings to life just how unsettled the character is feeling. There’s a lot of dreamlike imagery and a few surreal, unexpected musical-numbers that represent Josh’s sadness, his desire to escape a situation and help him process what he’s going through at the time. The show can jump between looking and feeling quite lo-fi and intimate to one of the most visually unique things on television in an instant and it really adds to the insight into Josh’s state of mind.
While the show primarily focuses on what our title character is going through, it’s also not afraid to flip the script, particularly on Mr. Corman himself. One of the show’s best episodes, titled ‘Mr. Morales’ focuses on Josh’s roommate, Victor - played brilliantly by Arturo Castro. Throughout the episode, we see everything from Victor’s perspective and we finally see Josh as the neurotic, slightly self-centred and exhausting person that others often see him as. As a side note, I wish we’d gotten a lot more of Victor, who is easily one of the best characters in the show.
As much as we want to root for Josh as the show progresses, the show isn’t afraid to highlight his flaws and that he’s not quite as self-aware as he thinks he is. In another powerful episode, his friend Dax scalds Josh for only getting in touch with him or asking how he’s doing when he wants to go to a party or use their friendship for his benefit before launching into one of the most original fight scenes I’ve ever seen on television. It’s another example of the show flipping the script on the audience, as prior to this Dax, played by rapper Bobby ‘Logic’ Hall, had been portrayed as a fairly vacuous, self-centred individual concerned only with fame and Instagram likes. This show’s biggest strengths are its complex characters and it’s creative flair and it works best in moments like these when it really leans into both.
‘Mr Corman’ is ultimately, a very bold and ambitious show which tackles a lot of real life, very personal issues. It can be quite hard to pin down exactly what the show is and it can feel quite meandering at times, but it’s a show that rewards patience. Having Joseph Gordon-Levitt back on our screens alone was always going to be enough to make me tune in and it could have easily been a much more straightforward story about a depressed thirty-something year old living in the past and still been a success. Instead, it takes a lot of creative risks and tries to be different. Sometimes not all of these risks pay off, but I’m thankful to see this level of creative freedom on display on television and the fact that it doesn’t play things safe is one of the show’s biggest charms. It’s also one Apple TV+ show that works much better as a binge-watch and with all episodes available now, it’s the perfect time to jump in.
If you are concerned about yourself or a friend or family member, you can find more information on charities, organisations and support groups that can help you or someone you know with their mental health here.
James has been a fan of Apple for as long as he can remember. He is a film & TV obsessive and has also written for several publications such as BBC Good Food Magazine. He lives in Glasgow, Scotland and can usually be found drinking copious amounts of coffee, watching Apple TV+ and talking about it with anyone who will listen.