Are There Lesbians? No
The show follows the life of Josh Corman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a fifth-grade teacher and failed musician who deals with anxiety.
CW: death, anxiety, COVID19
The fact that Mr Corman has been cancelled is a tragedy. Created, written, directed, executive produced and headlined by the ineffable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this show proves that he has the range.
The fractured and anxious storytelling speaks strongly to the millennial experience. If you also feel like you peaked in your early twenties, then you will probably find Mr Corman highly relatable. Corman currently works as a teacher, which he espouses to find rewarding but we don’t really get to see much of that side of things. For the most part, we see the regret and anxiety that led him to where he is now. Once a touring musician with his (ex) girlfriend, Corman made the choice to stop trying to live on his music when he realised it was untenable and he needed to do something that would pay the bills. In the immortal words of Brian David Gilbert, “you gotta give up on your dreams”. As the show progresses, we see Corman reconnecting with his love of music, culminating in the last episode with the song “Now, Here, This”, performed by Joseph Godron Levitt himself. Considering I didn’t even know he could sing, I was completely blown away by this song. I loved that all the small instances of Corman working on the song throughout the show came together in the final moments in such a moving way.
Throughout the show, Corman navigates an anxiety disorder that other people are constantly telling him he doesn’t have because “it’s not that bad” and “what have you got to be anxious about?” plenty, apparently, as we learn of his fractured relationship with his sister (who has found religion, severely damaging Corman’s relationship with his niece) and his mum. At one point on the way to a family birthday, he argues with her, saying that she could have been a better parent and her response is that “it could have been worse”. I think this was a particularly powerful episode, as it shows that while he longs for a better adult relationship with his mother, her lack of emotional maturity and inability to acknowledge that maybe mother doesn’t know best, gets in the way of any true form of closeness. This episode was complete with a song and dance number about how Corman finds it hard to tell his mum that he loves her because of this. I thought that this number was perfectly suited to the frenetic energy of the show and also exemplifies the old adage of musicals – if your emotions are too strong for words alone you sing, when emotions are too strong for singing, you dance.
Corman’s disconnect from reality and dissociative tendencies are shown in different ways throughout the show. In the first episode he has a conversation with a friend about homeless people, and this is a conversation we are reminded of constantly, as Corman consistently sees a homeless man on the street while in his car. Whenever this happens, the scene devolves into an almost hallucinatory state, with the image doubled and tripled and lights and colors shifting around. The reality of the world Corman inhabits is consistently questioned through backgrounds often being made of cut-outs like a children’s book. This appeared to be particularly so in crowd scenes like when he and a friend go to a club on halloween, and I don’t know whether this was a choice made due to covid restrictions, but I found that it gave an excellent sense of the feeling not only of sheer solipsism, but also the more general feeling many of us can probably identify with – that of being in a crowded room and yet utterly alone. The last anxiety image I will talk about here that is most prevalent throughout the show is the image of a meteor. It is seen almost once every episode, sometimes burning through space and sometimes actually crashing to earth, although we are consistently reminded that this is all in Corman’s head. For almost the entirety of the show, I assumed (like I’m sure most of you did/will) that this was simply another metaphorical aspect of Corman’s anxiety – the fear of death and violent events outside your control. However, in the last episode when Corman has a conversation with his dad, we learn that maybe the meteor was a little more literal for Corman than we initially believed.
As someone with a white, middle-class suburban upbringing and a major anxiety disorder, I relate strongly to Corman’s experience of the world. I think we have a tendency as a society to write something like anxiety off because it doesn’t seem as serious as something like depression or literally any other mental health issue, especially when someone has what anyone would consider a “good” upbringing. But as Mr Corman shows, everything is relative and these disorders can be debilitating even in the best of circumstances and sudden horrific events like say, a friend dying or COVID-19 (or both), can exacerbate previously manageable symptoms.
There have been many previous works on your life not turning out like you’d imagined as a kid, and the ennui of suburban life, but as of now, I’d say that Mr Corman is, perhaps, the best and most engaging of them.