‘Mr. Corman’ Makes the Most of Magical Realism

The newest original show from Apple TV+ is “Mr. Corman,” a bleak but surreal drama that digs deep into the leading character’s psyche as he spirals into a quarter life crisis. Written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the show answers a question many in his privileged position have had: what would my life look like if I hadn’t been this successful? As the opening episode explores, however, perhaps it’s not success due to ability one should question, but a surplus of luck. 

Luck is a pivotal theme in “Mr. Corman,” something that Gordon-Levitt acknowledges as a factor in his own success. “I’m really lucky to be me,” Gordon-Levitt told the New York Times, “lots of people work really hard and haven’t reaped my rewards.” His fictional counterpart Josh Corman, a 30-something musician turned fifth grade teacher, isn’t so lucky. The audience is introduced to Josh at his breaking point as he slowly realizes he has been sleepwalking through a rather lackluster life. Unlike Gordon-Levitt, Josh Corman grew up in a one-parent household, was left by his fiancee to live in a tiny apartment with another millennial bachelor and never managed to break into the entertainment industry. Instead of being celebrated for his creativity, Josh gave up music completely, and finds himself underpaid and underwhelmed by his life choices. 

In another interview with Newsweek, Gordon-Levitt shared that the breakdown Josh experiences throughout “Mr. Corman” is actually not so far from his own emotional reality. When asked about the origins of the show, he said “it’s based on many true stories. The origin of where I came up with this character was starting with myself and then changing a few big things.” If the show is truly a deep-dive into ‘what if,’ “Mr. Corman” gives a grim answer. Despite the many differences between the two, Josh Corman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt appear to share a similar feeling of discontent. 

Apple TV+

Mental health is at the forefront of this series, with the show going to great lengths to explore how life’s circumstances can greatly affect conditions like depression and anxiety. Episode one focuses heavily on depression and its manifestations in all areas of Josh’s life including work, friendships and dating. After a failed hookup in an apartment much nicer than Josh’s, the woman he lets down hits the nail on the head, bluntly accusing Josh of what has been internally eating him alive the whole episode: he settled for teaching the fifth grade after giving up on his dreams.

This painful realization rolls into the second episode of “Mr. Corman.” When Josh returns to school after a deeply depressing weekend, he’s sweating, twitching and struggling to breathe. As the camera pulls back, a CGI asteroid becomes visible, heading right for Josh. This isn’t the first time the show breaks from reality, nor the most showy example, but it has the largest emotional impact so far.

The biggest strength of “Mr. Corman” is its embracement of magic realism. For a show that lacks direction at times and can weigh quite heavily on the viewer emotionally, animation, song and an asteroid hurtling towards earth give the audience a visceral look into Josh’s emotional state. The asteroid looming down on the protagonist mirrors his panic attack, getting closer and closer to earth as he spirals. Anyone who has experienced a panic attack can feel the tension this scene creates, perhaps doing a better job at expressing impending doom than Gordon-Levitt himself. If Joseph Gorden-Levitt also often feels the weight of an asteroid headed towards him, despite his luck in life, perhaps “Mr. Corman” is less of an exploration into a character and more so a catharsis of forbidden anxiety and dismay. 

Four episodes into the season, the show already has numerous fantastic examples of magic realism. From Josh being flung out of a window into an animated mirage to Josh and his mother (Debra Winger) performing a duet over a moving backdrop of Los Angeles, these breaks from the bleak narrative of the series make “Mr. Corman” worth watching.

New episodes of “Mr. Corman” drop every Friday on Apple TV. Episodes 1- 4 are available to stream now.

By Emily Frantz

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