You can stream Mr. Corman now. Don’t. [Apple TV+ review]

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Mr. Corman review on Apple TV+: Debra Winger deserves better than what Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers.
Debra Winger deserves better than what Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers.
Photo: Apple TV+

With new Apple TV+ series Mr. Corman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to our screens after a brief hiatus and well … I can’t say I was ready to have him back. A few more years in the deep freeze might have taught him no one’s interested in the foibles of a white man trying to navigate sexual politics in 2021.

Mr. Corman review

Josh Corman (played by Gordon-Levitt) is a failed musician who teaches fifth grade. When he isn’t hanging out with his roommate Victor (Arturo Castro) doing nothing, he’s going on terrible dates, having panic attacks, insulting the people on the other end of corporate phone lines, and not getting along with his family.

He resents not having been successful, he can’t maintain an erection, and he thinks the changing mores of the world are a pain because he can’t keep up with them. He’s a miserable jerk. And if you go 10 seconds without wanting to get him off your television screen, you’ll have beat my record.

Nothing happens in Mr. Corman. There’s no story, really, beyond Josh and his anxiety. Everything that happens that involves him in some way isn’t really integral to his existence — it’s more that he makes it work. We’re meant to be heartened to see this guy trying to be a better man in 2021. But honestly, the pursuit of some higher realm of agreeable masculinity isn’t only uninteresting, it’s not cinematic (or televisual).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the new, boring normal

Gordon-Levitt very likely sold this as a kind of spin on similarly clueless Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, a hugely pretentious bore about modern romance. And I won’t say that there isn’t some version of this idea that might work. But I doubt it, because increasingly it seems clear that marginally funny, inoffensively good-looking guys with control issues should not be left in charge of TV shows. What I do know is that this one is the worst version of the introspective-auteur TV show imaginable.

JGL has had an odd arc, himself, and I get why he’s bitter about it, even if I don’t sympathize. He went from very likable child actor to surprise cult hit in films like The Lookout and Brick, both oddball neo-noir from exacting directors. Then he was everywhere. Batman movies, rom-coms, high-concept comedies, Inception, jokey cameos in bigger films, his own nonsense website brand he said would revolutionize TV.

There was a time I wish to forget in American media where you couldn’t turn on the TV or walk down the street without seeing Gordon-Levitt’s face. So naturally, everyone got a little sick of him. However, he decided that his few-year hiatus was done and he’d return to screens. He should have checked with somebody first.

You profit from the lie, you prophet from the lie

Mr. Corman review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a "struggling" musician and teacher in this Apple TV+ flop.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a “struggling” musician and teacher in this Apple TV+ flop.

In the first episode of this … I don’t know, comedy? Maybe? Tough to say because Mr. Corman so clearly got away from producer/writer/director/star Gordon-Levitt in the very first episode. Josh goes to a bar and starts dancing with a girl. They start talking, he’s being brusque and short with her for no reason, but she takes a chance and brings him back to her apartment anyway.

They flirt, they make out, they get naked, and then he can’t get it up. He has a full-on freakout about it and asks her, “When you were young, did you know you were going to die alone?” At which point she slaps him.

Now … I mean, yes, sure it’s good that JGL can admit that this was a slap-worthy offense. But it’s also absolutely deranged that he thought anyone would still be on this miserable little mollusk’s side after this incident. It’s an ugly, ugly scene. And anyone capable of a gesture like this is some kind of craven sociopath. I don’t really care at that point what other insights into the human condition this man might bring to the table.

What an embarrassing mess

I found it frankly a little insulting that this many people collaborated on Mr. Corman and felt that not only was this the story they wanted to tell — about a rude little man with nothing to offer lashing out at women (it’s always women) with true venom because of his own shortcomings. But this is how they were going to tell it.

In the second episode, we see him screaming at female customer-service representatives. In the fifth episode, someone finally calls him out for being a bad guy. I won’t spoil what happens to that character, but let’s just say the message doesn’t sink in. A girl stands him up at one point, and that’s the dramatic meat of the whole episode.

How dare some woman stand him up?And anyway, his bros are his real friends. He has a musical number (the whole show is a thinly veiled excuse for JGL to show off his musical chops) about how his mother should tell him she loves him more. He tells his niece there’s no god at her sixth birthday party. This show is a supernova of self-involvement and toxic masculinity.

Stand my whole life on trial baby: Deny Deny deny deny

Former star The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote a book in 2019 called The Second Mountain, ostensibly about his midlife crisis and how the world needs to become more moral, but really so he could brag about how he had reignited his sex life with his 23-year-old researcher, for whom he left his wife.

It was a grotesque charade and his language is loaded with disgusting innuendo because, as a man who spent the 2000s demanding that we invade Iraq and then had to apologize for it, he’s not supposed to be writing about his sex life. That’s not what serious people do. If you turned The Second Mountain into a miniseries funded by A24, it would look like Mr. Corman.

I am genuinely speechless that one of the most well-known actors on Earth wrote this dreadful therapy exercise, cast real talented people like Debra Winger and Lucy Lawless, spent hundreds of thousands producing it, and then released it. There’s a Scott Pilgrimesque comic fight sequence that is so embarrassing it defies description. It must have taken so much time to shoot and edit, and it also takes all of the doubt out of the room.

This guy thinks he’s made a fun, tragicomic quirk-fest about the human condition, about how tough it is for white men like him. And well … who cares? If you, the rich and famous man, can’t bring anything to the table but a suffocating parade of self-pitying vignettes without a coherent style or argument, then I’m not sure you deserve the benefit of the doubt. I watched this show a while ago and I am still reeling. I simply cannot believe Joseph Gordon-Levitt is releasing this of his own free will to the public in 2021.

Mr. Corman takes Apple TV+ to new low

I’ve suffered through a lot watching Apple TV+ originals in the last year — the company’s batting average is quite poor — but this is some kind of staggering new low. Greatness Code was inexcusably thin, but it was only offensive from a sort of economic standpoint. Why did this company decide to buy a series of puff pieces from Deepak Chopra’s talentless son about how great athletes are at being athletes? Watching it was a waste of my time, but it didn’t hurt or anything.

This one? This hurts. Stem to stern, a ghastly piece of work, terribly shot and edited. Mr. Corman serves up a horrifying look into an empty soul, a men’s rights hootenanny with nary a joke in sight.

In the famously canceled Aaron Sorkin show TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Nate Cordry’s beleaguered comedian Tom Jeter explains to his mortified parents the difference between a sketch and a skit. It’s one of the worst moments in a show without any good ones.

“We don’t do skits, mom,” he says. “Skits are when the football players dress up as the cheerleaders and think it’s wit.”

That is the best way I can think to describe Mr. Corman. A jock who thinks he’s tapped into something resembling wit. He has not.

Mr. Corman on Apple TV+

Mr. Corman debuts on Apple TV+ on August 6. New episodes every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.