There’s probably no better time than this review to talk about the music that Josh Corman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been creating throughout the first season of Mr corman.
What we know about the character early on is that his passions clearly reside in music, but when he dropped out to become a fifth grade teacher, Josh seemed to deliberately avoid playing music anymore. (Remember, in the first episode, all of your musical equipment is in a room that you seem afraid to enter.) But throughout the season, Josh has been creating music with some mysterious point and purpose. What does this all mean? Which is the reason? What is the big picture?
Well, “The Big Picture” is coincidentally the title of the season finale of Mr corman, referring to a famous image of a small part of the known universe that can be seen at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles. And yet, the big picture for Josh is still largely unknown.
As was the case in the last two episodes, “The Big Picture” takes place in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, around the summer of last year. Most of the episode focuses on one of the many digital changes of the pandemic: Zoom Dating. Because Josh’s mother (Debra Winger, barely seen here) works with the mother of a single young woman, she gets Josh on a Zoom date with young Emily (Jamie Chung). Although it doesn’t seem like a normal date, it can be a good thing. Even though Josh and Emily don’t share many of the same interests, they seem to get along.
That’s even though Josh is … well, Josh. (Again, I can’t stress enough how much it hurt me to be critical of a main character named Josh when my name is Josh, too.) Emily notices Josh’s guitar at the bottom of her Zoom screen, and the simple question “Are you a musician?” sends him on a neurotic tangent, in which he talks about how he thought and overthought whether or not he should put the guitar on display. Somehow, eventually, magically, Josh and Emily can have something like a more normal conversation, one that extends well beyond the hour or two of Zoom’s regular dates. In fact, they talk so much that they go from their desks to their kitchens to eat together, and then to their respective bedrooms where they chat until Emily falls asleep.
When morning comes, Josh is in a more bitter mood (mainly because he’s … well, Josh) even when Emily wants to meet him virtually for breakfast. When they do, Josh and Emily end up talking about the current state of the world, and Josh is puzzled that Emily isn’t as nihilistic or existentially terrified as he is. When Emily notices that white men like Josh are going crazy more than others and that it is because “you have a bit of confusion and it disorients you,” she ends the call angrily. Not that Emily is wrong on a larger scale, but Josh is convinced that his own problems are more than the standard privilege of white men. (On the one hand, I’m a white male too, but on the other, I’ve been sitting all season long and I’m here to say that this guy’s problems are more than just not getting away with it for once due to the pandemic. )
Emily also points out that Josh, who has mentioned his musical work a couple of times, doesn’t seem to finish things, perhaps because he thinks he will never get his way. Although Josh ends up doing the right thing and apologizing to Emily (at least through a long voicemail acknowledging that he may not listen if he avoids listening to her voicemail in general), he also takes care of finishing the hardest part of the message. songs that he’s been compiling, the drum section, which has to be done with real drums.
That leads to the final cut, where we cut between Josh on drums playing the great song he’s been creating all season, and then between moments of the season that have already happened. Everything from glimpses of Josh’s father (Hugo Weaving) to his mother to his friends and students seems to have inspired him on this auditory journey of the soul.
But what is the big picture? What is the meaning of the music that Josh has been making? Listening to it in its entirety, I can’t help but make the same comparison I did last week, although I’ll add a new one here just for good measure. The first is one of the many great fragments of Friends, in which Ross Geller reveals that he used to make music with his keyboard when he was younger. When his friends goad him to take out the keyboard and play some of their melodies, they are baffled and horrified to hear that it is musically confusing nonsense, with a cacophony of improvised sounds that make no sense to each other. Now, it would be unfair of me to say that Josh Corman’s music is just as bad as Ross Geller’s. Is not. It comes close to being real music and avoids any farm animal sounds. But despite all the buildup, it is somewhat weak.
Which leads to the other comparison, Opus of Mr. Holland, the 1995 film starring Richard Dreyfuss as a musician-turned-teacher who spends his teaching career writing a piece of classical music meant to sum up his life. When he was forcibly retired after decades of teaching, many of his now-grown students return to see him off by playing the same piece of music to an adoring crowd. And it’s, you know, good. It’s okay. But for a movie that is based on the notion that such a piece of music is something great and triumphant, it is a disappointment.
Such is the case of Mr corman. Josh Corman’s music is fine. It’s okay. It has a reasonably good atmosphere. But all the buildup and all the whispers and clues that Josh’s family and his past are the reason he had to give up his true passion, one in which he is quite talented, has led to a piece of music that he really doesn’t. Explain yes or no, I’m supposed to think he’s good at it.
During his Zoom date, Josh comes to life both when he talks about music and when he talks about the children he teaches. Does the show realize that Josh’s artistic past may be a notable aspect of his emotional makeup, but isn’t it the only factor?
After 10 episodes, you would think there would be a clear enough answer, but sadly. Looking back at the season as a whole, it’s fair to say that the latest episodes of Mr corman – ironically those produced during the pandemic and acknowledging the real world – they make for a less irritating and unpleasant ending. Yes, this show seems to have some awareness that Josh Corman is exhausting and selfish – Gordon-Levitt co-wrote and directed the ending, so he’s not unaware if one of the main characters points to Josh’s privilege. But it’s still frustrating having to wait half a season for a show to finally become tolerable. This spectacle became tolerable. It would have been nice if it had started that way instead of reaching the big picture.