'Mr. Corman' makes the first right step of its season...by focusing entirely on a character who is not Mr. Corman.
- ⭐️ Arturo Castro is solidly effective in the lead part for this episode.
- ⭐️ The connection between Victor and his daughter is carefully built out and well written.
- ⭐️ Victor proves to be more compelling than his roommate.
- ⭐️ Well...Victor is more compelling than the title character, which is a problem.
- ⭐️ This episode is no doubt going to be rare, which is all the more frustrating.
- ⭐️ A show about Victor would be vastly superior than the one we have.
This post contains spoilers for Mr. Corman.
Check out our last review here.
There’s good and bad news afoot in the fourth episode of Mr. Corman, entitled “Mr. Morales”. If the episode title wasn’t enough of a clue, the fact that Arturo Garcia’s the sole actor listed in the opening credits should cinch it: this is yet another format-breaking episode of an Apple TV+ program. (It’s probably just sheer coincidence that I’ve reviewed episodes of both Central Park and Lisey’s Story that broke their own format this year, but three does make a trend.) And considering that Josh Corman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has become almost aggressively frustrating to sit with over the course of just three half-hour installments, it comes as little surprise that “Mr. Morales” is the best episode of the show so far.
That is, of course, the good news. The bad news is that “Mr. Morales” raises legitimate questions about the creative direction of Mr. Corman, questions that the show seems incapable of answering effectively. Where Josh’s roommate Victor (Castro) has been a little-seen supporting character up to this point, he takes center stage in “Mr. Morales”, which depicts a single weekend in the delivery driver’s life, as he goes about his work for UPS before spending time with his surly teenage daughter for a couple days and only barely breaking through her facade before it’s time to bring her back to her mother. Josh, conversely, barely shows up in “Mr. Morales”, with Gordon-Levitt appearing for all of two brief scenes that amount to likely no more than a minute of screen time. (Sadly, “Mr. Morales” is the shortest episode of the season to date, at just 23 minutes.)
“Mr. Morales” is a vastly superior episode of Mr. Corman for a host of reasons: the fantastical touches largely are sidestepped aside from a brief and silly dream sequence that’s less annoying primarily because the episode heavily clarifies that we’re watching a dream bubbling from Victor’s frustrated subconscious. Castro, who was already a fun part of the show in his brief time onscreen, very quickly commands attention and pulls off the divorced-dad character trope without it feeling lazy or overdone. And more to the point: Victor is a vastly more interesting character than Josh is. (One of the two scenes in which Josh shows up features him sweatily looking out the window of their apartment, with Nathan Johnson’s discordant score emphasizing that this is one of Josh’s many emotional spirals, a moment that’s filled with dread both for his wellbeing and because it means we might have to watch him spiral further. Fortunately, Josh removes himself from the situation quickly.)
Victor, like Josh, is trying hard to define himself after personal loss and separation. His daughter Gabi (Miley Delgado) only somewhat opens up to Victor over the course of the weekend, mostly to make clear how much she thinks he fails to understand her life. Victor tries his best to relate when Gabi reveals that she’s had a “period accident” on his couch, but she’s far more at ease with Josh’s latest paramour. (One of the episode’s funniest moments is when all of them bond just a bit, laughing together at the fact that she’s likely done with Josh. We all know why!) Victor learns enough about his daughter’s current frame of mind during the weekend. First, he sees her impassioned defense of a social-media influencer who’s come under fire for having sold “poison makeup” to her followers, a defense that grows fiercer when he lightly pushes back. And more importantly, after first being told by his ex (Michelle Ortiz) that Gabi was snubbed by some friends at a recent sleepover, Victor learns that his daughter stole a pair of Air Jordans from one of those friends in hopes of taking a cool picture to attract a boy in her class.
When Victor expresses his dismay at this, Gabi tries to snark about Victor’s job as a UPS driver. The pre-title sequence, in which we see how the various people who receive packages from Victor treat his presence, certainly implies that it could be a thankless and exhausting job. But Victor has taken the mature approach, saying that he’s proud of the work he does, and that he’s good at it. And more importantly, he does what he does (and lives in a not-terribly-fancy apartment with Josh) to provide for her. The episode’s conclusion, in which Victor and his ex have a brief conversation, laughing at their daughter’s behavior, before parting ways, doesn’t offer much in terms of closure, nor should it.
Except in just one way: wondering why “Mr. Morales” isn’t really Mr. Morales. On one hand, it’s a relief to watch an episode of Mr. Corman that proves there’s an interesting television show somewhere embedded in this thing’s DNA. On the other hand, a format-breaking episode like this only works because it breaks the format. It’s entirely possible that future episodes are going to be improvements without totally upending what the previous episodes were. (A few other critics who wrote about the show as a whole have implied as much. I’m watching and writing about these episode to episode, so I’m still in the dark about what to expect.) But “Mr. Morales” is the kind of episode that could have effectively served as a pilot episode to a far more intriguing program. The glimpses we get of Victor here, from his fastidious advance cooking of lasagna that he eventually discards in anger at his daughter’s unwillingness to eat meat to his piety at Catholic mass, are, I fear, not going to be followed up on throughout the next six episodes. (I cannot tell you how much I want to be wrong about that, and I will happily acknowledge as such if I am.)
It’s hard to know what led to the creation of “Mr. Morales”, especially so early in the season of Mr. Corman. Much has been made in interviews about how the production was paused and shifted from Los Angeles to New Zealand because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though such shifts are either effectively hidden so far or not yet appearing. Maybe somewhere along the line, Joseph Gordon-Levitt realized his audience needed a break from him (unlike previous episodes, he didn’t direct or write this one either). Whatever led to “Mr. Morales”, it’s a good and bad thing that this installment exists. It’s the best episode of the season, hands down. But I fear it’s the only standout episode for a while. I really hope I’m wrong.
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