'Action Adventure' isn't light on fighting, but continues an unsteady balance of depicting a lead character who's kind of exhausting.
- 💥 Logic and Arturo Castro each are quite charming here.
- 💥 The video-game-style fight is memorable and punchy.
- 💥 Gordon-Levitt's dourness doesn't go uncommented upon.
- 💥 The twist at the end is so abrupt as to be poorly handled.
- 💥 The commentary on social media feels trite.
- 💥 Dourness continues to be unpleasant to sit through from our lead character.
This post contains spoilers for Mr. Corman.
Check out our last review here.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Corman is back to its old tricks in its fifth installment, “Action Adventure”. After last week took a hard left turn creatively to focus on Victor Morales (Arturo Castro), the roommate of the show’s title character, Josh Corman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Josh is once again the focus of this Halloween-themed story. As has been the case with many of the episodes so far, “Action Adventure” focuses itself on the exploits of Josh over the course of a single event, in this case a Halloween party that turns violent. Josh’s morose attitude isn’t absent in “Action Adventure”, but it’s less present than in past episodes, in part so the show can trade off to make a somewhat tired commentary about social media.
Halloween, Josh says in his classroom to both his students and the attractive art teacher Zara (Amanda Crew), is his favorite holiday, the only one he really cares about. As later becomes clear, that’s likely a line he fed the art teacher, in hopes of hooking up with her, but Josh sells it well enough to get her digits. Josh and Victor have an initial argument when Josh reveals that he’s been texting a mutual acquaintance of his ex’s, a social influencer named Dax (the rapper Logic, credited here as Bobby Hall), basically so he can find a good spot to connect with the art teacher. Victor is able to get to tag along for the party, dressed as Batman. (Josh, meanwhile, is dressed as the best friend/dog of the lead character of a Harry Chapin concept album called The Point, an explanation that is exactly as exhausting in the episode as it reads here.) Though they connect with the brash Dax, Josh’s romantic prospects come up short.
He spends most of the episode hovering over his cell phone, waiting for texts from Zara, who keeps hinting at the possibility of showing up at the party without ever actually doing so. In the meantime, Victor tries to get some suggestions from Dax about how to raise his social-media game; as Dax notes, he’s not yet at “half a K” in terms of Instagram followers, a milestone Victor ends up hitting within a few hours because Dax posts a photo of the two of them on his vastly more popular account. As the party winds down, and Josh gets grouchier (if such a thing is possible), he winds up raising Dax’s ire. The influencer straddles the line between just being a loudmouth drunk and being dead-on when he shouts at Josh for using him only to get a hookup. (Perhaps because Josh establishes that he’s not a big fan of Dax’s, the character isn’t presented as being that appealing from the start. But Hall makes him charmingly unlikable, if nothing else.)
Their argument ends up turning into something entirely different, when a douche dressed like the Joker provokes Dax into a brawl. This allows for Gordon-Levitt (who directed the episode) to show off his love of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as we descend into a fantasy (somewhat) wherein Victor, Josh, and Dax lay waste to the douche and his crew in a video-game-style fight scene. (That Gordon-Levitt avoids a more obvious gag considering that Victor is dressed as Batman, and JGL himself played Robin in The Dark Knight Rises, is admirable.) Once it’s all over, the trio seem to have reached a new level of friendship and understanding, sharing a late-night hot dog with each other. Until, that is, the final moments: mere hours after they head back to their apartment, both Victor and Josh are awoken in shock to find that Dax is dead. And, hey, Victor’s also reached 500 followers.
No doubt, this final twist is meant to be as jarring as it feels. Because it’s filtered through a few texts Josh receives and the two of them looking at Dax’s final Instagram post, we don’t know the details of how Dax died. (Victor and Josh are both aghast because while Dax had a few moments of frustration at the sight of a more popular influencer visiting the Halloween party, “he seemed fine!”) It’s weird enough to end the episode on the ironic note of Victor stating that he’s hit 500 followers on Instagram, as Gordon-Levitt (who directed the episode) and writers Roja Gashtili and Julia Lerman attempt to make a commentary on how people are no longer valuing a person’s life over social-media success. But that fantasy sequence feels out of place for one key reason: the way it’s staged implies that the fantasy is springing forth from Dax’s psyche, not Josh’s. (Remember, the dream sequence in last week’s episode is undeniably from Victor’s mind, but...it’s a dream.) Josh and Victor take part in the video-game-style fight, but the fantasy begins when the Joker guy lands a punch on Dax, sending him to the pavement and he seems to visualize himself in a gamer fantasia, even as he's apparently suffering a traumatic head injury.
When Josh and Victor laugh with Dax after the sequence is over -- a sequence that ends, to note, with Dax in the same prone position on the pavement of the parking lot outside the party -- it’s shocking to realize that they all apparently did get into a fight with some jerks. The first 20 or so minutes of “Action Adventure”, however good or bad they are, exist within this show’s facsimile of the real world. The handling of fantasy and reality in the final 7 or 8 minutes is so poor that it’s all the more frustrating for Gordon-Levitt to keep using fantasy at all.
It’s especially a shame because, while “Action Adventure” isn’t remotely as good as “Mr. Morales” was last week, this episode at least does a much better job of presenting the title character in a way that isn’t quite as demoralizing or exhausting as before. It helps that, as with last week, we’re getting a better glimpse of how other characters treat Josh. At one point, Dax goes on a drunken monologue to Victor about how he used to love the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Calfornication” because he imagined that he would one day become a musical protege to Anthony Kiedis, but he now realizes he’s operating more as a fan. Victor politely admits to not really getting Dax’s point, and that he ought to connect with Josh, only for them to look over at their bummer of a pal and laugh at the prospect of involving him at all.
“Action Adventure” is a mix of positive glimmers and frustrating moments. Yes, it’s a good thing that this show is now on a two-episode streak of acknowledging that its title character can kind of be the worst. (Kudos on Josh for thinking of a unique costume idea, but at the same time, listening to him explain the costume feels like the whole point of dressing up in this esoteric option is so he can command attention by explaining it at all.) But what exactly is the point of watching a show whose lead character is so bad that the show can’t deny it anymore? This episode takes two steps forward, one step back, which is better than nothing. But Mr. Corman has arrived at its halfway point with a lot of work to do if it wants to better itself.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.
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