TV Review – Joe Pera Talks With You

Joe Pera Talks With You Season 1 (Adult Swim)
Written by Joe Pera, Connor O’Malley, Jo Firestone, Amalia Levari, and Dan Licata
Directed by Marty Schousboe

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a fascinating cultural anomaly, part of a state yet physically separate. The Yoopers have been shaped by a brutally cold winter landscape. There’s a strong sense of independence because of their geographic isolation. They take pleasure in the sports and activities of winter because it lasts nearly eight months for them in some years. This isn’t a barren wasteland though, Yoopers have a rich culture of arts, food, and even a quirky sense of humor. Joe Pera was born in Ithaca, New York, but is based out of Michigan now.

Pera came to the Upper Peninsula when his show was looking for a place that would provide them with the wintry landscape they wanted to flavor the series. The character of Joe Pera is a high school choir teacher, mild-mannered but fascinated with learning the minutiae of life and his region. The first episode opens with Joe giving us a lecture on the iron industry in the U.P. but is quickly interrupted by the Melsky family who want a tour of the house after seeing the For Sale sign in the front yard. The sign was placed there by students playing a prank on Mr. Pera, but his courteous demeanor prohibits him from explaining the truth to the Melskys. Once they leave, he attempts to resume his talk on iron, but is troubled by the idea of selling the house to this family and being forced to move to Thunder Bay.

This format is the key to the whole series. Joe sets out to educate his audience about some seemingly unimportant aspect but gets wrapped up in a more critical side story. His ruminations on dance while attending the wedding of a co-worker become development for his relationship with Sarah, the school’s band teacher. When he gets up to deliver the church announcements on Sunday morning, Joe sidetracks into an ode to The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” and the wild freedom he experienced by discovering this song. Joe is one of the most endearing comedic characters to come across television screens in a long time. He’s not a weak person; instead, he is incredibly careful and thoughtful. At the same time, a character becomes so fed up with Joe’s focus on the minuscule that they point out how much of the bigger picture he’s missing. This leads to a double-length episode that has Joe contemplating climate change, war, politics, all in a nuanced way.

Pera is the latest in a line of comedians whose work borders on performance art. The question of what the real-life Pera’s persona is versus the character on the screen will inevitably come up. The real Pera is a shy, awkward man, but he is at ease with himself and not very far off from the character. Both Peras feel entirely at home when they are talking about familiar topics. He’s never one to praise himself but lauds heaps on his friends and fellow comedians. A quick google search finds that the comedian has spent a lot of his television screentime talking about breakfast, specifically pancakes.

So much of mainstream television and films are loud and over the top. There’s a wonderfully cozy and refreshing feeling that comes when you sit down to watch an episode of Joe Pera Talks With You. He’s welcoming you into his world and being a consummate host. The humor comes out of real human interaction and behavior, showcasing what great observers the series has in its cast and crew. They aren’t afraid to add brushstrokes of the absurd in a way that never lets the audience disconnect from the reality of the world. With a second season coming in the fourth quarter of 2019, I’m hoping we have much more Joe Pera in the future.

The entire first season of Joe Pera Talks With You is available to watch for free on Adult Swim.

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