The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear

Joe Pera Talks With You

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Joe Pera is hypnotized by th

Joe Pera in deep reverie on the wonders of      the cake carousel

We interrupt this film blog to talk to you about an astounding television show.

The New York Times has a regular column (also available as an email) called Watching, in which they make suggestions for shows and movies that are a little out of the mainstream but are of interest. They recommended Joe Pera Talks With You.   At first I was doubtful, since it was on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. That channel usually features snarky, cynical and gross animated shows that have little appeal for me. I was not prepared for this show.

Each episode is about fifteen very quiet minutes long, narrated by Joe Pera, a high school choir director at a high school on the upper peninsula of Michigan. In each of these episodes, he talks with you about mundane topics, such as iron or dancing.  Note that the show is called Joe Pera Talks With You and not Joe Pera Talks to You.  The subtle difference in prepositions underscores the whole atmosphere of this show. For fifteen minutes or so, Joe riffs on the topic of the day, as if he is sharing things that have just popped into his mind.  He is quiet, slightly hunched over more from a sense of self-effacement than from any physical reason.  He speaks with a soft U.P. accent.

His friends, neighbors and relatives are a diverse group of mostly sweet people, just like Joe.  I keep waiting for the show to turn on Joe and have people mock him for all his quirks, but as the show goes on he is as much a part of the community as anyone. Not a whiff of condescension anywhere.  It is as if we are watching Green Acres and there is no Oliver Douglas to upset the delicate balance of kindness and whimsy.

Each episode starts with Joe presenting his mundane topic of the week, but by they end the theme is developed into an extraordinarily moving climax.  Perhaps it is overdoing it to compare this show to the films of Yasujiro Ozu, but the same emotional climaxes in this show come out of a long gestation (even though only 15 minutes long), just like they do in Ozu’s films.  The result is the same kind of emotional catharsis, but writ small.

The episode on dancing begins with Joe explaining what it takes to be a good dancer, which he admits he is not. It then blossoms into his admiration for a local live-wire who Joe admires for his fearless sociability, even though most of us would find the fellow somewhat grating.  All this takes place at wedding of one of his teacher colleagues.  There is an awkward moment when the wedding couple make the rounds of the tables at the reception and when they get to Joe’s table, where he happens to be sitting with the bride’s recently bereaved great-uncle.  It becomes clear that Joe and the wedding couple don’t really know each other and so when Joe launches into a wedding tribute you cringe, fearing that it will be filled with the type of platitudes one says at wedding. But no.  Joe says that he knows they will be a great couple because of how they were dancing together. He was able to sense something we couldn’t see.  And then you really Joe is a holy fool of sorts. The final part of the episode features Joe improvising dance steps with an equally awkward colleague, who, no surprise here, becomes his girlfriend in subsequent episodes.

You will also learn how to pack a lunch, how to order the perfect breakfast at his favorite diner and he takes you on a trip to a grocery store.

It is a remarkable show.  Take it for what it gives you, and not what you expect it to be.


One thought on “Joe Pera Talks With You

  1. Mitchell, I’d love to try this but don’t have cable so don’t have that station. Thanks for the tip! Fern

    On Fri, Jul 3, 2020 at 5:35 PM The Discreet Bourgeois wrote:

    > Mitchell posted: “We interrupt this film blog to talk to you about an > astounding television show. The New York Times has a regular column (also > available as an email) called Watching, in which they make suggestions for > shows and movies that are a little out of the mains” >

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