In August of 2020 I woke up some Monday morning with a hangover. I wasn’t surprised, but I was definitely frustrated as I began to vacate my girlfriend and I’s bedroom/office so she could tune in to her first online class of the semester. Actually, she took the class in the living room, but I didn’t realize and hobbled over to my little office across the apartment with my laptop in tow. My head pounding, I scrolled through YouTube looking for something to lull me back to sleep. Like divinity, I spotted the video “Joe Pera Talks You Back To Sleep”. How convenient. So, laying on the floor with my laptop turned to the side I embarked on a profoundly comforting, witty, and endearing television journey.
You might be asking yourself, why season one? Why not the show in its entirety? Well, the answer is simple: I’ve seen season 1 the most, and there’s too much good about the show to summarize the currently three available seasons here.
Joe Pera Talks With You is an Adult Swim television program that initially aired on May 20th of 2018. The show follows the titular Joe Pera, a fictionalized version of the show’s creator also named Joe Pera, as he maneuvers through life as a sweet but awkward middle school choir teacher in Marquette County, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (or the U.P. for short). Life in Marquette is quiet, and Joe’s grandfatherly demeanor matches up perfectly with the homely town environments; be they mainstreet, over by the lower ore docks, outside the superior dome, or even the snow laden country roads of his iconic winter loop. Although the humor of the program is undoubtedly bafflingly hilarious and strangely sneaky, it is Mr. Pera’s performance that amplifies Joe Pera Talks With You to an outstanding level.
But, Joe Pera is not Marquette’s only resident. The supporting cast is full of hilarious actors, comedians, and friends of Pera who all feel right at home in the U.P.. Connor O’Malley and Jo Scott play Mike and Sue Melsky, Pera’s new neighbors who are often a little more raunchy or vulgar than Pera himself. Gene Kelly consistently steals the show any time he’s on screen as Gene Gibson, a life-long friend and father figure to Pera. Gene’s wife, Lulu, is portrayed by Alma Washington and she often acts as a friendly critic to Pera’s frequently accidental antics. Rounding out and standing out in the supporting cast is Jo Firestone (who you may know as the voice of Annie from Adult Swim’s recent and hilarious cartoon Teenage Euthanasia). Firestone plays Sarah Conner, the gloomy doomsday prepper/middle school band teacher and Pera’s love interest. Firestone and Pera play off of one another with an entrancingly awkward sense of ease that quickly becomes another facet of the comforting and homely feeling the show is dripping with.
Throughout Season 1 Pera speaks with the audience about seemingly mundane topics. There’s an episode about iron, about breakfast, about sleeping (or not sleeping, wouldn’t want to miss a good lightning), or the rat wars in Alberta Canada. Although the topics seem a little dull, Pera finds a way to make them interesting. That’s one of the show’s best qualities, giving life to everyday occurrences and making them feel special. I’d call it small town pastoralism.
But, in truth, Pera’s bland topics of discussion are just an excuse to visit Marquette as side plots unroll in the periphery and characters take turns sliding into prominent roles in Pera’s life, chief among them being Sarah Conner. Initially introduced as a suspicious new teacher, as the season progresses she grows closer to Pera until a crisis in their friendship, or could-be romantic relationship, takes the usual discussion formula of the program hostage. The slow tilt of focus from Pera’s musings to his trials in the world of relationships is handled masterfully and occurs almost without the viewer noticing the meaningful shift. It also allows the cast to act in more diverse emotional settings, especially Pera and Firestone.
Joe Pera Talks With You is nothing short of a delight and season 1 starts off the show with a perfect balance of humor, drama, and facts about iron. Marquette as a setting has a sense of reality and comfort that only becomes more alive with the fabulous supporting cast. As the world steadily careens towards apocalypse, it’s nice to have a work so honest, endearing, and comforting as the one Joe Pera and his crew have crafted.
Mackenzie Doebler is a graduate student and writer living out in the Appalachian Mountains. They spend most of their time stressing about Derrida and the MCU, but sometimes find the time to get out and write.