[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Season 3 of “Joe Pera Talks with You,” released in 2021, is set in 2018. It’s not that this is a show driven by nostalgia for a world three years gone by. It’s that fully appreciating everything that’s around you just takes a different pace.
The opening episodes of the show introduced Joe Pera (Joe Pera) as a tour guide of sorts through the points of interest in his northern Michigan surroundings. That season brings as much discovery for Joe as he tries to create for his audience through the cracks in the fourth wall. (“Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements” is still one of the purest TV delights of the past decade.)
Season 2 deepened the show’s surrounding roster, turning Joe’s relationship with fellow teacher Sarah (Jo Firestone) into something more than a passing crush. Those episodes also dug a little further into the idea that Joe’s singular enthusiasm isn’t designed to be a cure-all. Not everyone in his town shares all of his passions. Not everyone Joe meets keeps the even keel he has. And Joe’s palpable optimism will sometimes face some difficult challenges.
The latest, ongoing Season 3 of “Joe Pera Talks with You” keeps adding to those outer layers. It seems to be less about seeking out things to be fascinated with and more about figuring out the way to deal with the curiosities that inevitably come your way. Part of that comes through relationships that get more serious with each passing date. Some of it comes from the knowledge and reflection that comes with approaching or passing retirement age.
A lot of it comes from the feeling that the world is changing, regardless of what you can do to stop it. “Joe Pera Talks with You” isn’t here to deny those feelings or help you explain those away. If anything, through Joe, this is a show that uses a little of that anxiety to build some common ground. An episode on fire taps into a near-universal feeling of dual fear and awe that flames can bring out of you. Sarah’s night in with some new friends has all the built-up anxiety and second guessing that comes with trying to make a good first impression.
So “Joe Pera Talks with You” continues to have the best of both worlds. It can pause at any time and luxuriate in documentary-level specifics on the history of refrigeration or society’s changing attitude toward chairs. Woven through all that are vignette-length peeks into how one man content with his place in the world is slowly seeing his life changing. It unfolds at a meditative pace, but it still finds plenty of room for some added acknowledgments that there are parts of the world that are far from perfect.
Maybe the show’s most impressive achievement is its ability to switch from the profound to the profoundly goofy with a snap. One second, you’re seeing a lovely moment of one person trying to get through to a rebellious student. Then, in a flash, you’re in the teacher’s lounge where a guy is eating spaghetti straight from a cooler. Both can coexist in this cozy TV corner of the world, especially in a show that celebrates the idea of endless possibility.
Other Fans: After watching enough of the show, you can almost hear Allegra Frank’s great recent Slate interview, which features Pera’s thoughts on (among other things) bathrooms, Zoom writing sessions, and video games.
Pair It With: “Joe Pera Talks with You” has so much love for inanimate objects that some of them might as well be recurring characters in the show. Ian Chillag and Jennifer Mill’s Radiotopia series “Everything is Alive” takes that idea one step further by having Chillag “interview” everything from a grain of sand to a set of Russian nesting dolls to a stuffed animal alligator.