Small dose of hope on the television

“Joe Pera Talks With You” (Cartoon Network)

The John Prine song, “Spanish Pipedream,” contains a legendary piece of advice, delivered by a topless dancer to a wayward soldier crossing the Canadian border.

Prine begins, in the voice of the sage stripper, “Blow up your TV.” The song goes on from there, but the gist is that by ditching the modern distractions and negativity of our times you can get back to a simple, good life. 

It’s no coincidence that blowing up your television comes first on the road to happiness. People often say they don’t watch TV anymore. But the fact is we’ve all just graduated to smaller and more numerous varieties of TV screens. Each one produces customized poison instead of the general interest trash that ruled until the dawn of the 21st Century.

Last year I wrote about how all of the shows I was watching were about murder, drug deals, and amoral lawlessness. And they’re good shows, no doubt, but in our current climate it can get to be too much. So today I want to talk about a couple shows that have boosted my spirits, rather than flooding them with adrenaline-soaked anxiety.

The first is one that’s gotten a lot of attention, “Ted Lasso.” This Apple TV ensemble is about an American college football coach hired to manage a British professional soccer team. There’s a lot of comedy inherent in that premise, but that’s only the beginning of what makes the show enjoyable.

We see characters we might recognize: the aging athlete past his prime, the hotshot young star wrestling with ego and expectations, a bitter divorcee, a shallow model. But the show goes beyond these labels, showing each person to be more complex, interesting, and lovable than labels would otherwise make them. 

The CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” recently profiled the appeal of “Ted Lasso,” interviewing the show’s star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis and others. The story focused on a particular quote from Coach Lasso, a piece of advice that goes “Be curious, not judgmental.” 

Our world seems to run on scorn. Collective access to social media and rapid communication doesn’t just empower people to condemn without investigation. It almost seems to demand it. Don’t YOU have an opinion about the latest controversy? Why aren’t you sharing it? Why aren’t you angry? In short, be angry. 

Life runs a lot easier when you’re not mad at everything. 

That’s where I’d also recommend another show. If you like “Ted Lasso,” you might like another program called “Joe Pera Talks With You.” Like Lasso, Joe Pera has been around for three seasons. It mostly flew under people’s radar. That’s because it’s an oddball show.

For one thing, it’s a live action program that runs on the late night “Adult Swim” programming on Cartoon Network. And despite this, it’s not especially profane or shocking in the least. The show’s mild-mannered simplicity is the engine of its concept.

Joe Pera is a middle school choir teacher in Marquette, an old iron mining town along Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In fact, the first episode of Season 1 begins with an introduction to the development of iron ore that most of us would find familiar. 

The neighbors are rowdy. Joe’s co-workers are jaded. His girlfriend, the band teacher, is an end times prepper. Joe’s best friend is a retired old man. In fact, Joe Pera’s world closely resembles the culture of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.

In Joe Pera we meet one of the sweetest, most earnest protagonists on television. Pera isn’t like other people. He seems like an old man, but he’s only about 30. At times he seems hopeless slow-witted, but that’s only because he’s thinking deeply about everything. Pera surrounds himself with a few rough characters, perhaps. The subject matter isn’t aimed at children. Nevertheless, “Joe Pera” comes from a very relatable world, one dictated by the same moral standards and failings of our own communities in northern Minnesota.

What “Ted Lasso” and “Joe Pera Talks With You” most share is a complete lack of judgement of their characters. A person might have flaws. They might be frustrating or resist the progress of a given episode, but there is always an opportunity to get to know and understand those characters. Any person you see can be redeemed by the end of the episode. If not, at least by the end of the season. 

Lasso and Pera resemble the best kind of friends. The ones who accept you as you are and then introduce you to other cool people you might never have met otherwise. As many of us pursue “likes” and “shares,” it would seem that what we really need is friends.

When we stare at a screen, we’re also staring at ourselves. What we see becomes a small part of us, feeds us, shapes us. That’s the beauty of art, culture, and even some television shows. 

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, April 10, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Sounds worth watching, will have to check it out, thanks

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.