Joe Pera Talks With You
finds you when you need it the most—or, at least, that’s my theory.
In early March of 2020, I received a frantic text from my mom, pleading for me to please go home for a bit because it looked like the COVID situation would take a turn for the worse. After relentless badgering, I booked a flight which happened to coincide with the day New York City was declared to be in a state of emergency. While on the plane, my anxiety was at such a high level that the two Dramamines that usually knock me out on flights weren’t working.
Thankfully, Joe Pera Talks With You was listed amongst the in-flight entertainment options.
I took the plunge, not knowing what I was getting myself into as someone who admittedly isn’t much of an Adult Swim fan. I was expecting something utterly absurdist, akin to the other Adult Swim shows I watch, like The Eric Andre Show or Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! But what I instead found was a kind-looking man with a voice that felt like it belonged in an ASMR video, explaining why he was building a bean arch. In the episode’s brief runtime, my worries temporarily faded away.
It was like a Valium in TV form; it was soothing and wholesome, but in a way that didn’t feel cloying. It was exactly what I needed. Once home, it was a ritual for me that whenever I’d feel anxious after being done with my shift as a nighttime news editor, I’d eat a couple of edibles and sit on the couch wrapped in a blanket, watching Joe Pera Talks With You until dawn.
I was far from being the only one who found comfort in the show during such a dark time. The show gained many new fans during the pandemic; even doctors and nurses reached out to Pera, telling him that the show’s relaxation special helped them wind down after such disheartening days at work.
What makes Joe Pera Talks With You so special is that it can make you feel hopeful in the toughest times. So when Pera announced that Adult Swim decided to not renew the show, it felt like a gut-punch. With the news becoming more distressing each day and the need for a glimmer of hope, this would’ve been the perfect time for a fourth season.
The show has gained a loyal cult following because it takes you to an idealistic world that doesn’t feel too far-removed from reality, but still distant enough that it makes you want to linger in it longer than the 11-minute spanning episodes.
Joe Pera Talks With You has always meant to make people feel immensely relaxed. Before the show’s premiere in 2018, Adult Swim aired a special called Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep two years earlier, inspired by a friend jokingly suggesting to Pera that, because his stand-up sets are so subdued, he should make a cassette tape that’d lull people to sleep. But even though it has a soothing quality that makes falling asleep easy, the series is a captivating work of art.
On the show, the fictionalized version of Pera takes pleasure in the small things in life like breakfast, and listening to The Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley” for the first time. With unwavering empathy and positivity, Pera forms surprising friendships with those in his small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, like Mike (played by Conner O’Malley, who also writes on the show), a short-fused Joe Rogan fan who struggles with keeping his emotions in check but means well, and Gene, a happy-go-lucky retiree who’s twice Pera’s age.
Though the series is set in an idyllic small town, its writers (who also often appear on the show, including Jo Firestone, Dan Licata, and O’Malley) have a stunning way of making anyone watching see themselves in the day-to-day struggles that Pera and his loved ones encounter on each episode, as they confront issues like grief, uncertainty, and a desire for acceptance from others.
Firestone’s character Sarah, who is Joe’s partner, is particularly important because she represents those of us who seek out the show when we’re feeling overwhelmed by the perils of the world. She’s an overthinker and always anxious, preparing herself for the worst—including having her own underground bunker in case of emergency. But the ever-patient Pera is the perfect boyfriend, grounding her when her negative thoughts take over.
In the episode “Joe Pera Shows You How To Build a Fire” from the final season, Sarah disturbs Joe’s relaxing day at home, telling him they need to leave town because her gut is saying something bad is going to happen. Joe could’ve told her to chill out and ignored her irrational response, but instead, he complies with no questions asked.
In the car on the way to the woods for an impromptu camping trip, Sarah confides in Joe, telling him she was rattled when there was talk about arming teachers with weapons amid nationwide school shootings. “I just feel like something’s going to happen soon and I just want to be as far away as possible from people,” she says.
It’s a feeling most fans of the show know all too well, and it’s why Joe Pera Talks With You has become a haven. When you need an escape and fear what could happen in a country where basic human rights are constantly under threat and mass shootings are rampant, the show offers a safe space where you can distract yourself for a bit, even while seeing that anxiety play out onscreen through Sarah.
By ending Joe Pera Talks With You without a proper send-off, Adult Swim is taking away the opportunity to help people feel less alone and fearful in navigating life’s bleakness. But at least with its three seasons, the show will still be fans’ weighted blanket, offering warmth in the harshest times.
Tatiana Tenreyro is a pop culture journalist whose work has appeared on The A.V. Club, SPIN, The FADER, and Billboard. She’s a former member of the Weezer fan club and shamefully still owns the shirt—just don’t tell anyone. You can challenge her hot takes on Twitter @tatianatenreyro.