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I love it when the mother arrives to steal the show for a few scenes. I’ve been thinking about this since watching “Mr. Corman,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Apple TV+ series that pendulums between comedy and drama. The creator, star, writer, and director has come up with the story of an ordinary guy, Josh Corman, who gave up the dream of a musical career and is now teaching fifth graders. He is creatively unfulfilled, and depressed, and lonely, resulting in brutal anxiety attacks.

It was a treat to find Debra Winger in the mix, as Josh’s mother, Ruth. She’s frustrated with his choices, and she can be passive-aggressive and manipulative about them — which Winger conveys with winning humor. He’s angry with her expectations of him and her failings as a mother when he was a child. She’s defensive and pulls back. He’s sarcastic and moody. And yet they are very close, and their scenes are exceptional.


Debra Winger (pictured in "Hear My Song") plays Josh’s mother, Ruth, in "Mr. Corman."
Debra Winger (pictured in "Hear My Song") plays Josh’s mother, Ruth, in "Mr. Corman." Myles Aronowitz/Hallmark Hall of Fame

Winger’s appearance in “Mr. Corman” reminded me of Lisa Kudrow’s turn in Netflix’s “Feel Good,” also as the mother of the lead character, Mae. She’s just right in the low-concept atmosphere of the two-season show, which finds Mae (Mae Martin) struggling with romantic, addiction, gender identity, and PTSD issues and getting reluctant help from her parents. Kudrow is both maternal and brittle, with just the right balance between genuine concern and comedy.

Another great TV mother of the past few years: Susie Essman, who was perfection as Ilana’s mother, Bobbi, on “Broad City.” She was an inspired casting choice, and, in a funny twist, Bobbi is nothing like Essman’s most famous character, the screaming Susie Greene, on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” She and Ilana are two peas in a pod, close and similar.

Julia Sweeney as the mom on “Shrill,” Molly Shannon as the mom on “The Other Two,” and Andrea Martin as the mom on “Difficult People” — in small but critical roles, they, too, have walked away with their respective shows.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.