REVIEW: Mozart in the Jungle – Season One (2014)

Mozart in the Jungle - Review

The following is a review of the first season of Amazon Studio’s Mozart in the Jungle, available on Amazon Video, and on Viaplay in Denmark.

Based on the memoir of Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle is a ‘dramedy’ featuring beautiful classical music. Set in New York City, the show follows Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), a young and talented oboist, who is suddenly given an opportunity to shine on one of the grandest stages of them all. Meanwhile, it is a time of massive change as a legendary conductor (Malcolm McDowell) makes way for a new, far more eccentric, edition (Gael García Bernal) at the Avery Fisher Hall.

You might think that the barrier of entry is quite high for a new show about classical music. However, this is a very easy show to get into. While it does respect the orchestral music, no effort is made to distance the show from the average viewer. It isn’t ‘high-brow’ at all. But it isn’t for everybody either. While it may land a few jokes every episodes, it is not a laugh out loud type of show, nor is its humor as bare as what you might find on HBO’s Girls. While it does feel like a relationship ‘dramedy’, it is, based on the first season at the very least, mostly about finding your true potential and purpose. Simple but pleasing. Classical but fresh.

While Lola Kirke’s character is at the very center of it all, she might be the least interesting of the entire ensemble cast. You get to meet all these very particular members of the orchestra, and through it all Hailey acts as the insecure observer. But no person in the show is as mesmerizing as Gael García Bernal’s Rodrigo De Souza.

“All I can hear is an egomaniac with a fucking parrot!”

One of the biggest reasons why I kept on binge-watching season one was Gael García Bernal’s peformance and character. When you first lay your eyes on Rodrigo De Souza in the pilot episode you may, like me, think you’re in for a very particular kind of genius. Before I really knew what the show was, I thought I was in for a very Tony Stark-like conductor at the center of it all.

But while Bernal’s Rodrigo does emote a very familiar charm, he is more flamboyant than cocky, and – best of all – the character isn’t perfect. Bernal does a great job of really hitting the right notes with his character. Even if you are slightly put off by his somewhat eccentric introduction, you quickly warm up to, and understand the depths of, his charm and his oddities. He is unlike anything this particular symphony orchestra has ever encountered before.

I feel that the show is at its very best when it allows itself to rest with its material centered on music as art and music as liberation. My favorite episode in the first season is probably The Rehearsal, wherein all the buildup of the first half of the season paid off. Rodrigo’s oddities shown in Silent Symphony, and other similar episodes, truly pay off when he liberates his orchestra from the pressure of Avery Fisher Hall, and reignites the musical spark within them. There’s a certain magic in the show when it frees itself and rests in the unchained music of the big open city.

But the first season isn’t without its missteps. Mozart with the Bacon is probably the most disappointing episode so far in the show. The episode mismanaged three separate stories at vital points in the episode, and wasted two excellent guest stars. But the worst thing about this episode is how it tried to recreate the show itself in Hailey’s apartment. It suddenly felt like an odd mixture of HBO’s Girls and a lesser comedy. It was a surprisingly cheap episode, which did make me uneasy about where the show was headed.

Thankfully, Mozart with the Bacon didn’t completely derail Mozart in the Jungle‘s debut season. The season ends on a nice note, even if I found the conclusion to the season to be a bit too melodramatic. While there certainly is room for improvement, Mozart in the Jungle‘s first season is an excellent musical ‘dramedy’ with a marvelous ensemble cast.

A-

I’m Jeffrey Rex

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