I Watched Mozart in the Jungle Because the Golden Globes Reminded Me I Had To Finish It Someday

Highligh (Lola Kirke) and Rodrigo de Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal) take a bus around Mexico because they are totally not meant to be.

Highligh (Lola Kirke) and Rodrigo de Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal) take a bus around Mexico by themselves because they are totally not meant to be.

I was at a Golden Globes viewing party when Mozart in the Jungle won in two major television categories–Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy. Its win was perplexing to many, mainly because no one has even heard of the show, created by Roman Coppola (a Coppola), Jason Schwartzman (another Coppola), and Alex Timbers (a non-Coppola).

But I’ve heard of it. In fact, I actually watched the pilot episode two years ago when Amazon first posted it as a Prime offering, and didn’t even have the option to watch the second episode because Amazon still hadn’t picked it up for a full season at the time. I’m hesitant to say I liked it before it was cool, but I definitely watched it before it was cool.

After Mozart in the Jungle’s unexpected wins at the Globes, Medha was responsible for watching and reviewing the first season, and I was responsible for watching and reviewing the second season. Medha blew through the two seasons because she was able to watch the show on her train rides home and even wrote about it months ago, while I binged the first season and indefinitely stopped watching season two, until today. So, I’m sorry, I’m a terrible blogger who can’t make commitments.

The first season was charming enough, thanks to Gael Garcia Bernal’s irresistible performance as the wunderkind maestro of the New York Philharmonic, Rodrigo de Souza. Bernal’s performance in season one is wonderful in the sense that he adds so much depth to a character that could have been a textbook brat on paper. Bernal plays the character with such vitality and wit that he makes some of the amateur classical music references sound like jokes a world-class conductor could conceivably crack. In addition, season one allowed its audience to marvel in the fact that Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell are regulars on a streaming television series because, well, it’s 2015.

Yet, season two loses some of the whimsical charm from season one. Our oboist-protagonist, Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), is no longer the lost, semi-relatable gal (as relatable as a twentysomething female protagonist in a NYC-set comedy series could potentially be to a normal human being who binge-watches television shows) struggling to make it in the big city as the conductor’s personal assistant, but is now a member of the New York Philharmonic. She sleeps with a famous cellist, charms a wealthy banker, and makes out with her conductor. Gone is the girl who was so easily charmed by a con man and was dating a freelance dancer–Hailey Rutledge is now a cool city girl who can have pretty much anyone and anything she wants.

Protagonists become boring when things fall into place for them. As for the other characters, however, things are not falling into place quite yet. The rest of the orchestra is making demands for their livelihood–to be better compensated, to have better health insurance, and so on. While the show presents a real problem–musicians not being paid enough to be the cornerstone of a very monied institution–the show sort of glosses over the serious issues with libido-driven digressions. Case in point: cellist Cynthia Taylor (Saffron Burrows) falls for the orchestra’s hired lawyer (Gretchen Mol), creating an awkward love triangle between the two women and flutist Bob (Mark Blum).

Yet, Bernal remains the heart of the show. Without him, the show is nothing. While the Roman Coppola’s beautifully directed episode, “How to Make God Laugh” set in Mexico City contains the breezy, playful charm of season one, or more specifically, the “You Go to My Head” episode (also directed by Coppola), it’s Bernal’s performance that shines above all else. “You Go to My Head” is one of the first episodes in the series where the show probes a bit deeper into Rodrigo’s fragile, childlike soul–directly showing the extent as to Rodrigo relates to a child prodigy–and “How to Make God Laugh” acts as sort of a coda to the sentiments expressed in “You Go to My Head,” removing Rodrigo from NYC and pushing him to reflect away from the limelight. There’s a vulnerability to Bernal’s performance that I’m willing to bet isn’t in the script; he elevates the character and the show so much so that it feels that his performance should actually exist in a different show. Surprisingly, though, Bernal’s performance also feels like it could very well belong in Mozart in the Jungle’s cartoonish stupor, which is perhaps his greatest achievement of all.

There remains, in season two, some great supporting performances by Bernadette Peters as the orchestra’s manager, Gloria Windsor, who, we find out in season two, CAN ALSO SING (surprise!!) and Malcolm McDowell as the begrudged former conductor, Thomas Pembridge. They’re fun, but they don’t really add any gravitas to the show.

Which brings me to the show’s main problem–it’s not a very ambitious show. While Bernal does a lot of the heavy lifting with his performance, the show itself is extremely thin. Never does the show feel particularly thoughtful or insightful about human relationships, dedication to one’s work, or musical culture. In fact, it feels cliched and silly, and more so in season two where we’re supposed to believe in tea leaves and curses. I suppose one can argue that the show is not invested in conveying important things and it’s meant to be a delightful romp. Sadly, it feels like the show has so much potential to be more than a silly, misguided attempt to make classical music sexy to twenty-first century denizens. Look no further than some recent films about musicians, such as the underrated The Last Quartet, or the excellent Whiplash for examples of films that Mozart in the Jungle could take note of.

I’m not sure where the Coppolas and Alex Timbers are going with this show. Season two ends with a cliffhanger, but we’re sort of assured that everything is probably going to be all right because things rarely turn out badly on this show. That said, dialogue, such as, “I fucking love Bach,” cameos by Beethoven and Mozart, and ice skating jokes about Stravinsky (because Stravinsky is Russian and Russia is cold, get itttt??) can only sustain a show for so long. While there are things still to be explored on this show, I’m not sure how much longer I can stand this low-stakes parade of consumeristic classical music.

I Watched Mozart in the Jungle Because Amazon Told Me To

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When Gael García Bernal won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Series-Comedy, I was pleased. After his unforgettable turn in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y Tu Mamá También” in 2001 and his role in Jon Stewart’s debut film, “Rosewater” in 2014, it’s nice to see Gael on American television or at least American Internet-streaming television. His genuine shock at winning  only added to his charm, as he beat out perceived HFPA favorite, Jeffrey Tambor. Like Marcy, maybe the HFPA just wasn’t feeling Transparent Season 2.

But when Mozart in the Jungle won for Best TV Series- Comedy, I groaned. Already predicting Amazon’s gloating email the next morning about its original show winning 2 Golden Globes , I decided to be proactive and start the series right after the ceremony. Well here I am, less than 24 hours later, just having finished Season 1.

Before you think I don’t have a job and I just binge-watched all day, let me clarify: I watched on the train, which conveniently struck a car today (no fatalities or injuries, thank goodness), as if to support my binging habit. Shoutout to the Amazon Instant Video app. Also shoutout to T-Mobile’s Binge On for facilitating this incredible feat.

Spoilers ahead…obviously

Mozart in the Jungle is the Coppola-Schwartzman (who is a Coppola) produced Amazon original inspired by a book of the same name. It’s the show that nobody bothered to watch, instead clicking on “The Man in the High Castle” when logging into their Amazon Prime accounts. No one but Marcy, who watched the first episode like over a year ago. Seriously. I can confirm this and can probably even dig up the first FB chat message exchanged over this show.

Anyway, the show centers around the new conductor Rodrigo( Mozart!) -played by Gael- of the New York (the Jungle!) Symphony Orchestra. The exiting conductor Thomas Pembridge, played by a fantastically grumpy Malcolm McDowell, is pissed that this young, cool-haired foreigner is taking over his baby and flees to an initially undisclosed location. Turns out it’s Cuba, which we figure out when his on-off again mistress Cynthia the bassist (played by an unbelievably cool Saffron Burrows…awesome name btw) casually flies there to check on him.

Anyway, back to Mozart in the Jungle. Cynthia befriends a twenty-six year old oboist, Hailey Rutledge. Side note: Ok, when I first saw Hailey, I thought “Is that Jemima Kirke?!” I was too lazy to do my Googles so I watched a couple more episodes before giving in and Googling. I found out that Hailey is played by Lola Kirke, Jemima’s sister! Cool story, huh? Ok, no, not the point.

Hailey really wants to play in the orchestra and eventually becomes Rodrigo’s assistant, making him mates and cutting his luscious locks but leaving a disgusting few rattails. C’mon Hailey, you should know better than to leave these  hanging smh . She also replaces Sharon, the Asian assistant who Rodrigo once made out with. (Actually, wait what happened to Sharon?! Coppolas: I demand an explanation)

Honestly, the best part of this show is the way that Gael says Hailey’s name. It’s very phonetically accurate, if that makes sense. Like it starts off sounding like the first part of “highlighter” (before the “ter” part).

Anyway Highligh -uh- sorry, Hailey lives with an artsy girl Lizzie who is a recovering prep-school rich kid and is now a tattoo artist or something (We discover this at a rich person party which I originally mistook for a Playboy party but was actually just hosted by some old woman named Bunny). Hailey is also dating a Juilliard dancer turned butt-model named Alex who is eerily similar to that one bisexual guy on Broad City but not as much of an idiot.

She ditches her roomie and Alex whenever Rodrigo needs her, which is quite often, especially when he has the urge to see his crazy ex (or maybe current) wife Anna Maria, played by Nora Arnezeder. I’m still not really sure what kind of accent Anna Maria is supposed to have because it fluctuates from French to Spanish to American. Anyway she is insane and breaks violins and screams wherever she plays, whether in Greenland or in a graveyard.

As far as the story is concerned,the season progresses slowly (the final episode is Rodrigo’s conductorial debut…sort of). I found myself flying through the season only because each episode is about 25 minutes and the “Next Episode” button is so conveniently located on the Amazon app. There are some noteworthy cameos: Jason Schwartzman has a role as Bradford Sharpe (B Sharp…GET IT?!), a nerdy podcaster who’s got a thing for Hailey’s roommate and Wallace Shawn guest-stars as a pianist with mommy issues and a thing for hypnotism.

Obviously, there are a lot of classical music references that fly over my head. I may not be well-versed in this scene, but I can’t be the only one who thought it was bizarre when Rodrigo imagined Mozart talking to him in the library. It’s probably better if we don’t have random Mozart flashbacks. Just a thought.

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Mozart, pictured here in the library and not the Jungle

Overall, I did enjoy Gael’s performance and I can see how the HFPA could say that he deserved the Globe over say, Aziz, who really just played an exaggerated version of himself (or his standup character) in “Master of None.” Still, a little shocked that Mozart won the comedy show category but I’m willing to give it a shot for Season 2. After all, when Amazon makes it so easy to watch, why not? Oh also, I need to know if Highligh and Rodrigo get together in the next season or if she stays with butt model Alex.

See you tomorrow, Season 2.