Mozart in the Jungle

January 19, 2016


Why is it so difficult for television makers to create an involving series about the arts or entertainment industry? Following on from the hate watch that was SMASH, the soap infused drag show that is Empire, plus that skaggy ballet bore Flesh & Bone, comes Mozart in the Jungle, a programme that shocked everyone when it was renewed for a second season by Amazon, and then stunned critics when it was nominated for -then won, two awards at The Golden Globes last week. 

Based on the 2005 Roman-A-Clef of the same name, it charts the bumpy rise of a young Oboist, Hailey, played by Lola Kirke (sister of Girls Jemima) as she battles through the flanks of the made up New York Symphony. 

From a brilliant if erratic Maestro (Gael Garcia Bernal) to a witchy if insightful mentor (Deborah Monk), there’s sex, drugs and humour droll, as Hailey encounters insurmountable obstacles, small breaks and fleeting yet fond romantic notions… and the classical world battles with corporate interference, blue collar strikes and power plays that get in the way of artistic purity.

From country piles to hipster hangouts, empty concert halls and pulsing residential blocks, New York is beautifully rendered on the small screen as a world of class extremes, much like the hand-to-mouth musicians who perform for the entitled patrons. It’s a world of formal evening wear and double jobbing, of strict traditions and forward thinking, of loyal service and essential usurping. As the Kinks sang ‘its a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world’, and that neatly surmises Mozart in the Jungle.

I cannot, hand on heart, recommend it, nor can I bring myself to dismiss it, either. It’s a ridiculous, raunchy, goofy, guiling mess, whose hyperactive approach to storytelling fails to ever excite or amuse, but is also easy to consume and occasionally admire. 

The sloppy fantastical elements involving the maestro-who engages with powder-wigged visions of dead composers and is prone to capricious fits, pulls the show out of the naturalism where it thrives. And even though Bernal and Kirke have great chemistry, the suggested romantic spark between them never takes. She is much better served in her engagements with her fellow orchestra members or struggling contemporaries, such as Cynthia (Saffron Burrows), a Cellist who’s been around the block a few times and is more than willing to share her louche wisdom, and Betty (Debora Monk), the first oboist suspicious of Hailey’s relationship with the maestro.

There’s also an array of creepy if good natured older musicians who show the long term effects spinning at the artistic middle. While a string of real life artists float in and out, making a minor, pleasant impact.

You really wish the show had an over riding concern. Such as what attracts fresh blood to an area of the arts that has been loosing money for 500 years. What struggles do they face and what passions make them worthwhile. 

The freebasing of music for a spiritual high would also be pleasant to experience. This is all in Mozart in the Jungle, but in a higgledy-piggledy way that marks a show that not only doesn’t seem to know what it wants, but doesn’t seem to care either.

It coasts, like a jobbing musician, with little investment in the world it creates, but with flashes of brilliance which make you consider, but not confirm, a future with it.

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