Henry Oliver watches the award-winning series Mozart in the Jungle, one of the lighter offerings from an era of often-traumatic Peak TV.
Things are getting dark in this Golden Age of Television. ‘Drama’ is now a synonym for existential dread, bloody violence and sexual assault. ‘Comedy’ is now a synonym for existential dread, relationship problems and identity crises. Don’t get me wrong – I love some of that stuff as much as everyone else on Twitter, but sometimes you still just want something nice, something relaxing. Something funny, but not too funny, dramatic but not too dramatic. Something good but not too good.
Mozart in the Jungle, which is supposed to be a smart dramedy about the inner-workings of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but is now primarily a smart dramedy about the inner-workings of the relationship between the orchestra’s ‘maestro’, Rodrigo De Souza (played by Gael García Bernal) and sometimes substitute oboist Hailey Rutledge (played by Lola Kirke), is a perfect embodiment of the pleasures of the lighter side of Peak TV – the kind of show that would never have been made in any other time, but that avoids all the seriousness of the television of our times.
Despite ostensibly being about classical music (i.e. they talk about music a little bit and occasionally there are short didactic dialogues about composers), there’s nothing fancy or complicated about it. There’s little formal ambition, no ‘keys’ to ‘unlock’ the mystery of anything, and the only pontification comes from characters who are meant to appear to be pontificating in the world of the show. So while some of the characters are pretentious, the show rarely is.
Sure, the stakes are lower than a tuba (sorry!) – Will the soprano sing? Will Hailey ever get a permanent spot? Will the musician’s union make a deal with the orchestra’s board? Will the cellist get surgery on her wrist? But, the pleasures of this show are not the story, the pleasures are the vibe. A man-child riding a water bike down a canal in Venice, a big-ticket fundraiser that goes awry, the opening of a 1930’s-style European cabaret in Brooklyn, a lover’s quarrel in a grand palazzo.
Oh, and the performances. Gael García Bernal is, as my mother’s friends would say, ‘lovely’ and ‘delightful’, or, as I would say, ‘low-key’ and ‘watchable’. His performance as an eccentric genius conductor is like a less-rigorous version of the (unfortunately-termed) ‘competence porn’ (‘talent porn’ maybe?) We see him swan around, seeming doing very little actual work, but always charming or manipulating his way to making everything amazing. He’s young (for a conductor of a major orchestra), informal, unconventional and untamable. In real life, he’d be a complete pain in the ass, infuriating in his arrogance and disorganisation. But, in the world of Mozart in the Jungle, he’s a natural, and watching everything work out for him is a reliable pleasure. And who doesn’t want a little middle-brow pleasure for three hours a year?
Sometimes it’s nice just to watch an eccentric genius be an eccentric genius, safe in the knowledge that he’s not going to spend 10 episodes exploring the trauma of being a prodigy, nor will he be setting his rabies-foaming wolf on his string section because they rushed the coda.
Relax into the Mozart in the Jungle like a nice bath, available exclusively in New Zealand on Lightbox
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