There’s this moment in the film Eyes Wide Shut where Nicole Kidman’s character, Alice Harford, says this:
Do you remember last summer at Cape Cod? Do you remember one night in the dining room, there was this young naval officer and he was sitting near our table with two other officers? The waiter brought him a message during dinner, at which point he left, nothing rings a bell? Well, I first saw him that morning in the lobby. He was checking into the hotel and he was following the bellboy with his luggage to the elevator. He glanced at me as he walked past, just a glance, nothing more. And I could hardly move.
That afternoon Helena went to the movie with her friend and you and I made love and we made plans about our future and we talked about Helena and yet at no time was he ever out of my mind. And I thought that if he wanted me, even if it was only for one night, I was ready to give up everything. You, Helena, my whole fucking future, everything. And yet it was weird because at the same time, you were dearer to me than ever, and at that moment my love for you was both tender and sad. I barely slept that night. I woke up the next morning in a panic. I don’t know if I was afraid that he had left or that he might still be there. But by dinner I realized he was gone. And I was relieved.
That’s kiiiiiiind of how I feel about Gael García Bernal. I mean, I wouldn’t run out on Lady Castleton and the kids, but I would absolutely bid all my aunts and uncles goodbye without batting an eye. He’s just kind of, I don’t know … this very magnetic, appreciable life force. No matter what he’s wearing.
And he brings that passion and fire to his character of Rodrigo De Souza in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, which will begin streaming its third season on December 9th.
T-minus dos days and counting. Be still my beating heart. Seriously.
Because I was late to the Rodrigo De Souza game. Mozart in the Jungle was one of a seemingly innumerable list of shows I had to eventually get to, but would kind of be fine if I didn’t.
The show itself? For those of you who haven’t seen it, the main character is a fiery conductor based, from what they tell me, completely on real life conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The show originated from a book Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall. I think the hook of it was originally — clutch your pearls, gang! Classical musicians fuck and get high! — and that was ultimately not all that surprising to me.
What stopped me from watching it was just a simple decision to not prioritize it. That’s all. Just a passive allowance that it would sit at like #23 until I got to it. And then, one day, I clicked on it and it was like magic.
Magic I tell you.
Mozart in the Jungle is ostensibly a behind the scenes shockumentary about what really happens when the gloves come off in a working symphony orchestra. But for me, it’s just the small-ish story of Rodrigo De Souza, played with perfection by Gael García Bernal…
…and Hailey Rutledge, who Rodrigo calls ‘Hai Lai,’ played by Lola Kirke. Kirke had done precious little professionally before landing this huge role as an aspiring New York Symphony oboist, but she’s probably the most charming surprise of the whole cast. Kirke is able to pull off both the girl next door and a girl on the move, reminiscent of how Mary Tyler Moore once did. She’s equal parts consternation and motivation and she looks and speaks and feels real. She feels like your second cousin. She feels like a human. She feels like someone who you know and like.
That’s why I watch. For these two. They’re fantastic. And while I love the show and feel like it’s kind of a mild addiction, it is, to me, a weeeee bit uneven.
There are a number of relatively dim story lines. I’m not always sure the showrunners know where the story should go, but I’ve enjoyed the whole package nonetheless. Yes, actual musicians will bristle at the normal things, fake music playing, phoney-baloney scenarios like “Hey I just decided to add Mahler’s 8th Symphony to the lineup for next Wednesday.” Shit like that. The show is guilty as charged.
But honestly, friends, you’re not tuning in to see if they’re fingering a clarinet properly. You’re tuning in to see if they’re fingering people properly and yes, I’m pleased to report that they are! Or, so I would assume. People hook up like the bloody bejesus on this show.
You’re here for the people! The people!
Like Malcolm McDowell as Thomas, the Maestro whom Rodrigo replaces. He’s so much fucking fun, and embodies a wonderful juxtaposition between the maestro of then and the maestro of now. Thomas is very much the establishment, as corrupt as it is stolid, while Rodrigo is the future. One is gifted with stability, one is gifted with passion. Yes, McDowell chews scenery a smidge, but he’s dastardly and self-effacing and human and wonderful while he does it.
Or Nora Arnezeder as Rodrigo’s wife and muse, Anna Maria. Like Rodrigo, I honestly don’t know how anyone connected to their own primal drives isn’t completely smitten by her. She’s the human personification of emotion. When Pandora opened the box, Anna Maria flew out. She plays the violin with spite and resentment and rage and fury and cannot divorce herself from it in real life. Their relationship brings me pure terror and joy at the same time. Oh to have one hour in my life with Anna Maria’s passion and fire!
And there’s Dermot Mulroney as esteemed cellist Andrew Walsh. At first I wasn’t sure if he was the right fit, but he killed it. Just killed it. Is he, possibly, the most likeable human on the planet? There aren’t any shitty rumors about Dermot Mulroney, right? Because he’s stellar. I think the Dylan McDermott syncopation of it all has artificially diminished his brand.
We also get our talent coffers regularly refilled by guest stars like Wallace Shawn and John Hodgman and Jason Schwartzman and Esai Morales. There’s a younger generation of neophytes like Hannah Dunne as Hailey’s best friend Lizzie, and Sandro Isaack who plays Symphony sergeant-at-arms Pavel.
And if that’s not enough talent on one show, you get 68-year-old Bernadette Peters, who looks younger than I do. When I was a kid, she was the very first actor or actress that I remember actively disliking. I learned a fairly good chunk of what I know about comedy from watching Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman and Tim Conway and for some reason the sketches on The Carol Burnett Show with Bernadette Peters just plain didn’t land for me.
So you’d think that a natural aversion I discovered before I knew anything, really, would be basic and unfettered and probably still going strong.
Instead I root for Bernadette Peters because my god, to have a career that long? To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for all of these years? Dear god! She came up during the goddamn Debette Goldry times, yo! She deserves everything she can claw away from the man and more. You be you, Bernadette Peters! Good for you.
And lest you’re STILL like, ho hum, Lord Castleton, there’s just not enough talent in this insane global bucket of talent, how about cameos from like…oh…I don’t know…
World famous violinist Joshua Bell?
Or…world famous concert pianist Emanuel Ax?
Or…world famous concert pianist Lang Lang?
Or…how about motherfuckin’ Gustavo Dudamel himself?
The only thing truly awful about this show was the second season title sequence, dear god, it was made on like MS Paint by a fourth grader. But that’s it. That’s it.
Here: take a look at the trailers. And just pick the one that applies to your current spot in the series.
I mean, come on people! Monica Bellucci is on this season!
I repeat, Monica Bellucci.
WARNING: IF YOU JUST WATCHED THAT WITH ALL THAT HOTNESS AND ROLLING R’S AND SHIT THERE’S A 43% CHANCE YOU HAVE A BABY IN YOU NOW. GET CHECKED.
How peak is your Peak TV if this whole grand package from Mexico to New York to Italy doesn’t give you a little surge of blood flow?
And that’s my favorite, favorite thing about Mozart in the Jungle. Rodrigo uses this term about someone who plays with passion…
She plays with blood.
It’s the highest compliment he can give. Someone who plays with fire with wildness and abandon. Someone who plays with blood. It’s what he loves about Anna Maria. It’s what made him discover a very unpolished Hai Lai in the show’s pilot episode. It’s what he loves most of all. And it’s what we love about him.
He lives with blood, he loves with blood, he conducts with blood and by god he makes me question forty plus years of good-ol’ fashioned heterosexual livin’ with the fucking blood.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m exaggerating his performance? I’m not. He’s that magnetic. He’s that talented. He eats the small screen like a Versailles hors d’oeuvres and does it with such joy and abandon that you’ll only want to feed him more.
And in the name of sanity, we should.
Because with the global ascent of American consumerism and the giant entertainment machine, we’ve all played victim for the last century to the BradPittification of male leading men. Leading men should be tall and Caucasian and strong, silent types. They should grin and bear it. They should walk quietly and carry a big stick. The less said, the better. Equal parts Anglo and Saxon, loves his mother and is never ever sick at sea.
BULL. FUCKING. SHIT.
The world is FULL of amazing leading men. Men from everywhere, men of every shape and size and disposition. And guess what? There are a hell of a lot more non-Caucasian, roaring-with-passion men out there than there are, y’know…Henry Cavill types. It’s one of the things I love about this show. Who says leading men aren’t Filipino or Guyanese or Ugandan or Korean? Who says we have to perpetuate this cookie-cutter milquetoast white guy stereotype?
Chingatumadre! Ay! No no no!
Rodrigo brings us one tiny step closer to a wider net for outstanding leading men, and a world where having a Y chromosome doesn’t mean you have to Nickelback the shit out of it.
Other shows are good. Mozart in the Jungle is unique and charming and delightful.
Don’t take my word for it! Come my friends! Come! And listen! And watch!
WATCH RODRIGO WITH THE BLOOD!
Season three fornicates its way to you on Friday.
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