Amazon has given us three original series (for adults), and they have an impeccable track record, so far. Bosch, my least favorite, was nevertheless interesting enough to follow through to the end and maybe even watch the second season (despite the anticlimactic first season finale), while Transparent has obviously been given plenty of well-deserved praise both here and around the Internet.
Mozart in the Jungle hasn’t gotten the press or awards of Transparent, and it’s certainly not as important as the Jeffrey Tambor series, but for pure entertainment value, I liked it as much or more than Transparent. In fact, if you loved the brilliant Canadian series Slings and Arrows (an all-time favorite of mine), then you’ll like Mozart in the Jungle, as the two series have much in common structurally. Where Slings and Arrows built each season of its series around the production of a Shakespearean play, Mozart in the Jungle builds its around the production of a symphony orchestra performance, and both deal in the relationships of their ensembles (there is no ghost in Mozart in the Jungle, though the retired conductor does continue to hang around).
Developed by cousins Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman (the very one!), Mozart in the Jungle is inspired by the 2005 memoir of oboist Blair Tindall. It concerns Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal), a fictionalized version of conductor Gustavo Dudame, as he takes takes over as head of the New York Symphony, replacing the outgoing conductor Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell), who is being put out to pasture before he’s ready.
Saffron Burrows plays Cynthia Taylor, a veteran cellist who has a history of sleeping with her bosses. She brings in the young, talented, and not-quite-ready-to-perform at this level oboist, Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls’ Jemima Kirke), who has something of a romantic interest in Rodrigo. 67-year-old Bernadette Peters (who got the Oprah plastic surgery and looks so stunningly young I did a triple take every time she was on screen) plays the director of the orchestra — she’s tasked with the fundraising efforts and keeping the relationship between Rodrigo and the outgoing conductor in check.
It’s a great cast, and while you’d expect nothing less from Gael García Bernal, Lola Kirke really is a pleasant revelation, balancing her character’s confidence and insecurity with an attractive brand of mousiness. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the storylines — they are light, with sprinkles of both drama and comedy — but they are engaging and enjoyable. It’s the kind of show built around the characters, and they all manage to be likable in their own way, even when they’re not being so nice to one another.
Many of the episodes were directed by Paul Weitz, and the tone of the series mirrors that of his previous efforts, About a Boy and In Good Company. The series also manages to mix in enough symphony orchestra music to bring some authenticity to the series and please fans of the musical genre, but not enough to bore the rest of us who like to be enchanted by classical music in 30-second increments doled out sparingly.
Mostly, though, Mozart in the Jungle is a sweet, low-key series where no one gets murdered or raped, and where there are enough joyous, triumphant moments to remind us that television can still delight instead of punish. It’s the most purely enjoyable series I’ve watched since Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (and I include this season of Orange is the New Black) and in a summer dominated by Game of Thrones and the upcoming True Detective, it’s not only a welcome respite from the bleakness and brutality, it’s also a smart, engaging and charming series in its own right.