'Mozart in the Jungle' comes to Amazon
Classical-music dramedy feature sex, drugs - and culture change.
* MOZART IN THE JUNGLE.
Amazon Prime, today.
COMPLETE this sentence: Change is [BLANK].
How any of us answers likely has a lot to with whether we're driving the steamroller or lying under it, but "inevitable" is a one-size-fits-most reply.
Which is why the classical-music dramedy "Mozart in the Jungle," the newest original series from Amazon Studios, doesn't require a degree in music or orchestra season tickets to appreciate.
Developed by cousins and entertainment royalty Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, with writer-director Alex Timbers, and loosely based on a memoir by musician-turned-journalist Blair Tindall, "Mozart in the Jungle" is set in the apparently cutthroat world of classical music. But it could take place at any enterprise with dwindling resources and an aging workforce fighting to hold on to their jobs as their successors compete for a foothold in a profession in which few will get to retire. (Not that I'd know anything about that.)
Throw in sex and drugs and it's soon clear you don't need to know an adagio from a doughnut to find your way around this jungle.
The pilot, posted on Amazon back in February for viewers to vote on, may have relied a bit too heavily on the sex-and-drugs angle. I found the setting intriguing, the characters less so.
Subsequent episodes - I've seen seven - got me hooked.
Lola Kirke ("Gone Girl") stars as Hailey, a young oboe player who gives music lessons and dreams of joining the New York Symphony, which is undergoing a once-in-a-generation shift with the hiring of a flashy former prodigy, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal, "Rosewater"), as its new conductor.
It's a move not altogether appreciated by the new "emeritus" conductor (Malcolm McDowell). Or, for that matter, by many members of the orchestra, for whom change is, well, change.
Bernadette Peters plays the head of the orchestra's board, Saffron Burrows, a cellist who takes Hailey under her wing. And, yes, that's Schwartzman playing a podcaster in the third episode.
Kirke is fine as Hailey, whose ingenue status often leaves her playing straight woman to the colorful characters surrounding her. It's Bernal, whose charismatic conductor turns out to be far more interesting - though no less eccentric - than he seems at first, who steals the show.
Rodrigo's a disruptive force in the orchestra, but he's also an artist, and his ability to connect to other artists gives "Mozart in the Jungle" much of its charm. It helps, of course, that he is not preaching the gospel of doing more with less. His interest, scattered as it sometimes seems, is in excellence.
That's disruption to believe in.
Speaking of disruption: What studio premieres 10 episodes of a new TV show two days before Christmas, traditionally a season of rerun marathons and series hiatuses?
Maybe one that knows (and still won't tell) exactly how many of its company's video-enabled devices will be unwrapped this month, carrying with them a free month's subscription of Amazon Prime.
On Twitter: @elgray