The world of classical music is full of wonderful characters. Troubled geniuses, child prodigies, tyrannical conductors and just general eccentrics. However, from these various characters, there is always one constant; the music that they make is some of the finest and most beautiful that you’re ever likely to hear. This brings me to the light-hearted Amazon original series Mozart in the Jungle, a series positively brimming with charm and musical shenanigans.
After the retirement of its long-time conductor, the New York Symphony Orchestra recruits the eccentric but gifted musical maestro Rodrigo De Souza as their new conductor. Rodrigo soon comes into contact with Haley Rutledge, a young oboist desperate to join the illustrious ranks of the New York Symphony, whose passion and talent soon develops into the beginning of a close relationship with the eccentric conductor.
I must confess that I was initially reluctant to watch Mozart in the Jungle (which also marks my first Amazon time watching an Amazon show). I didn’t really think that there could be much in the goings on of an orchestra to make for an effective comedy series.
However, after having watched all 3 seasons I am happy to report that my reluctance was foolish because I had a blast watching this show with it being full of fun, laughs, and most importantly charm.
The character of Rodrigo De Souza could have easily been a rather one-note and annoying “eccentric” character in the hands of a less skilled actor. Thankfully the role is performed to perfection by the acclaimed and wonderful Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal who imbues the character with an eccentric charm and likeability.
Every moment spent with Maestro Rodrigo is a joy to watch, with his imagined conversations with the great composers of history like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach to name a few, offering curious and often humorous insights into his ambitions while also allowing for moments of sombre reflection.
Lola Kirke also gives a wonderful performance as oboist Hailey Rutledge, the main protagonist of the series. Hungry for success, ambitious but weighted down by feelings of doubt about her chances for success, with Kirke playing the role with such a lovable and sympathetic quality that endears the viewer to her from the first episode.
You want her to succeed in her ambitions, you want to see her become the best oboe player in the world, but crucially you just want her to be happy in life, and while the title and the series itself suggest that Rodrigo is the titular “Mozart” Hailey’s character development across the three seasons (especially in the second half of the third season) suggests that she is, in fact, the real “Mozart in the Jungle”.
The supporting cast of fellow orchestra members make up for much of the comedic moments of this series, and all perform their roles to perfection.
My personal favourite is the always awesome Malcolm McDowell (best known for his darker roles in films like A Clockwork Orange) finally getting a chance to show off his comic skills as the veteran conductor Thomas Pembridge. McDowell is brilliant in the role, playing him in parts as something of a gigantic spoiled toddler displaying his comic range, but also a man who is suffering from doubts about his own legacy and career, allowing the veteran English actor to also showcase his dramatic range.
It also helps that McDowell is often hand to offer advice and a funny line when the time calls for it, with some of them being hilarious in their simplicity. I personally love his critique of the famed Italian conductor Toscanini simply stating that “well….he was a c**t”.
The real draw of the series, of course, is the music, with the series being packed wall to wall with musical performances from the orchestra. These extended concert sequences while essentially putting the story on hold in most episodes, allow for the show to breathe and relax for a bit, while also allowing the viewer just soak up some of the finest music ever composed. One episode set in Venice even goes as far as to feature an appearance from the world-renowned opera singer Placido Domingo, one again displaying his supreme vocal talents.
I also personally loved the theme song of the series, a wonderful orchestral reworking of the song Liztomania by French pop-rock group Phoneix. Seriously go look up the full orchestral version of this version of the song, it’s simply beautiful.
Possibly the most fascinating music-heavy episode comes in Season 3 when the show changes format to become a kind of short documentary produced by recurring classical music aficionado Bradford Sharp (played by series co-creator Jason Schwartzman) in which Rodrigo and the orchestra perform for prisoners on Riker’s Island.
The creative editing in which with the screen often splitting to cover several angles at once, in conjunction with the complex and fascinating music by famed 20th-century composer Oliver Messiaen creates a truly fascinating half hour where the music truly becomes the star of the show.
The most poignant aspect of this episode, however, is the interview segments that pop up throughout which the prisoners of Rikers talk about the emotional impact that the music has on them, with them repeatedly discussing how it makes them feel free and introspective about themselves, with some of their statements often having a rather moving quality to them.
While I found the series to be an enjoyable and funny ride, its sense of humour might not be to everyone’s tastes with a fair amount of it being laden with references to classical music, composers, instruments etc, although the humour is not so obscure and niche as to alienate those who know little about classical music, with most of it being fairly accessible and funny.
The series does also fall into some clichéd territory with its hardly surprising storyline regarding the development of Rodrigo’s and Hailey’s relationship over the course of the series, and this could maybe put off of people looking for something a bit more original.
However, regardless of these issues, I would still urge people to at least give Mozart in the Jungle a chance. The sheer charm of the show and its characters is frankly so overpowering that you’ll find yourself ignoring the cliches and its sometimes niche humour. You’ll just find you want to spend more time with these wonderful characters and listen to some more incredible music.
Overall, I found Mozart in the Jungle to be a great bit of fun and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something of more of a classical touch to their comedy. Roll on Season 4.
Graeme Roberston | [rating=4]
Comedy, Drama, Music | USA, 2014 | 12 | Out Now | Amazon Prime | Creator: Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Weitz | Gael García Bernal, Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows, Malcolm McDowell