Contrary to what the title suggests, Mozart in the Jungle does not center on chimpanzees playing Symphony No. 40 somewhere in the heart of Africa. Amazon’s newest original series, released on Dec. 23, 2014, focuses on members of the New York Symphony, making it look more like the backstage of a Rolling Stones concert—to an extent.
The show starts with Hailey (Lola Kirke), a struggling oboist from North Carolina, as she tries to make it professionally in New York City. She gives lessons in her spare time as she tries to earn a spot in the New York Symphony, ultimately losing it and becoming the Rodrigo’s (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) assistant. Rodrigo takes over conducting the Symphony from the much older Thomas (played by Malcolm McDowell). These two create an old versus young dynamic as Rodrigo tries to resurrect a financially challenged symphony with unusual and slightly eccentric methods that entertain the audiences and the musicians of the symphony. Meanwhile, Thomas struggles to deal with the changes in his new role with the symphony as executive musical director emeritus. Thomas also tries to deal with his love interest Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) who is an accomplished cellist with arthritis.
Other minor characters weave themselves in throughout the season, which creates an ensemble feel like in “Downton Abbey,” though a much different storyline. Amazon Prime released all 10 episodes at once like Netflix does with their original content, creating the sense of a 5-hour long movie binge with minor time hops.
Gael Garcia Bernal’s superb performance as he deals with his passion and ego helps to make what would be considered more boring scenes interesting with unique and sometime cliché, yet charming, tactics—such as playing Mozart’s “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” melody at a party to humiliate a pompous donor who challenges Rodrigo to play the violin. Rodrigo and Hailey’s maestro-assistant relationship provides comic relief that helps to carry the show. Lola Kirke perfectly portrays a nervous and anxious Hailey as she deals with art versus reality.
Some reviewers have complained about Rodrigo’s long and wild hair, but the writers of the show consciously play on this with the “Hear the Hair” marketing campaign, allowing Rodrigo to resists his hair in hilarious ways.
Overall, the show is funny, sexy, tense, and one of the best of the year. It creates an interesting view of “proper” musicians as they experiment with drugs and each other. Viewers will start episode one only to later realize it is 4 a.m., and there are only 3 episodes left.
The show was created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers based on the memoir “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music” by Blair Tindall.