Friday, July 27, 2018

Mozart in the Jungle Television Series

I spent two 3 1/2 hour airplane trips (Dallas to Los Angeles) watching the first season (2015) of the Mozart in the Jungle television series, which is only available to watch on an airplane or through Amazon Prime. The airplane trip is certainly the more expensive route to watch the series. I would not join Amazon Prime in order to watch any more of this show, but I might "hate watch" future seasons on future flights to California.

Implausibility in this series reigns supreme, as does the spoiler content of this post.

A 26-year-old oboist named Hailey lives in a funky apartment in New York that has a street-level fire escape. She has a wise-ass roommate who is not a musician, but is interested in music and musicians. The mystery oboe player who plays Hailey's oboe "voice" is excellent (none of the musicians who do the actual playing are credited, though the list of people involved in the show in the IMDB is about the longest list I have ever seen). We find that out that Hailey is a great oboe player when her roommate and some friends play a (invented-for-the-series) drinking game where you spin a dial to pick a musical era, drink the requisite number of shots of booze for that era, and then play an orchestral excerpt of your choosing. If you make a mistake you lose.

At the time of the drinking game, Hailey had just returned from a gig where she met the assistant principal cellist of the "New York Symphony." A few days later (I guess--time in this series is very strange), the cellist tells Hailey about an open audition for an oboist in the orchestra that is happening right away. There is a cute scene where Hailey scrapes reeds while she is traveling to the orchestra hall in a sort of rickshaw. She makes it to the hall after the auditions are over. The audience knows that the new conductor of the orchestra hasn't picked anyone (now there's some realism). Hailey decides to sit in the chair behind the screen and play her audition in the empty hall. But the conductor (somehow) hears her, and he decides that he wants her to play the fifth oboe part in the Mahler 8th Symphony (which does indeed call for four oboes and English Horn). Hailey makes it though some of a rehearsal (where, for some reason, she's playing second oboe) and then drops her instrument on the floor and swears loudly. She immediately loses her chance to play with the orchestra, but the conductor eventually hires her as his assistant (not as an assistant conductor, but as an assistant who makes him tea and drives him places).

Lola Kirke, the lovely actress who plays Hailey, looks plausible from the chest up when she plays the oboe, but her fingers don't behave like the fingers of an oboist. She is, however, more convincing than the man who plays the concertmaster, the woman who plays the assistant principal cellist, and the backwards (she holds the fiddle in her right hand and the bow in the left) solo violinist who is the wife of the conductor. They are unwatchable. The actor who plays Rodgrigo (the conductor) seems to have put some time into learning how to hold the violin and the bow, and he seems to have the physical sense of what it is like to stand up in front of an orchestra. The part written for him is demanding: he needs to be impulsive, immature, manipulative, unorthodox, self-absorbed, possessed, haunted, annoying, and endearing.

Bernadette Peters is actually quite good as the president of the orchestra (though CEO is the usual term, if there is one). She seems to have modeled her character on Deborah Borda, and added a host of enticing distortions.

Hailey's roommate (who might have escaped from an episode of "Girls") is, unbeknownst to Hailey, a member of the New York upper crust. Hailey only finds out when she spies her roommate at a party for the "donor class" that she attended because she drove the conductor of the orchestra there.

Hailey's boyfriend, a dancer from Juilliard who happens upon the drinking and excerpt party I mentioned above, is as uninteresting as he is implausible. Like everyone else in the series, he is attractive. Everyone I noticed in the series is straight, aside from the inter-racial gay couple in the orchestra who share a quick kiss before a concert.

The assistant principal cellist, who seems to have emerged from the television series "Sex and the City," develops an addiction to pain killers, which she gets from the orchestra's drug-dealing timpanist. She takes these drugs because she has tendonitis. I have had tendonitis, and I have known countless people with tendonitis. Most of us treat it with Aleve or Ibuprophen, wraps, ice packs, and the occasional cortisone shot. Most musicians would see a doctor.

Perhaps the most ludicrous quarter of an hour comes in an episode called "The Rehearsal." It begins with a note left at the hall stating that the rehearsal location has been changed to a vacant lot. Rodrigo (the conductor) used some wire cutters to cut a hole in a chain-link fence in front of the lot, and beckons the orchestra members to climb in through the opening. How the basses and timpani made it in is anyone's guess. Folding chairs magically appear, but not music stands. No worries: Rodrigo tells them that they will be playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, so they "play" without music. Hailey stands next to the timpani player and holds some cymbals. She looks very happy.

After playing the 1812 Overture the assembled audience (with school-age children in it--must have been a weekend) enjoy some pizza that Rodrigo has had delivered. Some of the musicians jam jazzily, and everyone enjoys the party. Eventually a few police officers show up and take everyone to jail. The president of the orchestra bails everyone out, and she gives the police chief season tickets for the upcoming season.

What started as a book by Blair Tindall that exposed some of the underbelly of the classical music scene in New York during the 70s and 80s has become a fantasy television series that has nothing to do with the reality of the classical music scene anywhere, at any time. It's kind of like looking at a paint-on-velvet rendering of something by Hieronymus Bosch.

No comments: