Mozart in the Jungle
“Bernal’s performance carries the series. Without him, Mozart in the Jungle would fall perilously close to white feminism and tokenism.”
Title: Mozart in the Jungle
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-3
Creators: Roman Coppola 👨🏼🇺🇸, Jason Schwartzman 👨🏼🇺🇸, Alex Timbers 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Paul Weitz 👨🏼🇺🇸
Directors: Paul Weitz 👨🏼🇺🇸 (9 eps), Tricia Brock 👩🏼🇺🇸 (4 eps), Roman Coppola 👨🏼🇺🇸 (4 eps), and various
Writers: Original book by Blair Tindall 👩🏼🇺🇸 (30 eps) and various (14 ♂ and 7 ♀)
Reviewed by Mimi 👩🏻🇺🇸
Over the course of three seasons, the series has evolved from the standard fare of ingenue-in-the-big-city—in this case, a struggling oboist by the name of Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke)—to something more elastic and fun with Gael García Bernal’s Rodrigo De Souza as the driving force. There’s plenty of beautiful people and sex, but above all the show succeeds in restoring a sense of passion to classical music.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Almost all the women’s storylines, including that of a buxom Bernadette Peters as president of the New York Symphony, include romantic entanglements with men. That being said, also common to them all is their singular ambition. Hailey relies on the mentorship of orchestra veterans like Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) and Betty (Debra Monk), whose characters unabashedly put their careers first and reject societal norms that would pose a hindrance.
Rodrigo is based on real-life Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. In the show, the maestro is Mexican, like Bernal himself, and the second season even features a return home. Part of his charm, Rodrigo’s heritage and his relationship to his roots are seamlessly incorporated into the character’s development.
In addition to Rodrigo, another one of Hailey’s love interests is Erik (Aaron Moten), a black, young-Republican type. The early season also featured an Asian American, Sharon (Jennifer Kim), as the assistant of the outgoing conductor, Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell). During her 10-episode appearance, however, her awkward, glasses-wearing character remained rather flat, bordering on racist stereotype. Other actors of color, though many of them with only minor speaking roles, populate the orchestra and its orbit, which is a right step toward authenticity given that the show takes place in New York City.
One of the show’s most memorable episodes takes place on Rikers Island, in which the real-life Chelsea Symphony played for actual inmates. Almost all of them are non-white, and their testimonials are used in the episode’s meta-documentary structure.
Bridging the symphony’s administrative and musical side, there is one interracial same-sex couple. (Their main plot point is about having a baby.) In the second season, Cynthia enjoys a relationship with another woman, though it ends abruptly.
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.75/5
The show is absolutely worth watching, but it really is Bernal’s performance that carries the series. I think our grade here reflects that were one to remove him from the mix, the remainder would fall perilously close to white feminism and tokenism. But again, I truly would encourage you to stream it on Amazon!