“Mozart in the Jungle” is the latest offering from Amazon, as part of their endeavor into television. It, along with many other TV pilots, has been released for free, and which series’ are picked up depends upon how each pilot is rated. It’s a lovely system that unfortunately did not work that well during the last round of TV pilots due to a poor quality of shows. However, “Mozart in the Jungle” is a fantastic and fun pilot that bodes incredibly well for the show once it is inevitably picked up.
Inspired by the book of the same name, “Mozart in the Jungle” opens at the last concert of Thomas (Malcolm McDowell), who is none too pleased to be passing the baton onto Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal). Rodrigo is the newest hotshot in the classical music scene, full of crazy ideas and avant-garde notions. The conflict between the two of them is the initial conflict, but the pilot quickly shifts gears and focuses more on the orchestra players, specifically obo player Hailey (Lolo Kirke) and cello player Cynthia (Saffron Burrows).
“We’re like hyenas fighting over the same dead body.”
Though Malcolm McDowell and Gael Garcia Bernal are technically the main actors, the party lifestyle of classical musicians quickly becomes the focus of the pilot, mostly centered around one big party that features a whole lotta sex, booze, drugs, and an intense obo v. flute battle. I never would have guessed that a duel between an obo and a flute would make for good television, but “Mozart in the Jungle” manages to make it compelling. The stakes are incredibly low, which fits the vibe of the party perfectly.
Even though “Mozart in the Jungle” is about grandiose classical music, it manages to avoid melodrama and overwrought scenes, keeping everything very down to Earth. Even though Thomas and Rodrigo despise each other, it’s not like their feud will bring down the Met. And the party scenes, though they have the hallmarks of something like “Gossip Girl” (rich kids in big apartments cavorting with each other), are much closer to “Girls” and “Broad City.”
“Mozart in the Jungle” certainly does feel like Amazon’s attempt to become HBO. It is a very mature show that could easily exist beside “Girls” and “Looking.” It also has the amazing cast of an HBO show; I cannot stress enough how much of a pleasure it is to see Malcolm McDowell finally acting again. After years of taking pathetically small roles in stuff like “Easy A,” he seems to relish being able to actually dig into his character. He only has a few scenes at the beginning, and a smaller scene near the end, but all of them are fantastic.
“I doubt he has any friends. I was him once.” “You still are.”
The biggest problem with “Mozart in the Jungle” is that it feels like the first half hour of an hour long pilot. The cast is exceptionally large, featuring many musicians, the conductors, Bernadette Peters as the meddlesome Board Chairperson, and various love interests. It’s a lot to develop in only a half hour, and though writers and producers Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers have written lovely and fully developed characters, the pilot feels rushed. It certainly does incite curiosity for the rest of the season, since this show will most certainly be picked up for a full series, but for now the pilot feels incomplete.
This year’s crop of pilots from Amazon have all been good, certainly better than the last ones, but “Mozart in the Jungle” feels especially fresh. It features tremendous talent both on-screen and off, and has already set the stage for a sumptuous blend of comedy, drama, and sex.There just need to be a few more episodes for everything to work in unison.
My Rating: 8/10