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Monday, February 24, 2014

MOZART Such Sweet Music

Article first published as MOZART Such Sweet Music on TheTVKing.

After having watched thee of the five new Amazon drama and comedy pilots, I was very disappointed with this year's crop. Luckily, the last two in the line up have been quite good, redeeming the website a bit for its content. The final pilot I viewed, Mozart in the Jungle, is a look "behind-the-scenes" at symphony members in New York, certainly something not seen before in a television show. Add to that the promise of great music and some really good casting, and I'm sold.

The central character of Mozart in the Jungle is Hailey (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls' Jemima Kirke). She's an oboist stuck teaching music lessons to pervy kids and filling in for pit orchestras, such as the one she is currently doing for Oedipus (American Idol's Constantine Maroulis). At that gig, she befriends Cynthia (Saffron Burrows, Boston Legal, The Bank Job), an experienced musician happily willing to give advice to the younger girl, and whom even gets Hailey an audition with the New York Symphony, the dream job.

It's easy to see the relation between Lola and Jemima, especially when Hailey has to deal with her student, whom she forgives for his dirty text messages about her when he helps her out. But Lola also stands on her own, finding a fun, soulful quality to the role. She plays Hailey in a very realistic, fully-formed way, someone we can relate to, but also someone unique. This is a good protagonist to have.

I was disappointed that Burrows is stuck doing an American accent. It's not that she's bad at it, it's just that it's so much more satisfying to hear her in her native tone, and it seems like an English lilt would match a sophisticated musician quite well. Either way, though, she excels at playing the kind diva, someone hard to pigeonhole, but who does not disappoint.

Hailey is going to have a lot of adjustment joining the group because the symphony itself is undergoing change. Seasoned conductor Thomas (Malcolm McDowell, Franklin & Bash, A Clockwork Orange) is pushed into an emeritus position by Gloria (Broadway star Bernadette Peters), a post that is supposed to give him continued influence, but allows her to steamroll him a bit. The new conductor, Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries), intends to clean house, much to Thomas' dismay. At least Thomas still has Cynthia, for sex anyway.

These power struggles are familiar, but like the canceled Smash, it seems novel to see them unfold in this new setting. It could be that the stars inhabiting these parts are just so good, but this dynamic does not seem stale. This will be a driving drama factor, should the pilot be ordered to series, that should make the plot quite compelling, above and beyond the story of Hailey herself.

Hailey should still figure prominently, though. Besides the new job, she also has a new beau, dancer Joshua (Peter Vack, I Just Want My Pants Back), which causes friction between Hailey and her roommate, Lizzie (Hannah Dunne, Frances Ha). This is a young-person problem, and Hailey is still a young person, allowing herself to be pulled out of bed to get drunk and party, though she knows she shouldn't. Mozart in the Jungle should chronicle her growth into adulthood, a necessary development as a symphony member, and that will be interesting, too.

These types of different facets to the characters make Mozart in the Jungle more than just one thing, which is always a plus when developing a TV show. On one hand, we have the silly party scene with the shot-and-play competition. On the other, Joshua Bell guest stars as himself, playing with the symphony. And, to someone who was music minor in college and who participated in bands and ensembles for a decade, it appears McDowell and Kirke can fake it quite well as professionals in the field, which lends credibility. Overall, Mozart in the Jungle seems to be the total package.

Mozart in the Jungle's "Pilot" is available now for streaming on Amazon.com.

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