A comedy about classical music finally finds its metre
In a world of instantly streamed international entertainment, we all hold the same remote control. Here’s what to point it at
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What you (finally) deserve to watch:
Mozart In The Jungle is the kind of Amazon show that smells irresistible. A comedy about classical musicians—and their mad world, packed with sex and skullduggery and fine actors talking about fine arias—set in the unforgiving bustle of New York City, it was always going to be cool. Created by the cheerleader-worthy duo of Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman and starring Mexican marvel Gael García Bernal as a tempestuous conductor—crossing batons with none other than Malcolm McDowell— Mozart In The Jungle should have emerged a mad, wonderful treat.
Alas, while indeed delightfully whimsical, Mozart tried to confine itself to a conventional story, and there was obvious discord. In this world of exceptional television shows, Mozart became more of a guilty pleasure than a proud one. We watched it for Bernal—whose character, Rodrigo, is one for the ages—or to see McDowell amplifying hubris or to swoon over Saffron Burroughs, but the leading lady, Lola Kirke, was an exasperating protagonist, an unspectacular character at sea among eccentric greats. The show kept trying to tell us her familiar coming-of-age story when everyone around her burnt so much brighter.
The first season set in New York was luscious and earned our curious indulgence; season two, caught between the city and Latin America, didn’t seem to know at all where it was headed. We are now at round three, and, voila: Mozart In The Jungle has become a thing of beauty. It takes ambitious comedies some time to find their groove, especially if they sound generic but are aiming not to be. Parks & Recreation only hit its stride halfway through its second season, for example, and never looked back. And so it is that Coppola’s show, by dropping irresistible Rodrigo in the middle of impossible Venice, is finally giving us the splash it always promised.
Part of the reason for this uptick is that Lola Kirke’s Hailey Rutledge—“Hai Lee,” as Rodrigo calls her, sounding eternally amused—has been relegated to the part of a watcher. Four episodes into this season, one I’m sipping instead of gulping down, all she has done is gape. And justly so. This is so because, besides Rodrigo, who flings cellphones into gondolier-infested waters, and McDowell’s character—who has thrillingly gone from renowned classical conductor to failed composer, to unexpected electro-pop sensation—there is a far greater distraction.
There is a singer, and she must be made to sing. The greatest singer in all the land, a woman rumoured to lose her voice after making love, and a legend who makes the world sigh with inevitable longing. Most call her La Fiamma—“The Flame”—and she is a goddess. Mercurial and impulsive and full of lyrical grace, she could have been confused for caricature had the show depicted her with lesser awe. As it stands, she is The Woman, both whirlwind and lighthouse, and certainly too good to be true.
She is played, therefore, by Monica Bellucci.
Always insanely captivating, the actress is now 52, and wears age with elegant hauteur, a near-divine entitlement. She is unreal, both as character and actress, a woman who can make the world stop—and a woman too aware of the toll and tediousness brought on by all that world-halting. She is a soprano who could launch a thousand symphonies, and it would be well worth diving into this show exclusively for her. This marriage of actor and character is something sublime, and while Mozart In The Jungle has always been eccentric, this preposterous heroine—who sinks and soars like her astonishing Venice—makes it exquisite.
What everyone’s watching:
If there is a child anywhere in sight, drop everything else and sit ‘em down in front of Guillermo del Toro’s rollicking new animated series, Trollhunters, on Netflix. If no children are around, try and wrap your head around the fact that the titular role of Trollhunter, which naturally involves killing trolls, is traditionally inhabited by, well, a troll. It is this kind of loopy tautology that runs throughout this bright, refreshingly smart show: a show where Kelsey Grammer voices a professorial troll, and where a gnome is named Chompsky. I haven’t been this thoroughly tickled by a children’s programme in ages.
It is a standard-issue hero’s journey, with a chosen one destined to face unthinkable odds—plucky teenager Jim (voiced by the late, much-missed Anton Yelchin) is the highly likeable lead here—but where del Toro drinks from the fount of Joseph Campbell, he feasts also on HP Lovecraft and CS Lewis. Here we have the master monster-maker of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy crafting imaginative confections for children (of all ages). Why wouldn’t you want to be swept up?
Visually rich, Trollhunters features instantly memorable character design, and clever, deceptively addictive, storytelling the narrative springing many a surprise to keep a viewer diving into the next episode. And the next. And the one after. It is, in short, Halloween candy.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. It appears weekly on Livemint.com and fortnightly in print. Raja Sen tweets at @RajaSen.