By: Joe Lofranco
I’m definitely getting a little overwhelmed. The options are increasing exponentially. It was only a few short years ago that Netflix was the only game in town. Now we’ve got Shomi, CraveTV, HuluPlus, HBOGo, AmazonPrime, M-Go, AppleTV, Crackle, Blip and who knows what else. Some of these are services we, as Canadians, might not “technically” have access to – but we’re a resourceful bunch. The exciting thing is that many of these services are turning into production studios. Netflix has pumped out a few original series, some good, others not so much. And Amazon has recently entered the fray. Their series Transparent just took home two momentous Golden Globes. Meanwhile, their fourth pilot season kicks off today with more than 10 new shows being presented. (I’m particularly pumped about The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name.) TV is changing and I think that’s great.
When I was a kid, we had cable. And strangely enough, not everybody did back then. Cable only gave you 30 some odd channels, and you could pull in maybe 15 of those if you had an aerial attached to your house (as many people did; for the young’uns reading, they’re those tall triangular pipe-constructs topped with a big antenna – you can still see them in some neighbourhoods!). We didn’t have a controller either; we had a wired cable remote box. It had fifteen buttons and a switch to flip from the first range to the second (1-15 or 16-30). I remember the chunking click the buttons would make as you would try to “surf” the channels. It was surprisingly loud. TV was such a wonderful part of my childhood: watching shows like Today’s Special and Transformers, being lulled to sleep in my bed as theme songs from shows like Hill Street Blues drifted in from the TV in my parents’ bedroom. I loved it, and I still do.
To me, the benefit of having these upstart “networks” like Amazon and Netflix, is that new shows are going to be given a chance. And since so many of these new kids on the block are depending on these shows making bank, they’re making a concerted effort to produce quality shows (while dodging the heavy hand of the traditional networks). Right now there’s a glut of amazing TV. Some of my recent favourites have included Broad City, The Knick, The Fall and Broadchurch from the UK. I don’t get to watch that much TV, so nowadays my queue continues to grow steadily. I’m just waiting for the time when I’ll have a few days to binge on something amazing.
I was lucky enough to have a few days over the Christmas break, and I took advantage by checking out Amazon’s new show Mozart in the Jungle. I did so on a whim, having heard nothing about this show until it appeared in numerous “Best Of 2014” articles after having been released on December 24th. One week before the end of the year and it makes it to several top ten? Figured I should give it a shot.
In many ways Mozart in the Jungle is typical: it’s a show about relationships. Sure, it’s against the backdrop of the day-to-day of the New York Symphony Orchestra, but that’s secondary (in the same way the hospital in ER was secondary, and the mafia in The Sopranos became secondary). It’s about the interactions between characters – and the writers and actors nail it. Like many of these new shows on Amazon, it’s got some pedigree behind it: it was created by Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman and has Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell, and Gael Garcia Bernal in the cast. The relative newcomer of the group, Lola Kirke (sister of everyone’s favourite Girl) is our hero Hailey Rutledge, a struggling young oboe player trying to make it in the big city and maybe, one day, play with the NYSO. Kirke is wonderful in the role and she works well with Bernal, who as conductor Rodrigo, is at times a bit over the top, but generally solid throughout the season. It’s a well written, well acted, enjoyable show. The music – it should be mentioned for a show about the symphony – is wonderful as well. I will say that it doesn’t exactly provide an in-depth look at the symphony though. I didn’t feel any more knowledgeable on the topic after having finished the series. But to be honest, I didn’t care to. The writers know they don’t have to focus on that; they just need to set the stage.
Overall, Mozart in the Jungle has its highs and lows, but after I watched it I wanted to watch it again. And I wanted to know what happens next. That’s the mark of a good show in my mind. Now, I’m not sure it’s available through any Canadian providers at the moment. See, that’s the frustrating thing: despite all our options, we remain limited in our selections! But like I said, we’re a resourceful bunch. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to watch it; I did.