4 Reasons Why You Should Binge-Watch Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle This Week

Mozart in the Jungle Season 1

A weird thing happened at the end of 2014. No, not Pitbull's New Year's Revolutionalthough his buzzed wipeout on live TV made a great late push for best moment of the year. Nah, I'm talking about Amazon's decision to release all 10 episodes of its latest original series, Mozart in the Jungle, on December 23.

The online retailer and video-streaming service clearly presumed (probably correctly) that many of us would be desperate to escape in-laws, overlong holiday parties, and faux cheer by looking to our streaming platforms to save us. If there was ever a sign that traditional notions about TV scheduling or what viewers want at certain points of the year are changing, this was it. Nonetheless, given the deluge of social engagements, gifts, and top 10 lists that vie for our attention at the end of any given year, you might've missed Mozart's premiere, or simply not had time to watch it. But we've turned the calendar pages over now, it's 2015, and you should absolutely check out this show. Here's why.


1. Mozart in the Jungle takes place in a generally unexplored world—without getting lost in the hyper-specific

If you missed Mozart in the Jungle's pilot when it debuted as part of Amazon's second Pilot Season in early 2014, here's a quick summary of the series' premise: Based on oboist Blair Tindall's 2005 memoir of the same name, Mozart in the Jungle is set in the world of high-profile orchestras in New York City. Our entry point into this realm is Lola Kirke's Hailey, a twentysomething oboist with big dreams who strikes up a friendship with a veteran musician (Saffron Burrows) and, later, must navigate the whims of the charming, eccentric new conductor Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal). As Hailey tries to find herself, the vets in the orchestra struggle to adapt to Rodrigo's brash, digressive personality, and along the way, the show dabbles with stories about living as a struggling performer in the big city, the politics that come along with actually making it big, and the tension between art and commerce. Sounds like a blast, right?

Seriously though, it is a blast. Tim's review of the pilot was mostly spot-on in the way it critiqued that episode's reliance on the Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music of it all (as it happens, "Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music" is the subtitle of Tindall's book), and while some of that stuff persists throughout the season, Mozart isn't just some kind of bro comedy that happens to be set in a typically un-bro world. People take drugs and there's certainly some sex, but those elements certainly aren't central components of the story.

What works so well is that Mozart isn't afraid to throw you into a world you're likely unfamiliar with, but it doesn't swim so far into the deep end that you immediately drown in jargon and distanced dramatic stakes. The quartet of creative forces at work behind the scenes—Paul Weitz, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers—successfully combine comedy and drama and, perhaps more impressively, wring humor and drama out of contexts that seem pretty specific to the orchestra community. I say "seem" because the scene is entirely foreign to me, but that didn't really hinder my enjoyment of the show. Mozart doesn't assume knowledge, nor does it rely too heavily on exposition. In fact, some of the best parts of the season involve Burrows' Cynthia getting involved with the musicians' union and the appropriately named Union Bob (Mark Blum, who's terrific) and having to consider scheduling, the structure of bathroom breaks, health insurance, and the like. Those details sort of demystify the specifics of the setting in interesting ways, shining a light on how being a musician in one of the world's most prestigious ensembles is still just a job—and one that can absolutely suck for typical job-y reasons.


2. The show isn't afraid to take liberties with its narrative trajectory

While the pilot introduces a relatively straightforward storyline that continues throughout Season 1's 10 half-hours episodes, Mozart revels in narrative digressions, in following supporting characters on weird, drunken sojourns to Cuba or spending entire installments at fundraising galas featuring elites and oddballs alike. That results in a kind of informal feeling at times, as if the show's creative team is launching into an unannounced solo in the middle of a performance, but it ultimately works. These moments, particularly if they involve Bernal's Rodrigo, inject more life into some of Mozart's less-compelling storylines, including Hailey's romantic troubles. Although Amazon clearly wants to produce programming that fits within the boundaries of what we all imagine 'TV' to be, even the brief moments of something a little less traditional work in the online/binge-viewing mode.


3. Some of the performances—especially Bernal's—are worth the price of admission on their own

Mozart in the Jungle isn't without its problems. Certain characters (Bernadette Peters' Gloria, most notably) have less to do as the season progresses, and sometimes it's not entirely clear whether the show is explicitly laughing at or with this subculture. It's also possible that maybe the random trips to Cuba or the jokes about drugs won't totally land for you. But amid those moderate issues, the show features a few really strong performances, and it all starts with Bernal. As Rodrigo, Mozart needs him to be comedically eccentric at times and a little more introspective at others, and unsurprisingly, the actor is completely up to the challenge. He dials up the wackiness when necessary, but there's a kind of self-awareness in the wackiness that makes Rodrigo a living, breathing character and not just a force of nature that disrupts everything in the orchestra and tornados Hailey's life.

Kirke is saddled with some of the typical 'wet behind the ears' character stuff that drives stories like this, but she manages it well, especially when she shares scenes with Bernal. The story requires Kirke's Hailey to grow more self-assured as the season wears on, and that mostly comes through on-screen. Kirke has a compelling presence about her, and she handles the insecurities and comedy of her character even better than some of the more straight-ahead dramatic stuff. Meanwhile, Burrows is very good as the veteran who's showing Kirke's character the ropes in NYC, Malcolm McDowell is doing his Malcolm McDowell thing in perhaps a slightly more sympathetic role than we've seen him play as of late, and Hannah Dunne is better as the sarcastic friend than what's on the page. Finally, outside of its solid regular cast, Mozart is home to plenty of random one-off guest stars and fun recurring characters who breathe a lot of life into the story.


4. The show looks and sounds great

As I mentioned above, I don't know much about classical music or orchestras—so take this with a grain of salt—but Mozart in the Jungle certainly makes good use of music throughout this first season. In fact, one of the best things about the show is that the musical performances are kind of sparsely placed, so that they have more impact when the show indulges a couple of minutes of musicianship. You're not going to be overwhelmed by the oboe, is what I'm saying.

Even better, the show looks as good as it sounds. Weitz and Coppola are joined behind the camera by a few veterans and relative newcomers alike, but everyone does good things with the visual palette established in Mozart's pilot. It's not so much that New York City itself is a character on the show (and I hate that phrase anyway), but that the show shoots in a variety of different locations, providing a real sense that people actually inhabit this world. From the somewhat dingy apartments and low-fi performance spaces to the more opulent homes of donors and veteran musicians, the interior shots look nearly as good as some of the exterior ones. Much like the performances, the aesthetics help overcome some of Mozart's other minor issues.


There you have it. It's still early in January, which means that not every show under the sun has returned from the holiday break. Before your TV watching schedule gets log-jammed again, give Mozart in the Jungle a try. All 10 episodes are available now at Amazon Instant.

Comments (19)
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Jan 07, 2015
First of all: thanks for writing about the show! I feel it's not getting enough attention.
Second: I fell in love with the pilot and kept waiting for the whole season. So glad it didn't disappoint. All your observations are spot on, the show has a great tone and feel to it, it's lighthearted but not silly. I hope it gets second season!
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Staff
Jan 07, 2015
thanks!
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Jan 07, 2015
I watched the entire season in 3 days. Fantastic show. There were a few bumpy parts, especially in the first 3 episodes but, after that, it really took off. Episode 7 is masterful (the entire episode is filmed in 11 shots).

Between this and Transparent (and the upcoming Red Oaks), Amazon has shown that they know how to put out some very good original content.
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Staff
Jan 07, 2015
Oh really?! Man, I'll be honest—I didn't notice that in my binge viewing. I'll have to go back and check that out.
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Jan 07, 2015
wondering if anyone missed marco polo. Thought it was a mini series but ended on a cliff hanger. It was so good I really hope it gets a 2nd season. Only 10 eps people if you want to look at it. It is nice to have more variety in terms of lengths of series & at this time of year when so much crap is on! Mozart in Jungle definately worth a look too.
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Jan 07, 2015
Such a great show. It has some flaws, but the good things definitely outweigh the bad. Hope to see more!
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Jan 06, 2015
Out of boredom I watched the entire first season-- Thank God It Was Free!!!!
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Jan 06, 2015
If you would like a little more background on the secret inner world of orchestral musicians (and have a good laugh while doing so), I suggest reading "Real Men Don't Rehearse."
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Jan 06, 2015
So much fun, and impossible to stop at one episode. Originally I was just expecting Smash with classical music, but it was much more than I'd expected, and thank the heavens, avoided most of the obvious cliches. I particularly loved that the cranky old oboeist wasn't won over by Hailey's amazing talent and remained a bitch, knowing she was just being a bitch and not caring. And that made the finale, when some of these threads were tied up, all the more satisfying. Can't wait for S2!
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Jan 06, 2015
I watched the first episode and found it to be decent, better than I thought it would be. Maybe I'll stick around for more, maybe not.
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Jan 06, 2015
Not that its that big of a deal. I wished the actors would have practiced playing the instruments a bit more.. the sync between the music and the instruments are terrible and the actors/actresses make no effort to act like they are actually playing the instruments.. Other than that! Just fun/easy to watch type of show.
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Staff
Jan 06, 2015
Interesting. That's not something I'd ever really be able to pick up on, so I'm glad you brought it up.
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Jan 06, 2015
This came on my radar when I heard that one John Hodgman makes a slightly (fully?) nude appearance. Not that I particularly WANT to see John Hodgman naked, but I enjoy his podcast and he makes me laugh. So if the show gets his vote of approval, I'm interested.

See also: Gael Garcia Bernal.
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Jan 06, 2015
Well he does have an oboe over his. .. oboe and it's played for laughs, but yeah pretty naked
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Jan 06, 2015
Interesting timing. I just came to TV.com after finishing episode 8, and before turning in for the night. I really love the series; I love the music, I love Roberto's love for all music alike (except Philip Glass). I really like how no one instrument gets preference over any others. He falls into raptures over the oboe, the violin, the flute, the piano, the cello, the noise of cars driving over manhole covers...

You missed reason #5: it's short. Why the heck wouldn't you want to watch it?! :)
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Jan 06, 2015
Oh, and reason #6: except for the business guy who doesn't recognize Mozart when he hears it, everybody in the show loves music. I initially thought that this was going to be a show about a stuffy old conductor who has to give way to a new, visionary conductor, and it would be very clear that the old conductor is the bad guy. But no. There are no bad guys. Well, except for the ones who are just b**ches for no reason. Everybody is in it for the love of the music, and who could hate that?
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Jan 06, 2015
I have already binged on it!! :-D I want mooooore!
It's absolutely hilarious in the most unexpected ways...
Even the bits that are not so funny feel different and fresh!
Yes Gael Garcia does a hell of a job!
***** (that's meant to mean 5 stars)
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Jan 07, 2015
Bernal is amazing! After the pilot I thought they meant his character to be just an obnoxious jerk but he's so much more than that, with the sensitivity shining through and the attempts to connect.
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