Oh, man: Another comedy-drama about symphony orchestras? Sheesh, let's move on, people.
Just kidding, of course. Offhand I can't remember any shows about classical musicians, with the possible exception of Conrad Janis' role as Mindy's music-store-owner dad in Mork and Mindy.
But there's a story in every walk of life, and Amazon Studios' new series Mozart in the Jungle proves the point with an often delightful and inventive comedy drama about a world-famous New York orchestra and the egos that make it work, or not, as the case might be. The show's 10 episodes became available Tuesday on Amazon Prime.
The series is executive-produced by Paul Weitz, John Strauss and cousins Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, based on Blair Tindall's memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs & Classical Music.
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Hailey (Lola Kirke) is a struggling oboe player in New York who takes any job she can get, including playing in a pit band for Oedipus Rex, starring Constantine Maroulis. She gets what looks like her big break when the brashly eccentric new conductor of the New York Symphony, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal), hears her play and gives her a temporary job as the fifth oboist in a performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony.
Unfortunately for Hailey, that doesn't work out, but it ends up being fortunate for the show, because it introduces us to the roiling mass of eccentricity, quirkiness and egomania at every level of the symphony, including its headstrong, self-important president, Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters); its resentful former music director, Thomas (Malcolm McDowell); veteran cellist Cynthia (Saffron Burrows), who takes Hailey under her wing; Betty (Debra Monk), a haughty first-chair oboist who isn't about to cut any slack for a newbie; Edward Biben (Brennan Brown), the old-guard money guy who wants to reinstate Thomas in place of Rodrigo; Hailey's friend Lizzie (Hannah Dunne); and Alex (Peter Vack), an ambitious young dancer-choreographer who sweeps Hailey off her feet.
One percussionist has a lucrative side trade selling drugs to fellow musicians, and another, with a weak bladder, invokes strict union rules about the number of bathroom breaks for musicians. Sharon (Jennifer Kim) gets the thankless job of being Rodrigo's assistant and is so desperate to please, she gets down on her knees to wipe pigeon poop off his shoe.
Rodrigo is the center of this vortex of eccentricity. He sweeps in on a cloud of self- importance and pays lip service to his predecessor but makes it clear he intends to do things his way, which includes hauling the entire band to a vacant lot in a seedy part of town to offer a kind of flash-mob rendition of 1812 Overture.
Bernal virtually steals the show, not only because Rodrigo is such a larger-than-life character, but because Bernal plays it magnificently. The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Peters is hilarious trying to memorize otherwise forgettable facts about potential donors as an aide walks behind, correcting her when she gets them wrong.
The show works because the writers realize that the apparent central story line is of less importance than the silliness of running a major orchestra. We do, of course, care about Hailey (or Jai-Lai, as Rodrigo calls her), her career and love life, but whenever the focus is on the youngsters, we're missing the oldsters, including the gaggle of fawning elderly women who are targets of a certain kind of seduction on the part of Rodrigo and the orchestra.
Although the credits include the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is all in your head, there's no question that at least the concept of a young Latin wunderkind conductor has some resemblance to Gustavo Dudamel. In fact, IMDb lists the character's name as Gustavo.
In truth, the drama half of this comedy-drama is a little weak and not as engaging as the comedy. That becomes evident a few episodes in, but, fortunately, the show's creators don't linger too long on Hailey's love life before getting back to the very funny business of running a symphony orchestra.