‘Mozart in the Jungle’ Season 4 Plucks at the Heartstrings
“Mozart in the Jungle“ plays like an underground arthouse series, comfortable as a curiosity in the world of streaming. It features major talents like Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDowell, but moves to a rhythm and style that is quirky and apart from other shows. This is probably because it is that unique series based on a world that is both well-known but also somewhat insulated: The world of classical music. This is what keeps giving it a lively charm even as it now enters its fourth season. At times the new storyline can drag or get cheesy, but because its more creative moments are still funny, interesting and unique, it’s never completely unwatchable.
Celebrity conductor Rodrigo De Souza (Garcia Bernal) remains as aloof as ever, lost in the whims of genius. But now he is going public in his relationship with oboist and aspiring conductor Hailey (Lola Kirke), who immediately starts feeling the pressure of living under the shadow of such a personality. But both of them are enduring their own kind of personal crises. Rodrigo is losing the will to fully throw himself into the work, and the visiting specter of Mozart (Santino Fontana) appears to be leaving him, depriving him of inspiration. Hailey is simply struggling to prove to others, and to herself, that she has what it takes. She wants to convince a major composer to let her conduct one of her new pieces, she is auditioning for the world’s most important conducting competition, and she has to face how her family shaped her into being who she is. Meanwhile fellow seasoned conductor Thomas (McDowell) struggles to find inspiration himself and decides to take on a community orchestra, while Gloria (Bernadette Peters), struggles to keep the New York going amid budget problems and a rat infestation.
This is one of those shows that works as a series of quirky, human and sometimes moving moments. The main storyline, in this season the love affair between Rodrigo and Hailey, can even feel slightly intrusive because we’re so fascinated by their very world. Classical music is a curious amalgam of amazing talent, big egos and scattered, pretentious personalities. If you have ever lived with anyone involved in the classical music world, you will instantly recognize many of these characters and their dilemmas. There is a great moment where Thomas struggles with his new orchestra, desperate to get a Beethoven piece just right. He brings in a motorcycle to literally give the performance a roaring sound. Another character is a famous choreographer who offers Rodrigo the chance to work with him on a dance piece “without an audience,” because to him audiences are simply out of fashion. Later on when his troupe dances for Rodrigo, the scene becomes a hilarious take on the kind of self-absorbed pretension of a true diva. Other moments verge on proto-surrealism, as when Rodrigo conducts for the Pope and the ceiling begins to crumble due to an infestation. These moments make “Mozart in the Jungle” a fun satire about classical music culture and a whimsical comedy.
It’s when the show veers away from the characters and their whims that it starts to slow down. The whole love angle between Rodrigo and Hailey is sweet, but it doesn’t go anywhere new or interesting. When the two are simply having domestic moments, such as asking him to pay rent or introducing him to her parents, it’s well acted but too much been there, done that. It never goes beyond quirk because Rodrigo works best as a riff on the distant, detached genius. His character is a sort of TV version of Gustavo Dudamel. He’s a star Latin conductor, so talented he can grab a banjo and produce a beautiful melody without ever having touched the instrument (“You’re like a magical music elf,” Hailey complains). When he a major financial backer of the New York Symphony requests he conduct Mozart’s “Requiem,” Rodrigo gets nervous, because he’s never conducted such a major piece and the ghost of Mozart warns him not to try. Because this season features so much less of Rodrigo being a conductor, instead opting to be a boyfriend, we welcome the more outrageous, surreal moments. One of the best scenes in the new season involves Rodrigo and a collector of classical music artifacts engaging in a séance to try and contact the spirit of Mozart. This is when the show taps into what makes it uniquely funny. It knows how to poke fun in a smart way at a very refined world.
It’s difficult to tell how “Mozart in the Jungle” will carry on into yet another season. It has to keep the characters interesting while making the storylines less dependent on old sitcom molds (two characters suddenly dating, etc.). But season four still features good things, among them the breaking of stereotypes. Rodrigo is a unique Latin character in that he is a classical music star, and Hailey is that rare thing we see anywhere in pop culture, a female conductor. At its best, this show remains a classy good time.
“Mozart in the Jungle” Season 4 is available Feb. 16 on Amazon.