Zoë Kravitz Journeys Through a Playlist of Bad Dates in Hulu’s Gloriously Lovesick ‘High Fidelity’
Rob Brooks (Zoë Kravitz) is a timeless character because love sickness belongs to no specific era. She keeps dating the wrong type of guys, obsesses over what her exes are up to and somehow connects it all to the music that envelops her daily life. “High Fidelity” is Hulu’s serial update of the cult 2000 Stephen Frears movie of the same name starring John Cusack as Rob. The decade and gender have changed, but not the frustrations over failed romance. Even when we roll our eyes at Rob’s struggles, we can still relate to them on varying levels. Given the length of a show, the story also gets more time to play itself out with fun.
We’re back in New York and Rob runs a record store (yes, those still exist) named Championship Vinyl with co-workers Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Simon (David H. Holmes). As they discuss favorite artists and songs, Rob obsesses over her top five doomed romances and the endless string of dates that lead to nothing but weirdos, flakers and loneliness. She can’t seem to ever get it right, whether it’s dating men who can’t commit to two timers with girlfriends, Rob can’t seem to figure out why she remains a self-described dysfunctional romantic.
“High Fidelity” first works wonderfully as a kind of contemporary nostalgia piece. Millennials have remained attached to the culture that shaped them in the ‘90s, 2000s and, of course, the shadow of the ‘80s. Even though the show takes place today, Championship Vinyl and the series’ own soundtrack seem taken straight from 30 years ago. Aside from indie selections, the characters debate the merits of bands like U2 as if they were fresh. Rob spies on an ex via Instagram, but while plopped on her couch at home a vision of Blondie’s Debbie Harry (the real one doing a classy cameo) appears reassuring her that she can let go. The whole look of the show is a warm homage to the original movie and the era that spawned it, not to mention the novel by Nick Hornby from which both are culled. Creators Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka maintain much of the original film’s spirit too in the way Rob looks at the camera, explaining herself to us and trying to make sense of life. As with John Cusack the audience feels a direct connection to Rob.
The absence of an all-encompassing plot gives “High Fidelity” a fresh feel in every episode because we’re following Rob as she deals with her gallery of bad dates. But the richer layer to the material is that the love sickness is about more than just seeking a relationship. Rob becomes a conduit for the idea of persevering through any of those moments when life feels like it’s trapped in limbo. The narrative flows from past to present. Rob dates someone new, then remembers a guy like Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who left for London without her then moves back to the city without saying a word. Another dating prospect with good music taste turns out to be too young. Because the writing feels true to human folly we can shake our heads when Rob starts obsessing over Mac’s new girlfriend, but without judgement because the point is people truly do suffer like this. We date in hopes of finding someone worthwhile and in the process come across a whole array of colorful, strange characters. Some people get lucky and find a solid partner, some aren’t so lucky and keep searching, but the point is life goes on for Rob. The supporting cast is just as engaging. Randolph is a revelation as the energetic Cherise who announces herself as a musician, although no one has heard any of her music. She’s as memorable as Jack Black in the original “High Fidelity.” Holmes as Simon provides some fun entertainment as the know-it-all who drops album and artist facts like an encyclopedia.
For Kravitz to take on the role originally occupied by Cusack in the annals of pop culture is daring yet makes sense in a nostalgic way. Kravitz’s mom Lisa Bonet was also in the 2000 movie. One generation passes on tales of unrequited desires to another. But Kravitz makes the Rob role her own, turning the persona into an independent woman just looking for a partner who can at least have one decent feature, whether it be kindness or a good ear. Her anxiety while learning about an ex’s new girlfriend sizzles off the screen. It’s a fantastic update of the old rom-com character. Rob isn’t a victim, just another citizen wondering why a love life can’t be simpler, and why people have to be so uncaring.
“High Fidelity” could have been an ill-conceived remake, instead it joins shows like “She’s Gotta Have It” which take classic films and update them into engaging television. It’s an easy binge because of its tone and humorous millennial despair. Then again that’s why these stories keep being told. It doesn’t matter what decade you’re from, finding the right one can feel like it will take forever.
“High Fidelity” season one begins streaming Feb. 14 on Hulu.