Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW: 'Mozart in the Jungle' - Rodrigo Has to Choose Between Being a Friend and a Conductor to the Orchestra in 'Stern Papa'

Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle - Episode 2.01 "Stern Papa"

To the outside, Rodrigo's tenure as the new maestro is a roaring success, but the conductor is having doubts. Hailey works to replace herself as Rodrigo's assistant so she can focus on her new position as substitute in the oboe section. Cynthia meets the orchestra's take-no-prisoners lawyer.

It sure is odd that Amazon chose to drop the ten episode second season of Mozart in the Jungle today. It goes to show you that in a year with so many networks producing original scripted content - 409 total shows according to FX's research team - not even the week between Christmas and New Year's is free from a premiere. Fortunately, it's not a new show. Mozart in the Jungle has its established fan base. This won't need to be the big binge that everyone needs to be talking about - unlike Netflix's Making a Murderer a few weeks ago. It's simply a way for Amazon to keep the conversation going into the new year. They must figure that people need something to binge over this holiday weekend before the onslaught of new shows in January. And Mozart in the Jungle is a fine show to do that for the service. It's an easy show to watch that does it's thing and does it in a simple and effective way.

"Stern Papa" largely serves as a reintroduction to this world and these characters. It sets out to remind the audience what's important to these people as well as what the big concerns will be this season. It does establish a lot of story points that will be crucial later on in the season. The big talk of this premiere is about the growing tension between the company and the union. That is literally the first major concern that Rodrigo hears about in the opening minutes of the season. That establishes it's value - even though the remainder of the premiere is just setting the pieces up for the tension to grow even more in the future. It's a triumph for Rodrigo to get to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They are a great orchestra. He returns to New York City knowing that they are still largely a work in progress - even though they are now putting on more performances.

It also sets up an interesting dynamic regarding how the conductor should interact with the rest of his orchestra. Rodrigo is a fun and free-spirited guy. He does have outrageous and out-there moments. But he is also very passionate about the music and making sure it's the best it can possibly be. It's not there yet with the New York Symphony. Is that because Rodrigo is so willing to be a fun friend with the members of the orchestra? The Philharmonic hates their current director. They want the rumors about a potential strike to be true just so they can work with Rodrigo on a regular basis. And yet, they are also a great orchestra. How much of that is because their conductor works them hard and doesn't want to be their friend? The Symphony right now lacks cohesive as Rodrigo and Thomas point out. Part of that is the looming union strike hanging over everyone's minds. The union's new lawyer even makes an appearance during a rehearsal - which largely just amounts to flirting with Cynthia. Despite all of these problems though, Rodrigo finds himself incapable of being the stern figure that his colleagues tell him he needs to be. He recounts a story about his former maestro and how cruel he was should someone arrive late to rehearsal. That's a story that made a lasting memory. Everyone in the room is able to laugh about it. But it also continues to prop up the idea of the conductor being brutal with his orchestra in order to make them the best that they can be.

After another performance, Rodrigo does want to make that change in order to more effectively serve the Symphony and make it a more enriching experience for all involved. It's a decision he comes to after talking with Thomas. That's a much appreciated change to their dynamic this season. They work well as two colleagues who understand each other and this orchestra. That should be an interesting friendship to explore throughout the season. But moments after that conversation, Rodrigo is still reaching out to Hailey at three o'clock in the morning searching for approval. He wants to know what the orchestra thinks about him. He is so self-conscious. That's what's interfering with his ability to do the job. He wants to know how the members of the orchestra see him. Do they view him as a friend who can play baseball with them? Or someone they actually love? Or their forceful and determined leader as they attempt to make beautiful music? It's that search for understanding that fuels that terrific final scene between Rodrigo and Hailey. Their dynamic is in flux at the moment but there's still a layer of familiarity to it that is comforting to Rodrigo. He understands how damaging such closeness can be. And yet, he still searches it out - even though Hailey doesn't tell him anything he doesn't already know.

This premiere also forces a change in Hailey. She's a much more active character with purpose. She's not simply reacting to Rodrigo's outrageousness or wondering what Betty thinks about her. She's trying to stand up for herself and what's best for her. That's a welcome change even though she still lacks conviction. She is still working as Rodrigo's assistant and she's still dating Alex. Neither one of those things makes her as passionate as she is when playing the oboe. She's doing her best to find a replacement assistant for Rodrigo but he's so reluctant to any type of change because of the stressful nature of his job. He doesn't want Hailey to leave even though this job is no longer beneficial to her goals now that she's officially a substitute in the oboe section of the Symphony. That's a huge achievement. She doesn't want anything to distract her from pursuing that dream. Perhaps that's what has led to things fizzling out with Alex. They are still dating. But it's more like a relationship that has grown stale than something captivating to watch. She is there for him to record a dance audition. But they've also follow into a familiar rut with each other - one where they are unfazed by the threat of lice. Hailey still has a long way to go to truly achieve her dreams. Rodrigo does motivate her to be the best oboist she can be. But that relationship isn't exactly the best for her either. The gossip has been flourishing amongst the orchestra. She's committed to not letting anything happen. But again, she's practicing with more passion than ever before simply because of how much Rodrigo believes in her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stern Papa" was written by Paul Weitz and directed by Paul Weitz.
  • All of the union stuff really didn't go anywhere last season. It was literally just building to Cynthia and Bob sleeping with each other. With more focus, it has the potential to be a really strong season-long arc. Now that it's been set up, it should be interesting to see what happens - and if the orchestra members really do strike.
  • Rodrigo also teases a tour throughout Latin America and the chance to perform in front of his former maestro. That sounds like a compelling adventure for the show this season.
  • Thomas is hard at work composing his own symphony. It's a little weird that he wakes up and says good morning to all of his idols just in order to find inspiration. But it does seem like he's committed to this lifestyle - which is much more relevant than his angry vitriol of last season.
  • Gloria also doesn't seem too worried about a strike. She's more focused on redecorating which largely just gives her a distraction to keep from worrying.
  • Can't say that Lizzie was missed at all in this premiere. She was a character the show didn't know what to do with last season. Plus, Hailey already has a strong female friend character in Cynthia - who stands by her even after Hailey confirms the rumor about her kiss with Rodrigo.
  • Rodrigo is right in saying that electronic baby is weird. It's largely just a story fleshing out the rest of the characters in the orchestra. 

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.