“Mozart in the Jungle” is a delightful show depicting the cutthroat world of classical music

The pilot for Mozart in the Jungle premiered on Amazon Instant Video, for free, on February 6, 2014 with a few other pilots, including Transparent. I discovered that there were no region restrictions on these pilots, so I watched four of the five that were available, including the two shows mentioned above. Transparent was clearly a show that was special and specific to a unique group of people, but the show I connected the most with was Mozart in the Jungle. Starring Lola Kirke, Gael García Bernal, Saffron Burrows, Hannah Dunne and Malcolm McDowell, Mozart in the Jungle follows Hayley Rutledge (Kirke), an oboist who lives with her best friend Lizzie (Dunne) and is aspiring to get into the New York Symphony Orchestra. Cynthia Taylor (Burrows) is a cellist with the orchestra, and is having an affair with the outgoing conductor of the Symphony, Thomas Pembridge (McDowell). McDowell is suffering some sort of identity crisis, as he enters his retirement and is replaced by the brilliant and eccentric (and much younger) Rodgrigo De Souza (Bernal).

Mozart in the Jungle’s pilot premiered on February 6, 2014, but after a first season was ordered, it didn’t premiere on Amazon Prime until December 23, 2014, just before Christmas. And for me, living in Australia, the first season was available on the Stan streaming service when it launched on January 21, 2015. The Amazon pilot process is weird. Amazon orders a specific number of pilots, which are then available for viewing in select countries (the regional restriction on Australia has now been enforced). Amazon then asks the viewers to rate the pilots they’ve seen, and based upon those ratings and some other factors they’ve taken into consideration, they order specific shows for full seasons. In this particular batch of pilots however, the survey data didn’t seem to say much; Transparent had the lowest ratings, but was ordered to series – Myles McNutt explains what else may factor into Amazon’s decisions here. I’m just happy that Mozart in the Jungle was picked up (I have watched the first two episodes of Transparent, which I will write about when I’ve completed the show’s first season), because it was delightful to watch these characters and their passion for music.

It’s really hard to describe this show without spoiling it, because it’s not a very plotty show. In the pilot, Hayley is running between her various jobs as she tries to keep afloat in New York; she teaches a young boy the oboe, and also plays in a band for Styx: The Musical, which is something you just have to see. Also playing in the band is Cynthia, the cellist at the New York Symphony, who introduces herself to Hayley because she sees Hayley’s talent. Over at the Symphony, Thomas Pembridge has conducted his last performance as musical director, and Rodrigo is announced as the incoming musical director. Thomas has some issues about this appointment, but he completely loses it when Rodrigo tells him all the times during which his musicians were out of time or out of tune. After drinks with Cynthia, Hayley returns home to discover that her best friend and roommate Lizzie is throwing a party for a bunch of classical musicians, and there is an oboe versus flute rivalry that is tested by a drinking game. Yes, there are classical music drinking games, which is why I will watch every episode of this show. The next morning, Hayley has to prepare her student for some sort of recital at his house, but she has a message from Cynthia that Rodrigo is holding auditions. Too late for the audition, Hayley sits down and plays her music anyway, just enjoying her music.

This show isn’t always great, but it’s at its best when it’s showing just how delightful music can be. “The Rehearsal”, the season’s sixth episode involves a performance that reminds the orchestra why they love what they do. The seventh episode, “You Go To My Head” is like a little break from the rest of the show, as Hayley walks around a mansion just talking to someone about why she loves playing the oboe. The season finale, “Opening Night”, is a clever piece of writing and being completely aware of how clever it is. On any other show, the circumstances that led up to the climax would have just been convenient coincidences, in Mozart in the Jungle, it is implicit that the series of events prior to the performance were the result of careful planning.

Other thoughts:

  • There’s a great scene in the fourth episode, “You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky!”, in which Rodrigo and Hayley just listen to the sounds of the city and hear the music. That’s what kind of show this is.
  • Roman Coppola is an executive producer on the show, and he directed the aforementioned “You Go To My Head”. As someone who has only just started paying attention to how visual media is directed, I noticed how beautiful Coppola’s editing is on this episode. If you only watch one episode, watch this one.
  • There are also romantic storylines in this show, but they’re not particularly interesting to me. Neither are the storylines about the orchestra trying to stay afloat, and one of the orchestra’s big sponsors trying to get rid of Rodrigo before he’s even opened the season.
  • The egos of the characters and what they have to do to succeed in this world are absolutely fascinating, and the Thomas/Rodrigo relationship is definitely the most fascinating on the show, followed by Betty, the First Oboist at the Symphony taking Hayley on as a student.
  • It’s a shame this show premiered two days before Christmas, it sort of flew under the radar, and I really hope it gets a second season.

Things I’m reading and watching

It’s late on Friday night, and I’ve had work all week (even though it was a four day work week, it felt like five) and tonight we had some family over for my grandma’s birthday, so I haven’t really put any thought into what I’m going to write today. So this is a last minute post in the middle of my Parenthood mini marathon of things I have on my reading and watching list.

Books:

  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett: I bought this in July last year and I’m only just getting around to reading it. I have a thing where if I watch a visual adaptation of a book before i read the book itself, I find it really hard to get through the book itself (Game of Thrones was much easier after I made it past the season three material). Lizzie Bennett is different in that it’s an adaptation of a webseries, and I’m still not sure if it translates well (there was a similar problem with the first of the Veronica Mars books that was published in 2014). I’ll write a review.
  • Wolf Hall: When I went to Canberra last year, a friend of mine was reading it, and loving it. Then I found out it was being adapted for television, so it’s something I want to read fairly quickly. What finally sold me on the book was the discovery it’s about Thomas Cromwell during the English Reformation, which is a fascinating period of history.
  • Lost and Found: I bought this at the same time as Lizzie Bennett, and similarly haven’t yet read it. I lent it to my mum over Christmas though, and she said it was very good, so I’m looking forward to it.

Television:

  • Alias: I started watching this just after I started my job in November (it was probably my gift to myself after I got paid for the first time), and I completely rushed through the first season, it was brilliant. I’m just past halfway through the second season, after the thing that happened I was really confused, because I didn’t know what the rest of the show would be. But as a Sydney/Vaughn shipper, I’m very happy. Since I’ve only seen Jennifer Garner in films, I didn’t know how good she was, and it’s disappointing to see how miscast she is in films. My impression of Bradley Cooper has improved over the course of this show as well, the show and his character immediately became more interesting when he discovered Sydney’s identity.
  • Lost: I didn’t watch this in its original run (I saw the first half of the Pilot, “Numbers”, and the one where the Others convince Sawyer they’ve put a pacemaker in his heart, and something about a character that’s destined to die), but last year I started watching along as The A.V. Club included it in its ‘Classic’ schedule, and following along. I’m very much looking forward to the start of the third season.

That’s all I have time for today, I have to go and watch another episode of Parenthood. I’m going to try to see a movie this weekend, but I also have a job application to complete tomorrow, so it might be a complete mess. I hope everyone had a great week.

Stan provides a legal way for television fans in Australia to watch “The Shield” without buying all seven seasons

Online piracy of movies and television shows is a big problem in Australia; people don’t watch shows when they air because they probably watched them illegally two months previously. There are several factors as to why Australia has these problems: our television season (February to November) doesn’t match up with the American television season (September to May), and even when Australian networks are willing to fast track television shows, they’ll take December and January off because it’s the non-ratings period when no one watches anything but sports.

Another reason that piracy is rampant here is that Australians just don’t like paying for television. After Channel Seven cancelled A Place to Call Home, it was picked up by the Australian cable provider, Foxtel. Cue the letters to The Green Guide (and probably other television guides, but I don’t read them), complaining that they’ll have to pay for Foxtel or wait for the DVD. The show was averaging over 1 million viewers in its second season, which is exactly why Foxtel decided to pick it up – everything Foxtel does is a marketing decision to attract subscribers. If you don’t want to pay for Foxtel, that’s okay, but if you want to watch it when it airs, the subscription fee is only $75, and there’s other good television on Foxtel as well. Foxtel also did a deal with HBO in order that Game of Thrones wouldn’t be available for purchase on iTunes, beginning with the fourth season. During its third season, Game of Thrones was always at the top of the iTunes television charts. Foxtel know what they’re doing, and if non-subscribers don’t like it, they can pay a subscription fee, or break the law. Guess what’s happening.

The third factor is related to the second, and it’s that if Australians want to legally catch up on an older television show, whether it’s The Shield or Lost, they have to buy the entire season on DVD or iTunes. Australia has been woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to online streaming; Netflix announced last year that they would be launching in Australia in March 2015, but it’s not the first streaming service on the market. As I wrote hastily last week, the Channel Nine/Fairfax streaming venture Stan launched on January 21, and suddenly Australians have options. As a fan of television, I knew that I should be watching The Shield (Alan Sepinwall‘s book, The Revolution Was Televised is essential reading for any television fan), but I was unwilling to cough up the $16 for the first season of The Shield just in case I didn’t like it. Then when I was browsing the Stan library last week, I learned that all seven seasons of The Shield are in their library! That’s convenient, especially since when you sign up, you receive a 30 Day Free Trial, and after that the monthly subscription fee is $9.99. If you end up watching the entire series in two months, it costs $10, as opposed to over $100 on DVD. It could take up to a year to watch the entire series, and it would be approximately on par with the DVD retail price. And when you consider that there are dozens of other shows and movies in the Stan library, that price is worth it. I’m looking forward to what else will be available when Netflix launches in March. (There is a third streaming service, Presto, which is a Channel Seven/Foxtel venture, but I have Foxtel so I don’t need this particular service).

On The Shield  pilot, because that’s all I’ve seen so far: it’s great! Because I’ve seen people talk about the show, and read Alan Sepinwall’s book, I was spoiled for the big thing in the pilot, but that doesn’t matter because it’s fantastic. It’s beautifully directed by Clark Johnson, who also directed the pilot for The Wire (a fact I learned from Alan Sepinwall’s book, just buy it already!), which makes perfect sense now that I’ve seen both pilots – his style is well suited to both shows. I’m stunned that Michael Chiklis was my age when he was cast in this show, he looks so much older. I think my favourite character so far is the one played by CCH Pounder, because she’s awesome in everything she’s in. I knew Walton Goggins was in this show, so I wasn’t surprised to see him, but apparently it takes a while for him to be as good as he is in Justified. I’m excited to see where The Shield is going, and I’m happy I have a way to watch it without having to pay over $100 for the DVDs.

Justified, Season 6 Episode 2: “Cash Game”

This week on Justified, we started to delve a little deeper into what Boyd was paid to steal from the bank last week. There are documents that are somehow connected to a mysterious man (we soon learn his identity), who happens to have $3 million stashed somewhere. Ava appears to have worked her way back into Boyd’s inner circle (the events of season five are just barely under the surface, as Ava finds it hard to trust him while at the same time trying to act as informant against him), and Raylan and Boyd have their first conversation of the season, complete with magnificent dialogue.

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“Masquerade” is an impressive Young Adult debut from Australian author Kylie Fornasier

I found out about Masquerade, a book set in Venice in the mid-18th Century on Twitter. Every Wednesday night at either 8 or 8:30 Australian Eastern Time (Standard or Daylight depending on the time of year), the Penguin Teen Australia Twitter account hosts a book chat (#PTAChat). On the 17th of December last year, one of the books that kept cropping up as people’s favourite standalone young adult novel for the year was Masquerade, so I made note of it and I bought it a couple of weeks ago. Then when I finally started reading the book (it took me a couple of weeks to get through Stasiland), I think I read it in two sittings within 24 hours. It wasn’t just a page turner, it had me thinking.

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Jane the Virgin, “Chapter Eight”

When we last left Jane and the gang, Jane and Rafael were together, Michael was sleeping with his partner, Xo and Rogelio were doing their weird thing, and Petra got Rafael fired from the hotel (I seriously have no idea how this family business works). Now we fast forward two weeks, and find out that Rafael was fired because he underwrote his sister’s lawsuit (she was being sued for artificially inseminating Jane) with his shares in the hotel, and because Luisa has gone missing, the judge may rule against Luisa and Rafael by default. So Rafael spent two weeks looking for her in Mexico, and now it’s (default) judgement day. Also Rafael finds out that Jane’s a virgin, and he didn’t react as well as Michael did when he found out. But we’ll get to that later.

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Girls, Season 4 Episode 2: “Triggering”

“Triggering” is the episode of Girls that was most discussed by critics before the fourth season started because of its meta-like qualities. I think the scenes with Hannah highlight that getting into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is just the next step into her becoming a writer, and of course parallels criticisms people have made of the show itself. It took me a while to watch this episode because I decided to wait until Bernard Tomic lost his tennis match (tennis really does take over my life in the second half of January), just in case my brother comes home and asks me what the result was. Overall, “Triggering” was a good episode of Girls, even if some parts of the episode weren’t particularly subtle.

The most glaringly obvious problems with the episode were the “This is Iowa!” moments. I learned that the show didn’t have permission to film on location in Iowa, so they had to use parts of Brooklyn, so the establishing shots of the Iowa cornfields seemed really obvious. And then Hannah couldn’t believe that the place she was renting was only $250 a month, and neither could I, because I can’t imagine any real estate in Australia for that price that would be worth living in. Also Hannah doesn’t need to lock her bike because this is Iowa! And then it got stolen anyway.

It seemed strange to me that the trailer showed Elijah joining Hannah in Iowa and not Adam, since Hannah was so worried about the long distance stuff, but it made much more sense when I found out that Eijah just showed up on his own, because that’s who Elijah is. After Hannah’s “ordeal” (that’s what she thought it was anyway) of her story being workshopped, seeing Elijah, or at least someone from home, is exactly what she needed. And it seemed like she almost forgot about Adam because Elijah made her go out and enjoy herself. Then she told the other girl (“I’m 25, I’ve seen a lot of things”) not to worry about her boyfriend cheating on her, so that girl she was trying to comfort at the time was basically her subconscious. Still, Hannah having fun at a party is better than Hannah trying to manipulate Marnie into talking about Adam. Props to Marnie for knowing exactly what’s happening there, but she really shouldn’t be knitting that scarf for Desi.

And now for the meta of it all. Hannah’s story is about a girl who had an abusive experience with her boyfriend, and her classmates called her out for being a priviliged girl and trivialising the actual issues of abuse, which is not too different to criticisms that have been made of Dunham’s writing on Girls. Hannah is a less actualised version of Lena Dunham, and as I said earlier. Later at the bar, Hannah asks one of her classmates if she really believed what she said about the story, and she did. Hannah is so myopic that she just assumes that this classmate is a victim of abuse. Then her classmate tells her that these workshops are just a small scale version of what happens to a writer when their work is published to a wider audience. I don’t know exactly what Dunham thinks of her critics (given her friendship with Taylor Swift, I’m sure she doesn’t mind that much), but these scenes seem to indicate where she was when she first heard the criticisms of her show compared to where she is now that Girls is in its fourth season.

Other thoughts:

  • Hannah’s card didn’t go through, and she dropped her phone in the creek in addition to her phone being stolen.
  • Hannah was running late for class, so she went in her pyjamas! I wish I lived close enough to campus to be able to do that when I was doing my Masters
  • I love that Hannah’s parents are really involved in their scrabble game
  • Elijah on Iowa, proving that he’s the best: “On the way over from the airport, two people asked me if I was Blake Lively’s husband. It’s so exciting!”