The Golden Globes is the first big awards ceremony to kick off the awards season when it comes to film. The problem here is that approximately 1% of the films that have been nominated have been released in Australia. Last year I used a randomiser to predict the film winners, but this year I’m going to leave my film predictions for the Oscars. There are still distribution issues with television in Australia, but it’s slowly getting better, and I think I’ve seen most of the nominated shows that I actually want to watch. It’s been a good year in television, and I like the complete unpredictability of the Hollywood Foreign Press, so every prediction I make will be worth a grain of salt.
Mike: Maestro, about the curse – do you think it could be psychosomatic?
Rodrigo: Of course Michel, of course it’s psychosomatic, everything is. Me, you, the music. The way we experience things, it’s in the head. Psychosomatic.
The Amazon Original programme that everyone is talking about is Transparent. I also know a few people who watch Bosch, but my favourite by far is Mozart in the Jungle. It’s the very definition of nice programming – a dramedy about the New York Symphony – without the “prestige” of Transparent or broader appeal of a crime drama like Bosch. I put the first season of Mozart in my top 10 partly because I knew that with a December release it would be forgotten amongst the majority of shows that aired in 2015, particularly since it was a 2014 release. Mozart in the Jungle is also on my list because it’s good, and there’s nothing else like it on television. Season two of Mozart is an improvement on the first season, as it broadens the scope and narrows its focus – there’s more about the day to day business of running and working for the orchestra, and it cuts out some of the storylines that were largely superfluous in the first season, like Alex. This review will have mild spoilers, but I’m not going to say any more about the ‘curse’, so proceed with caution.
It’s December, and the thing the internet loves the most at this time of year is the end-of-year Best Of list, so they can disagree with them. This is my first time writing such a list, and it’s difficult. I thought about writing a separate list for Australian shows, but I don’t want to ghettoise them, so they’re in here too. There are things that aren’t on here because I don’t watch them (The Walking Dead, Hannibal) or haven’t had time to catch up (Transparent, The Leftovers, Parks and Recreation), so just know I haven’t forgotten them. I didn’t forget anything, there’s a reason I left it off. Fargo isn’t on here because while I thought it was very good, I didn’t love it – although Kirsten Dunst did give one of the best performances of the year. My favourite show of the year has the top spot, everything else is in alphabetical order. Hopefully the shows I’ve collected here are a good range of the different things I’m enjoying right now. Writing a Top 10 list is hard, and while I’m only super passionate about half to two-thirds of the shows on this list, they’re all here for a reason. I’ve written about all of these shows previously, so there’s just going to be a paragraph about why each one is there, with some links to some things I’ve written. My only warning is that if you watch the “Best episodes” of the show, you will be spoiled for some plot developments.
A few weeks ago, my dad and brother went to see an Asian Cup soccer match, which meant mum and I needed something to watch on a Sunday night. I pulled out the complete series boxset of Slings and Arrows that I bought last year and had not yet watched (I have a pile of half-watched DVDs lying around, including the first season of Deadwood and the second season of Alias). My mum is an English teacher, so I thought it would be something she enjoyed – truthfully all I knew about the show is that it was about a Shakespearean theatre company, and that Rachel McAdams was in it. I had to order the DVDs on Amazon, because I knew they weren’t available in Australia.
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.
- 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.