Each season of “Mozart in the Jungle” begins with something new — specifically, the opening sequence, which has gotten a regular refresh every year. But while each is beautiful in its own way, the theme song never changes. And that feels entirely correct for the Golden Globe-winning series, which in its third season remains unafraid of trying new things, but in the end rarely changes.
Tracking a group of professional musicians as they strive to create art and make a living, “Mozart” has always been an extraordinarily pleasant show, with intricate plotting taking a very deliberate back seat to quirky vignettes and extended sequences entirely dedicated to performance and creation.
Season 3 begins with our best-known members of the New York Symphony Orchestra somewhat scattered to the winds, due to contract negotiations and the need to find work elsewhere. Elsewhere in this case includes Venice, Italy, where Hailey (Lola Kirke) finds herself assisting Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) with a new ambitious piece featuring a legendary opera singer (Monica Bellucci, who really should be in more things). Meanwhile, Gloria (Bernadette Peters) tries to hold the business of the Symphony together, as Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) explores new opportunities and Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) continues to advocate for the now out-of-work players.
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Just because the symphony is shut down doesn’t mean “Mozart” lacks in the beautiful music that’s always been a massive part of the series. (As always, the focus is on classical, but unafraid of modern twists and new genres, including a notable trip down EDM lane.)
The beauty goes beyond the auditory: The early episodes were shot on location in Venice, and it’s truly stunning to see what the production was able to stage in the piazzas and canals of that extraordinary city. And unexpectedly, the series tops that achievement with its breakout installment: Episode 7, a faux documentary written and directed by Roman Coppola, was shot on 16mm color film in Rikers Island penitentiary, and is a weird, but stunning, bit of filmmaking that functions as a stand-alone piece, but also serves as an essential part of the narrative.
There’s a lot that makes “Mozart” special, to be honest, including the stable of actors who make up its ensemble. In particular, Malcolm McDowell remains an absolute delight, defying decades worth of iconically villainous roles to play a man still capable and open to discovering new experiences in his 70s. Bernadette Peters has more class than an entire symphony audience, and there are many guest stars from the over-40 set who prove extraordinary.
“Mozart” is a show about people who may drive each other crazy, but all genuinely love the same thing, which makes it decidedly easy to like. That said, for some reason it always takes real nudging to engage with it, in part because that same pleasant energy doesn’t include the same sort of urgent drive that leads to addictive viewing.
In addition, the writing in general isn’t immune to cliches and expected outcomes (I am officially obligated to deduct a few points for a “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” scene, as well as the schoolyard taunt “Yo-Yo Ma? Yo mama!”). And sometimes, there are odd vignettes and sidebars that feel included for the sake of random oddness. It’s a show we should all be genuinely grateful is 30 minutes an episode because, after three seasons, I feel confident saying that if it were an hour long, that’d kill it.
Really, there’s much to the alchemy of what makes “Mozart” work that has a sense of fragility to it. Of all the visual metaphors to float up unexpectedly in Season 3, the most prominent one is that of bubbles. Beautiful, light, and delicate, even in their growing complexity, we watch them float across the screen. Watching the show brings with it the same emotions: knowing that there’s something beautiful happening, something that’s always on the verge of falling apart. And perhaps that’s what holds us back a bit from truly engaging: We don’t want to get our hearts broken.
“Mozart in the Jungle” Season 3 is streaming now on Amazon Prime.