No matter the genre, so many great shows being made today exist to excite us and to challenge us. It doesn’t matter if they’re a half-hour comedy or an hour-long drama, they exist to do what more traditional shows do not: push boundaries, defy expectations, and ultimately keep us on the edge of seats.
“Mozart in the Jungle” is not really that kind of show, despite the fact that it’s been a critically acclaimed jewel in Amazon’s streaming lineup for four years now, and in so many ways remains an incredibly well-made, intimate dramedy about artists and their passion for music and for life.
The fourth season has been out for a week now, and for fans of the show, there are plenty of interesting developments, as the series continues to further develop its eclectic ensemble, once centralized around a New York City symphony but now spread out to pursue a number of different pursuits.
Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal) and Hailey (Lola Kirke), as set up by the end of Season 3, move their relationship forward, while cellist Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) continues to struggle with her injured wrist, Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) finds a whole new sound of music to explore in his work, and Gloria (Bernadette Peters) once again dances (figuratively) to keep her symphony funded and playing.
There is also a literal dance troupe, a struggling youth orchestra, a trip to Japan, a robot murder, an extended tribute to “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” and plenty of fantasy sequences where Rodrigo and Hailey talk to composers of the past. (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” fans, Santino Fontana returns to play Mozart!) A lot happens, some strong character work emerges, and Bernadette Peters also gets drunk and does karaoke. It is a thoroughly enjoyable season of television.
Unfortunately, it’s one that no one seems to talk about despite many favorable reviews, and while it’s easy to blame this on the fact that — as you’ve probably heard too many times at too many cocktail parties in the last few years — “there’s just too much good stuff out there.” This is true, for sure, but “Mozart’s” primary issue goes deeper than that.
It comes down to the way that creators Alex Timbers, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Paul Weitz have developed the series since the beginning, with one certain truth behind the scenes: Really, in the end, there will always be music.
Even when there seem to be legit threats to the livelihoods of the musicians on this show, the stakes in “Mozart” are perilously low, especially when characters begin to explore alternative paths toward fulfilling their artistic desires. When symphony life as an oboist doesn’t work out for Hailey, she begins to pursue conducting. When Thomas loses his role at the symphony, he finds new opportunities. And all of these storylines are lovely to witness — inspiring, even. Except, are they inspiring people to watch?
Perhaps the most exciting and unique storyline to come in Season 4 is Hailey’s pursuit of a career as a conductor, a field that’s not traditionally welcoming to women. But while it’s a unique narrative, it’s not groundbreaking. Instead, it’s prestige TV comfort food, which limits its ability to penetrate the global zeitgeist that all programming now lives in and has made it increasingly hard to write about, season after season.
Also, the tragedy here is that I personally don’t want “Mozart” to ever fundamentally change in a way that would attract a larger audience, because to try to amp up the action or deliver tragic consequences would fundamentally damage what the show is: a light, beautiful bauble, one that’s all too welcome in a world of darkness.
TV watercooler conversations aren’t extinct in the streaming age, but very few people are gasping over moments like, “Can you believe that Rodrigo refused to play the Mozart?” Meanwhile, yelling that more people should be watching “Mozart in the Jungle” is a relatively fruitless exercise, as any fan of “The Americans,” “Casual,” “Fleabag,” “The Good Fight,” “Rectify,” “One Day at a Time,” “Insecure,” “Top of the Lake,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Better Things,” and so many other shows might tell you. While the hope is that people will watch, it at times feels like audiences are the proverbial horse who cannot be forced to drink.
Well, we’ll give it this one last swing: If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, and you like stories about creative people making art, and you like the idea of watching Malcolm McDowell have an almost illegal amount of fun on screen, you’ll likely enjoy watching “Mozart in the Jungle.” Meanwhile, fans like me will just have to come to peace with the fact that you’re not.
“Mozart in the Jungle” is streaming now on Amazon Prime.