Amazon explores symphony shenanigans in soapy 'Mozart in the Jungle'

Monday, 22 December 2014 09:26 AM Written by 

Mozart in Jungle

In an age of abundant character-driven, serialized series, perhaps the No. 1 characteristic to distinguish a new program is its backdrop or setting.

Prior to "Breaking Bad," there were not many shows set in New Mexico, let alone filmed there.

Prior to "Mad Men," period dramas were out of favor.

Now the rush is on to find new drama settings that avoid the doctor-cop-lawyer cliches. Enter Amazon's "Mozart in the Jungle," debuting tomorrow on the streaming service.

Read more after the jump. ...

Set behind the scenes at the New York Symphony where a young conductor, the one-named, ringlet-haired Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernam), has been tapped to replace stalwart Thomas (Malcolm McDowell), who's been given a new title by board chair Gloria (Bernadette Peters), and continues an affair with wordly cellist Cynthia (Saffron Burrows).

Cynthia brefriends young oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke), who takes an interest in a lanky-haired dancer (Peter Vack), before she gets a chance to audition with the symphony.

The soapy elements in "Mozart" are pretty standard for this kind of dramatic comedy -- really it's a half-hour drama with a few comedic moments -- so really it is all about the setting and backdrop. If anything will help this show stand out, it's the setting that must distinguish "Mozart" from other programs. And it does to a degree.

The symphony backdrop is novel but some of the interactions are a bit overheated, like when Thomas barges into a party and confronts Gloria about the plans of the new director. Rodrigo then cuts Thomas down to size. Or when the first chair woodwind mistreats newcomer Hailey. These are juicy if unbelievable scenes.

"Mozart" is based on the memoir "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs & Classical Music" by Blair Tindall, so one would hope the exploits in the series would feel real but too often they're too cute by half, particularly a woodwind-off between Hailey and a competitor at a bohemian loft party. Maybe that really happens but it sure feels forced.

The series is written by Roman Coppola ("Moonrise Kingdom"), Jason Schwartzman ("Bored to Death"), Alex Timbers and director Paul Weitz ("American Pie"), and for fans of "Smash" who miss that behind-the-scenes-of-Broadway show, "Mozart" is an OK, if less exciting replacement. Symphony performances lack the visual flair of musical theater numbers but the sense that you're peering into another cloistered universe is similar.

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