The Golden Globe winner of Best Comedy series is based on New York Times writer Blair Tindall’s 2006 book of the same name that chronicled the lives of freelance musicians in 1980s and 1990s New York City as well as the debaucheries that come with such a lifestyle and her own experience as an oboist with the New York Philharmonic. It must have been really crazy times as she ended up marrying Bill Nye the Science Guy in 2006 … and divorced him the same year. But I digress.
Needless to say, the series written by Tindall with executive producers Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Alex Timbers is artistic, offbeat and clever, despite its sometimes obvious homage to other slice of life television shows that seek to insert the audience into the middle of the story.
But MITJ goes much deeper with its analysis of the music scene aging musicians. It follows 20-something Hailey, a young oboist and Tindall’s alter ego, as she tries to forge her own path and secure a seat on the fictitious New York symphony. Decades younger than her contemporaries, Hailey (Lola Kirke) immediately encounters resistance from the old guard. Meanwhile, Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) “retired” in season one as conductor, stepping aside for the wunderkid Rodrigo (Golden Globe winner Gael Garcia Bernal) who is renowned the world over for his brilliance.
In Season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle, Thomas subtextually represents our old selves. On several occasions he confronts Rodrigo. It’s as if Thomas is the voice of reason, the future self that Rodrigo will eventually become. One day Rodrigo will be in Thomas’s shoes and some new “hot shot” composer will arrive on scene to replace him.
Season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle also tackles love, the denial of it, and the all-consuming obsession of it. Rodrigo is in love with music, actually, obsessed with it. His love for music handicaps him from having a real relationship with thus denying the connection he has with Haily.
Episode 2, Season 9 we find Thomas trying to operate his Pembridge music machine, one of those “one-man-band” contraptions consisting of a kick drum, accordion and washboard. From the audience’s perspective Thomas is trying to prove he still has what it takes to be a great composer and is not some old washed up “has been,” despite a failed attempt to resurrect his career with a symphony that he buries with his ex-wife, who suffers a massive heart attack when he tries to show her his work.
At the same time Rodrigo is faced with the repercussions of a head trauma that leads to a case of Amusia, which temporarily handicaps his ability to decipher correct musical pitch. As a result, everything he hears sounds out of tune. This subtext is a reflection of how many artists view their own work. They may find it disfigured and subpar, only later to discover that what they have created is something magical, praise worthy, even.
Rodrigo goes on to lead the orchestra in playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony after firing another young and arrogant guest composer who berates the musicians. Rodrigo fights through the buzzing in his inner ear as the orchestra completes the movement, the players knowing of their maestro’s ailment and banding together to make sure he doesn’t embarrass himself in front of the audience. At the conclusion, Rodrigo is relieved and thankful yet still dismayed when the audience praises him for triumphantly leading the symphony.
To Rodrigo, he and the orchestra failed. To many artists, they feel the same regardless of how brilliant and talented they might be.
Later, envious first chair oboist Betty Cragdale (Debra Monk) seeks to eliminate Hailey as competition by threatening to tell everyone of her romantic rendezvous with Rodrigo during the symphony’s tour of Mexico. Again, the theme of age and decline in talent takes hold.
More than being a series about music and musicians, MITJ is about death and the end of the road, artistically and otherwise. It’s about the waking up one day and everything youthful and sexy about you is now wrinkling and sagging, with a younger model waiting just off stage ready to take your place.
Rodrigo finds his way back to the orchestra he almost abandoned as he says it best in a scene where once again the orchestra forces to play in Central Park after they were locked out of the symphony.
“At least for me, I find myself at home with you. This is my home. This is our home.” Season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle wraps both seasons with the moral that we must follow what we love, dream, and have passion in and in doing so we find that home lies within ourselves.