On Loving Mozart in the Jungle and Finding Relatable Characters
If I’m recommending a TV show—or any piece of media for that matter—nine times out of ten I’m talking about a story that’s distinctly women-centric. Stories about women and other underrepresented groups are so incredibly overshadowed in the mainstream that it feels wrong to spend my time and energy celebrating anything else.
However, our media landscape being what it is, I sometimes find myself drawn to books, movies, and shows that aren’t as overtly feminist as I would like. In these cases, I like to think about why, despite its less-than-ideal representation overall, a story still resonates with me. It’s this process of (hopefully legitimate) rationalization that I’ve been going through for the past few years with Mozart in the Jungle.
Mozart in the Jungle depicts the ups and downs of life for classical musicians in New York City. While the premise alone was presumably interesting enough for some, I personally needed the added incentive of a slow-burning celebrity crush in the form of Gael García Bernal to convince me to give the series a try. What I was pleasantly surprised to find was that the story, at least in origin, is actually centered around the perspective of a young woman, Hailey.
Hailey is an oboist who plays in the pit during silly rock musicals and teaches lessons to rich people’s kids to support herself while aspiring to someday join the New York Symphony. A lot of my critiques of the show have to do with the fact that the telling of Hailey’s story is repeatedly interrupted, mostly by the zany antics of Bernal’s character, Rodrigo, who is the new conductor of the orchestra. Rodrigo is a lovable character by any measure, but it’s still disappointing when the narrative attention strays to him after we were promised Hailey.
I’m still hopeful, though. While Hailey’s intrigue can’t always compete with Rodrigo’s, she’s the realistic element. It’s easy for me, and I imagine many other young people, to identify with her. She’s in her mid-twenties. She’s talented and kind and committed. And yet, she’s repeatedly forced to confront the ugly truth that her happiness and sense of purpose can’t be dependent on her success as a working musician. She finds that her life doesn’t have to stop when she is relegated to assistant or chokes onstage or is fired mid-tour. Maybe it’s a simple lesson, but it’s an important one, one that can only help.
Instead of watching Hailey’s career flourish and crash in dramatic waves, we see her making friends and playing music and having adventures all while her career sort of happens sometimes, but is far from being the only that happens. Her life is full. And I don’t just know that her life is full because she talks about feeling completely happy and satisfied all of the time; I know it is full because its different and complex dimensions are highlighted on screen. While Rodrigo’s off chasing down ex-wives and tortured opera singers, Hailey’s conducting hodgepodge ensembles and dating awkward dance students and making friends with her rival over tequila shots. It’s a relief to find that while her glamorous setting makes her someone to admire, her actual behaviors and experiences are still entirely relatable.
This show is never going to be everything to me. It’s representation would need to improve by leaps and bounds for that to become true. But nevertheless, it’s sweet and funny and hopeful. It’s got short episodes, so I’m reminded to come up for air more often than I am with some of my more dramatic favorites. It’s got just enough classical music references to be charming. It’s got Bernadette Peters, who’s perfect in every way. And it’s got Hailey, who’s so confoundingly aspirational yet relatable I can’t help but be invested in her story. It doesn’t have everything, but it does have something, and so I think I’ll stick around for a while.