The Devil Wears a Baton (Series Review: “Mozart in the Jungle”)

A clever concerto of a series with fortissimo charm and lyrical notes of magic. And need I mention the Music is awesome?

SnapShot Plot

I’d like to thank the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press for awarding two major Golden Globes last Sunday night to Mozart in the Jungle, a sophisticated and marvelous original comedy series on Amazon. Now in its 2nd season, the show won Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy, with its star, Gael García Bernal picking up Best Actor in the same category. And for those non-Amazon Prime people out there, you can binge watch the entire 2 seasons FOR FREE (without Prime membership) this weekend only. . . oh, and you’re welcome.

In this irreverent, sometimes zany and yet passionately musical series, with the City of New York center stage in the narrative, we have an unprecedented backstage pass to the inner workings of a major philharmonic orchestra (in this case a fictionalized version of the New York Philharmonic) called the New York Symphony Orchestra. When the globally renowned conductor, Rodrigo arrives on the scene to replace the old maestro (deliciously played by Malcolm McDowell) the question is whether he’s more Style over Substance, with his pop icon status, Latin charm, and all that hair (‘Hear the Hair!’). If there’s any actor alive whose on screen charm can be summed up in the phrase ‘impish sexuality,’ it’s Gael García Bernal. There’s an irrepressible, childlike delight that informs all his work; even when his character in Rosewater is being psychologically tortured, with one mischievous grin he turns the scene on its head. In Mozart in the Jungle, he plays Rodrigo with a mixture of passion, bravado, and an earnestness which makes him entirely irresistible. Is it an act? Can he make the orchestra his own? Will the company’s Managing Director, Gloria (perfectly cast in Bernadette Peters) tame the wild child Rodrigo enough to transform him into the fundraising cash cow the organization needs, while giving him free reign to reinvigorate the orchestra and their audience demographic?

Central in the storyline is the relationship between Rodrigo and an aspiring young oboist named Hailey Rutledge (in a transcendent performance by newcomer Lola Kirke), whose own struggles to improve her craft while trying to support herself in the big city mirror every artist who’s ever dreamed of a life on the stage. Their connection and the professional and personal journey on which they embark together – both funny and extremely tender – provides the heartbeat of the show.


“Cut the hair . . . with passion, Hailey.”

Parting Shot

The series is based on the comic memoir, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, written by oboist Blair Tindall about her  tenure at the New York Philharmonic as well as less illustrious gigs on and off Broadway. Directed by Paul Weitz (who also made one of my all-time favorite films, About a Boy), the show was created by Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Alex Timbers. Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore fame) also has a supporting part as a classical music geek named Bradford Sharpe whose podcast is entitled, B Sharpe: A Podcast where Classical Music is Our Forte. 

As if the humor, the passion, the music and the City of New York weren’t enough to sustain us, Mozart in the Jungle has some of the finest supporting cast ever assembled. From Saffron Burrows (who plays the cool, sexy cellist Cynthia) to Debra Monk, Mark Blum (Desperately Seeking Susan) and Jerry Adler (The Good Wife), as well as incredible drop-ins from the likes of Wallace Shawn and actual globally renowned classical musicians, it seems like this production was the best party in town and everybody wanted an invitation.

A dear friend remarked to me today that Mozart in the Jungle plays like Sex and the City for Classical Music lovers, and that may be the best way to sum up this delightful treat for the ears and the soul, while it tickles your funny bone as well as the ivories.


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  • Piera Accumanno says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this week’s Norma’s Streaming Pick. As an Amazon Prime member I kept seeing ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ offered as part of their “series” selection. Honestly, I thought it was a children’s show and continually skipped over it. When I discovered that the show won such prestigious honors at the Golden Globes I was compelled to check it out. Wow, I almost missed out on one of the best shows on any medium.

    Each character is both deliciously robust and woefully lacking. Very human, I think. Like all of us, they strive to be the best and life gets in the way. The only one who is not affected by the roller coaster of life is Rodrigo, my little volcàn. How can any character be so adorable? Even at his most frenetic ADHD. I still want to make a heart symbol with my hands.

    This series emits the same vibe as Sex in the City, but better. Although there is a certain degree of classiness in both, ‘Mozart’ allows the viewer to use their imagination so as to not egregiously waste valuable air and story time.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you……okay, I’ll stop.

    • Norma says:

      Don’t stop! It’s viewers like you who film makers and TV show creators dream of. Thank you for such an impassioned Comment and I hope you continue to weigh in with your keen observations and impressions!

  • Lesley says:

    I am so happy you reviewed this amazing show!! I watched each season straight through. Each in a single night! Literally jumped for joy when it won at the Golden Globes, great choice!!

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