Amazon’s original show, Mozart in the Jungle, starring Gael García Bernal, recently won a Golden Globe award for the category of best television comedy. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to develop a review of this TV show. The essay, composed by an Ultius freelance writer, will begin with discussion of the inspiration for the show.
Then, it will proceed to provide an overview of the plot. After this, it will analyze the character of one of the main characters within the show. After this, the essay will summarize one especially good episode from the show. Finally, the essay will reflect on the public reception to the show and whether this reception has been well-deserved. Please do not use this content without the permission of Ultius.
Inspiration for the show
The inspiration for Amazon’s original show Mozart in the Jungle was a memoir of the same name by Blair Tindall, an oboist who spent much of her professional life on the New York classical music scene. The main theme of the book is that the classical music scene (“Mozart”), being far from an arena of high culture and sophistication as many outsiders may imagine it to be, really bears much greater resemblance to the stereotypes that one may associated with the rock ‘n’ roll scene (“the jungle”), in terms of the extent to which the lives of musicians on the scene are permeated with sex and drugs.
As Grow has nicely put it, the show tends to give classical music a “punk rock” attitude, with the classical music world,
“for all its outward pomp, resembling something akin to the backstage of a Mötley Crüe concert, as explained by Tolstoy” (paragraph 3).
This tone and focus is the most direct way in which Tindall’s memoir inspired and influence Amazon’s TV show.
On the other hand, Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle is in fact an original work of fiction, with its debt to Tindall’s memoir being a very loose one. One of the main characters in the show is an fact an oboist, just like Tindall; but her name is Haley, and it is only in the broadest sense that she can be said to be a representation of Tindall herself. Likewise, the other main character within the show, Rodrigo, is an original creation and has no direct counterpart within the context of the memoir.
Haley is an aspiring oboist who wants to become a part of the New York Symphony Orchestra, and Rodrigo is the new conductor of that orchestra. Again, these are fictional characters, and they are the stars of a fictional plot arc (although Hale has suggested that Rodrigo may have at least partially modeled on the famous real-life conductor Gustavo Dudamel). What Amazon’s show owes to Tindall. then, consists less of specific details or characters than the evocation of the atmosphere and ambiance of a classical music scene that is, for all its cultural pretensions, is very much a jungle, just as much as—indeed, even more than—any other social scene.
There are currently two seasons of Mozart in the Jungle that have been released by Amazon. The plot arc of the first season focuses on Haley gradually shifting from a role of outsider within New York City to an oboist within the New York Symphony Orchestra, and the tensions that emerge as Rodrigo—a young and charismatic musician—replaces a gray-haired, “old guard” man as the conductor of the orchestra and seeks to take the orchestra in a new direction.
There are several subplots in motion within this overarching plot arc as well, given that Mozart in the Jungle features an ensemble cast. However, the stories of Haley and Rodrigo, both in their independence and their intersections, very much constitutes what could meaningfully be identified as the basic DNA of the show as a whole. By the end of the first season, the viewer should feel sympathy for these characters, as well as a general sense of the social, sexual, and organizational politics that are in play beneath the deceptively placid surface of the fictional New York music scene.
The second season of Mozart in the Jungle focuses both on the evolving relationship between Haley and Rodrigo, as well as the ongoing politics surrounding both Rodrigo’s role within the orchestra and the internal structure of the orchestra as a whole. One of the major plot drivers within this season consists of the threat of the musicians of the orchestra going on strike as a result of being unable to come to a workable new contract deal with the orchestra’s board of directors.
Another driver consists of the orchestra’s tour to Mexico, Rodrigo’s home nation. This season also conveys a sense of the free-spirited Rodrigo’s growing attachment to his orchestra and his emerging sense of the orchestra as his kind of adopted family—a theme that reaches its culmination near the end of the season when Rodrigo is portrayed as being willing to make a substantial personal sacrifice for the well-being of his orchestra as a whole.
Analysis of Rodrigo
The character Rodrigo can surely be called the heart of the show Mozart in the Jungle as a whole: without him, the show would have perhaps been pretty good; but with him, it attains the heights of true aesthetic greatness. Living and breathing the creative life and virtually overflowing with passion, Rodrigo really exemplifies the archetype of the old-fashioned Romantic genius.
There are several scenes in which Rodrigo can be seen communing with the spirit of Mozart, whom he regards as a kind of creative master. Most of the other characters within the TV show tend to find him Rodrigo’s personality to fall somewhere between the eccentric and the literally insane; and his general aura and attitude, as well as his relative youth, surely catalyze his perpetual conflicts with the powers that be within the New York classical music scene, and the ongoing effort of at least some stakeholders within the show to get rid of Rodrigo and return the orchestra to a more socially and psychologically normative leader.
What is truly charming about Rodrigo, however, is what could perhaps be called the earthiness of Rodrigo’s genius. He is brilliant but never pretentious, and it is clear that his genius has not alienated him from the world of normal men and women. Rodrigo grew up in the slums of Mexico, making his ascension to the post of conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra a kind of rags to riches story; and part of why Rodrigo is unable to culturally assimilate to the social standards of the elite music crowd is that he is almost too primitive and not abstracted enough to really put up with the lack of passion and real creativity within the normative structures of society.
On the other hand, there is one very moving scene within the show in which Rodrigo escapes from a cocktail party in order to have a sincere, heart-to-heart conversation with an extremely talented little girl. As far as he is concerned, this—and not the dubious honors and interactions within society—is what really matters, and what is really worthy of his time.
A key episode
An especially good episode of Mozart in the Jungle can be found near the middle of the second season; it is entitled “How to Make God Laugh”. Near the beginning of this episode, Rodrigo asks Haley the title question; she responds that one should tickle God; and Rodrigo responds in all seriousness that this could possibly work, for everyone knows that God does not happen to be ticklish.
Then, he proceeds to make an impulsive decision to neglect his responsibilities for the day, and hop onto a passing bus with Haley. They eventually end up in a rural Mexican town: the town where Rodrigo grew up, and where his grandmother still lives. Haley meets his grandmother, and they spend the night at her home. This episode features numerous charming scenes, including Rodrigo’s attempt to shop for a good avocado, and a dinner over which Rodrigo’s grandmother reads Haley’s fortune from tea leaves. It also features the most intense point of Haley and Rodrigo’s connection thus far.
This episode stands out as a favorite for two main reasons. The first is that it quite perfectly represents the basic free-spiritedness of Rodrigo’s entire character, and his basic preference for the real pleasures of life to social standing and the like. The second is that it most vividly portrays the natural chemistry that exists between him the far more serious but very intelligent and dedicated Haley. The episode almost features as a dream-like interlude within the main plot arcs of the show, almost revealing a subconscious force that is not always seen but is nevertheless crucial for driving all of those arcs.
Public reception onMozart in the Jungle
Again, Mozart in the Jungle recently won a Golden Globe award for best television comedy, with Bernal himself winning an award for best actor within the same category. This was considered surprising by commentators on the awards; however, the point can be made that these awards were richly deserved. As Lowder has indicated, the show
“is incredibly committed not only to the feeling of working in an ensemble, but also to making that lifestyle real. Union spats, intra-ensemble dalliances, soloists with big egos, and the emotional hold a teacher can have on a student—all of these are rendered in shockingly familiar detail, even as they are mined for humor” (paragraph 3).
In short, the show develops an extremely vivid, almost anthropologically accurate picture of the social and cultural scene it seeks to convey, and it portrays all of its characters in endearingly human detail.
In a meaningful sense, Mozart in the Jungle exemplifies the creative possibilities that have now been made available in these contemporary times with the advent of the popularity of television shows made for direct steaming purposes. As Barker has pointed out, “Mozart in the Jungle is the kind of show that wouldn’t have existed three years ago. Or if it had, the approach to the story—an inside look at the New York performing arts scene—would have been drastically different, and likely much louder” (paragraph 1).
This is because the show focuses on a very specific social context and is constructed in such a way that it would likely only gain real loyalty from a relatively limited and self-selecting group of viewers. This would have likely caused the show to get rejected by traditional television broadcasting companies, or at the very least revised to the point of unrecognizability. As it stands, however, much of the show’s charm rests in its subtlety and quirkiness; and this charm in and of itself has proven enough to qualify Mozart in the Jungle as an excellent addition to Amazon’s portfolio of original shows.
In summary, the present essay has consisted of a review of Amazon’s original show Mozart in the Jungle. On the basis of what has been discussed above, the clear conclusion can be drawn that this show is surely worth the time of its prospective viewer. There is the uniqueness of the show’s setting; there is the highly compelling main character Rodrigo, played by Bernal; and there is the broader ensemble cast of the show, with all of the characters of the show tracing out their own subplot arcs, and thereby contributing to the diversity and richness of the show’s portrayal of life within the context of the New York classical music scene.
The show, while it won its awards in the comedy category, can surely be called a serious human drama as well, with the elements of comedy only serving to enhance the humanity of the overall portrayal. For all these reasons and more, the reader would be well-advised to check out this show.
Barker, Cory. “Mozart in the Jungle Season 2 Review.” TV.com. 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. .
Bernal, Gael García, perf. Mozart in the Jungle. Amazon Studios, 2014. TV Show.
Grow, Kory. “Bittersweet Symphony: Inside the Sex and Drugs of ‘Mozart in the Jungle’.” Rolling Stone. 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. .
Hale, Mike. “Love, Whimsy, and Intrigue in the Strings Section.” New York Times. 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016 . .
Kierkegaard, Søren. The Essential Kierkegaard. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton U P, 2000. Print.
Lowder, J. Bryan. “The Golden Globes Are Right: You Should Really Watch Mozart in the Jungle.” Slate. 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. .
Tindall, Blair. Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music. New York: Grove Press, 2006. Print.