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Amazon's 'Mozart in the Jungle' Swings Back into Action
December 29, 2015  | By David Hinckley

In a television age that has not been kind to the half-hour comedy, Mozart In the Jungle becomes even more of a keeper in its second season than it was in its first.
The 10-episode second season drops Wednesday on Amazon, and it remains a lovely mix of music, romance, backstabbing, absurdity and New York City.
For anyone who has been watching the just-concluded Starz series Flesh & Bone, Mozart in the Jungle is the comic Yin to that show’s tragic Yang.  
Lola Kirke (top) stars as Hailey Rutledge, an aspiring oboe player who tumbles her way upward in the fictional New York Symphony.
She has come a long way, and not smoothly, from her arrival last year. That’s when she was the new kid who landed a gig as an occasional musician and full-time personal assistant to Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal, left), a new conductor brought in to give the Symphony some edge and buzz.
Rodrigo is nuts in the way we imagine most great creative musicians to be nuts, but Bernal doesn’t play him as a caricature. He’s human and vulnerable enough that we like him even when we want to slap him, which isn’t as often as Hailey wants to slap him.
The hiring of Rodrigo suggests, correctly, that this orchestra needed a musical Hail Mary, being that it has been teetering on the brink of having its plug pulled. Bernardette Peters enhances that part of the drama as Gloria Winters, the boss who’s trying to hold things together.
Like almost all the other characters in the show, Gloria comes across as part hot-blooded artist and part cold-blooded realist.
Similarly, former conductor Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell) never comes across simply as a scorned veteran cast aside in the pursuit of youth. He’s endearing at times, wise at times and at other times quite ridiculous. In other words, he’s credible.
Creating these sorts of layered characters is one reason Mozart works so nicely. It never sets up jokes. It creates characters it can credibly put into absurd or amusing situations – like when the veteran orchestra members start to bicker among themselves on everything from a new contract to what they want on the pizza.
It feels like the kind of argument you’d hear from a family that gets together every holiday, by choice. This is the language they speak. It feels comfortable.
Meanwhile, the second season gets some new plotlines. One involves the aforementioned orchestra contract, which is under negotiation. Management pleads poverty, of course, and the musicians bring in a labor activist lawyer who urges them to seriously consider a strike.
As this is unfolding, Hailey fights to extricate herself from the gopher position and be taken more seriously as an oboist.
She gets that opportunity in an unexpected way, after a series of quietly hilarious scenes in which she tries to find a replacement with whom Rodrigo will be satisfied.
Mozart had mixed success with a guest episode featuring Wallace Shawn last season. It does much better in episode four this season, when Dermott Mulroney plays a superstar cellist.
He and Hailey hit it off, giving him a chance to reveal himself as something less than the perfect elegant debonair classical music giant he is selling the public.
It’s a splendid turn in which Mulroney draws on his rom-com roots as a borderline cad with a good heart.
Even more gratifying, the Mulroney episode lets Mozart in the Jungle burrow down into what might be the real heart of the show: the extent to which a musician’s life plays out in his or her mind.
The music is always there, weaving through each action and interaction. As portrayed here in every character from the aspiring oboist to the involuntarily retired conductor, making music feels like less of a choice than a faith.
Whether music is sending you soaring into the stars or breaking your heart, it’s as much a part of your life as red blood cells.
And much more engaging to watch.

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