Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon Studios - TV review: This sexed-up classical music drama is in tune with the times

The character relationships are familiar – the mentor and mentee, the king and his usurper – but still emotionally satisfying

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The Independent Culture

Who is going to watch Mozart in the Jungle, the new series from the Amazon Studios pilot project which has brought us Transparent? Police procedurals have a ready-made audience, as do medical dramas, family dramas and even those shows compiling clips of other people's DIY accidents – but a series about the lives and loves of classical musicians? It seems a little niche, doesn't it? Welcome to the brave new world of web video, where "niche" is no longer a dirty word.

Lola Kirke (younger sister of Girls star Jemima Kirke) plays Hailey, a meek young oboist scratching out a living by giving private tuition to the offspring of wealthy New Yorkers. Her life changes when she comes to the attention of madcap maestro Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) – a character based, rumour has it, on real-life conductor Gustavo Dudamel – and joins the New York Symphony Orchestra. Rodrigo uses only his first name, like Madonna, has a curly mane of hair like the latin Brian May and represents everything that outgoing conductor Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) fears about his own creeping irrelevancy. "What next?" asked the snobby (ergo British) Thomas on hearing Rodrigo's plans. "Take your pet to the symphony day?"

Rounding out this musical quartet was cellist Cynthia, played by Saffron Burrows, an actress so luminous that the only possible explanation for her failure to conquer Hollywood back in the mid-Nineties, is that she had something more glamorous to do. She brings a welcome, world-weary elegance to the part. It was Cynthia who gave Hailey her introduction to the orchestra, including a scandalising account of the relative sexual behaviours of violinists, percussionists and jazz pianists: "They're into ensembles..."

These character relationships are familiar – the mentor and mentee, the king and his usurper – but still emotionally satisfying. Just because we've seen ingenues like Hailey trying to make it in the big city many times before, doesn't make this version of NYC any less enticing. There are yellow taxis, silhouetted skylines and even a hip, young musician crowd who strap their marijuana cigarettes to a metronome (the "ganjanome") and play flute vs oboe drinking games. It's wild! It's "Sax and the City"! Except, according to Wikipedia, the saxophone is not included in a standard orchestra's instrumentation. Who knew? Perhaps there is a desperate need for classical music TV drama, after all.

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